Last-minute voter drive clinched Democrats' win Campaign: State party pulled out all the stops, organizing volunteers and gathering funds to ensure past losses weren't repeated.

The Political Game

November 10, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. RTC | William F. Zorzi Jr. RTC,SUN STAFF

THE DEMOCRATS rocked Nov. 3, pushing Gov. Parris N. Glendening to a remarkable 12-point win over Ellen R. Sauerbrey in spite of himself.

A lot of reasons have been given for the GOP's trouncing, but the indisputable key to the Democrats' romp was their ability to turn out the vote.

Many bows have been taken -- some deserved and some not -- but the party should trot on stage for a last round of applause for its multilayered drive in the final days of the campaign.

Three years ago, more than 200 worried Maryland Democrats met at Hood College in Frederick to reassess the party's mission and message, still smarting from the Republican gains in 1990 and 1994 in county executive and legislative races. It was a gloomy session.

While Maryland had generally survived the rising Republican tide in 1994, Glendening won by 5,993 votes out of 1.4 million cast, several Democratic legislators lost their seats to Republicans and the GOP took control of Capitol Hill.

This year, Maryland Democrats, with Peter B. Krauser at the helm, took the old statewide organization and infused it with new blood and enthusiasm -- a strategy that paid off with a sound defeat of Republicans around the state.

"The party was involved significantly and substantially on every level of the campaign," said Krauser, the party chairman.

The state party, which was $50,000 in the red 18 months ago, dumped $1 million into its Team Maryland campaign this year, much of it ponied up by Democratic officials around the state and more raised from private individuals.

Even with that effort, party insiders were saying two months ago that the "coordinated campaign" seemed anything but.

If there was a written Get-Out-The-Vote plan from 1994, the new party officials never found it. Campaign lore had it that the Baltimore GOTV plan was scribbled on a cocktail napkin.

Coming out of the Sept. 15 primary, Will Rogers' words about the party never seemed more accurate: "I'm not a member of any organized party. I'm a Democrat."

But the party managed to pull it together, developing a detailed field-operations plan. The precinct-by-precinct blueprint relied on volunteers provided by the party, the Glendening campaign and other top state Democrats, many of whose political organizations were put at the disposal of the effort to re-elect the governor.

"There was far more coordination than ever before, and certainly there has been tremendous growth in spirit and determination," said Krauser.

The strategy differed from past efforts, when each political leader ran the operation in his or her fiefdom. This time, the effort was run from the party's satellite offices, with the party providing the money and its Team Maryland officials calling most of the shots.

In the weeks before the general, precincts with high Democratic registrations were identified and inconsistent voters were targeted for Election Day turnout. Hundreds of thousands of phone calls were made, millions of pieces of campaign literature distributed and millions spent on radio and television advertising.

It all culminated in the pageant to elect the next governor of Maryland.

"This is not rocket science," said Brian J. Murphy, a Democrat GOTV expert imported from Massachusetts for the final effort in the Baltimore area.

If it's not science, it is certainly an art -- one with a lexicon all its own. The party put out "flushers," "rovers" and "checkers," all of them providing a vital role in getting out the vote.

On Election Day, more than 2,500 Democratic volunteers went to work statewide on pre-assigned duties -- a major difference from the GOP, which counted on Sauerbrey's grass-roots supporters to go to the polls.

The Democrats, taking a lesson from 1994, used fewer people to hand out literature at the polls than in the past. Instead, a concentrated effort was made to pull voters from their homes.

"Flush teams" were dispatched to targeted neighborhoods to flush out Democratic voters by knocking on doors and offering rides, where needed.

In the end, the Democrats beat Sauerbrey, took back seats in the House of Delegates and won county executive slots in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

"There was a tremendous growth of confidence in the party, in the party's ability to produce -- and in its commitment to Democrats on every level of the process," Krauser said.

"I think you've seen a reinvigorated Democratic Party."

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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