Epilogue on the election of 1998

The Political Game

November 17, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

BEFORE CAMPAIGN '98 fades entirely, a recollection of images, voter wisdom, home truths and famous last words:

Clinton's charisma is the real thing

To watch Bill Clinton at New Psalmist Baptist Church was to think of Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and other matinee idols whose presence brought audiences to peaks of excitement.

After his talk the Sunday before the election, the president went to meet parishioners who had watched him from the basement on closed-circuit television. He paused for a moment in the doorway, taking in the electric enthusiasm of the crowd -- marveling at it himself, or so it seemed. He walked quickly to the front row, reaching for eager hands, working his way to another door and then disappearing behind the Secret Service men.

After a photo session with contributors, he left the church alone in the back seat of a limousine, virtually unseen behind darkened windows.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a member of the church and a staunch ally of the president, believes the appearance in Baltimore, carried live on television, gave a boost to turnout among African-Americans all over the nation.

Black voters turn out in unexpected strength

Harrison L. Gross Jr., a member of Israel Baptist Church in East Baltimore, attended services with Gov. Parris N. Glendening a few weeks before President Clinton's campaign visit.

Gross thought the furor over Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky -- Glendening's criticism in particular -- was an epic of political posturing.

"I would never want my children to learn their morals from politicians," he said. "You're supposed to learn your morals in church. You're supposed to teach your children."

But Gross thought the Lewinsky matter would have little impact in Maryland -- and wondered if turnout wouldn't be low.

"One of the bad things that blacks do not do we do not vote," he said. The president's visit had not been planned at that point.

Skipping that history to see the potential, Clinton put it this way before he left New Psalmist Baptist: "Tuesday it's your turn -- Take it." Turnout among black voters this year reached 21 percent of the electorate -- well above the 13 percent expected.

In every contested election, somebody has to lose

Failure -- losing elections -- is a part of political life.

You could ask any number of Marylanders who sought the approval of voters this year without success. Each of them searches now for a way to cope, to rebuild a bruised ego and seek a new path to personal or even political fulfillment.

Many hope to find opportunity for growth in the ashes of defeat.

"I need to think some new thoughts," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, the Washington County Democrat who was unseated after 12 years in the House of Delegates.

"Finding perspective is always a concern when you're caught up in the cycle of running and legislating," he said. "It slowly consumes you because of so many hours spent on the job. It's very hard to get out, take a breather, regroup and rebuild."

He had won by a handful of votes four years ago, so a difficult race this year was expected -- though he had served with distinction in an Assembly where he was regarded as a clear and vivid articulator of issues, a canny strategist, a challenging debater.

But successes in Annapolis are not the same as strength back home. His district had grown increasingly conservative and Republican -- and anxious to have conservative, Republican representation. "I didn't have what they wanted," he said.

He didn't try to hide the pain.

"Nobody likes rejection," the 39-year-old lawyer and new father said.

But he wasn't down.

"Despite all the rumors, I've still got a pulse," he said.

Who will lead Republicans after disappointing defeat?

Another defeated candidate, the GOP's Ellen R. Sauerbrey, continues to think about running for state party chairman. Her supporters believe no one else has the standing to lead. Others think the Maryland party must acknowledge reality -- and find new leadership.

The dilemma: Conservatives want a conservative leader. Others want someone who can help the party find a winning formula. Sauerbrey's approach, as presented in her campaigns for governor, has been rejected twice.

First among equals is the one with the votes

Running first is the best revenge.

In one Montgomery County legislative district, a Democratic team comprised of Sen. Ida G. Ruben, Del. Sheila E. Hixson and Del. Peter Franchot decided to leave their colleague, Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, off the lawn signs.

"It was childish and vindictive," Dembrow said. "But it didn't matter."

He was the top vote-getter in his district, running ahead of those who "cut" him.

Pub Date: 11/17/98

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