Md. Democrats sitting pretty after rout

November 08, 1998|By Barry Rascovar

WILLIAM Donald Schaefer, Maryland's comptroller-elect, adores professional wrestler-actor Terry "Hulk" Hogan. Perhaps Gov. Parris N. Glendening's new idol should be another hero of wrestle-mania, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, governor elect of Minnesota.

All three slammed their opponents to the mat in Tuesday's elections. Mr. Ventura, a savvy entertainer who is foul-mouthed, flamboyantly libertarian and refreshingly blunt, excited younger voters and those tired of political babble. His win was a shocker.

Mr. Schaefer's easy victory in Maryland was no shocker. But Mr. Glendening's triumph was -- especially its breadth. He flexed his muscles and clobbered Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey. Call him Parris "The Body" Glendening.

Gaining ground

He did it by rolling up giant margins among liberal whites and minorities in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties, as he did in 1994, when he won narrowly. This time he extended his support to other Baltimore-Washington area suburbs.

He beat Ms. Sauerbrey handily in Howard County, a weather vane jurisdiction. He neutralized the previous Sauerbrey advantage in Baltimore County. He ran surprisingly well in Anne Arundel County.

Mr. Glendening also captured a Western Maryland jurisdiction, Allegany County, where his wife, Frances Anne, grew up.

Even in counties that he lost, the governor cut into Ms. Sauerbrey's margins. He narrowed her win in Worcester County by 1,700 votes, by 2,500 votes in Charles County and by 4,000 votes in both Harford and Frederick counties.

Look at what occurred in the most Republican county, Garrett, in far Western Maryland. Four years ago, Ms. Sauerbrey took 77 percent of the vote. This time, Ms. Sauerbrey got 64 percent -- a stunning drop.

The heart of Mr. Glendening's strategy was the Big Three: A superb get-out-the-vote drive, a presidential visit and hard-working Democratic elected officials.

The door-to-door voter drive proved critical. He did it without Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke or Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry. He turned to labor unions, black churches, state legislators and a feverish effort by Rep. Al Wynn in Prince George's County and Rep. Elijah Cummings in the city.

He got a big boost from President Clinton's appearance in Baltimore and an energized Sen. Barbara Mikulski and a determined Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Democrats who jumped in with resources and finely honed political skills.

Mr. Glendening fared well in areas without majority-black populations, too. He carried Montgomery County by 22,000 more votes than 1994; he gained a 10,000-vote turnaround in Howard County. In both counties, core Democrats showed up, especially those with college educations.

A Democratic tide

One national Republican consultant said that, given the Democrats' success in galvanizing their traditional base, Ms. Sauerbrey "was never in the ballgame." In fact, had Democrats turned out in such numbers four years ago, he said Ms. Sauerbrey would have lost by 14 percentage points.

Mr. Glendening did not excite voters. Ms. Sauerbrey's positives remained 10 points higher than Mr. Glendening's. He won because voters approved of his programs and policies, especially on gun control and the environment.

Most local Democrats worked to turn out a big vote to win local races. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger did it to retain Democrats in Baltimore County's legislative delegation. Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan solidified Democratic control of local offices there. Democrats regained most offices in Howard County and made a stunning comeback in Anne Arundel County. Turnout was heavy.

Mr. Glendening also took full advantage of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's growing popularity. She outshone him on the campaign trail and he effusively mentioned her at every turn.

Mr. Clinton's appearance was the icing. It ensured a large victory, boosting excitement in black communities. The president set aside any personal anger toward Mr. Glendening for his prior desertion and campaigned hard to elect Democrats.

Mr. Glendening has always been lucky. When he first ran for Prince George's County executive, no heavyweight pol entered the race. When he ran for governor in 1994, the favorite, Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg, self-destructed. This year, he benefited from a strong national Democratic tide.

But Mr. Glendening is also a meticulous organizer and strategist. He sticks to his script. It worked beautifully this year, giving him a powerful mandate to press ahead with his agenda in the next four years -- and solidify Democratic hegemony in Maryland for another decade.

Barry Rascovar, deputy editorial page editor, is the author of "The Great Game of Maryland Politics," published by The Baltimore Sun.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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