GOP eyes 2000 race

Md. Republicans hope presidential vote will raise local odds

`We have a lot of work to do'

Rifts in the party, Democratic strength force early planning

November 21, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

BETHESDA -- Stung by a recent defection and facing a Democratic fund-raising juggernaut, Maryland Republican Party officials turned their attention yesterday to next year's presidential election for possible rejuvenation.

At a gathering of about 200 at the party's fall convention, leaders said a Republican victory in 2000 would create momentum for GOP candidates in state elections two years later.

"The hope is if we elect a Republican president next year, that will help our fund raising and allow us to get a strong message out in 2002," said Sen. Martin G. Madden, the GOP leader in the state Senate.

Republican leaders are cautiously optimistic that their 2000 presidential nominee can carry Maryland, despite the nearly 2-to-1 edge in voter registration enjoyed by the Democratic Party.

"We have a lot of work to do, but I believe we can launch a strong effort," said party Chairman Richard D. Bennett.

The last Republican to carry Maryland was George Bush in 1988.

Optimism about the 2000 presidential election contrasts with the bad news the state GOP has endured over the past year. In November 1998, the GOP was trounced in statewide races and lost ground in both the General Assembly and at the county level.

The news this fall has not been much better, as the party has seen two of its elected officials -- New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. and state Sen. Robert R. Neall of Anne Arundel County -- switch to the Democratic Party.

Potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates are amassing unprecedented amounts of campaign contributions -- three years before the election.

Officials said that to overcome such problems, the party must put aside internal differences.

The Republican Party's decision to bring its fall convention to Montgomery County for the first time in 12 years symbolizes its determination to make gains in the state's largest jurisdiction, officials said.

"It's important we establish a presence in Montgomery," said Vicki Cox, state party spokeswoman. "It's a key battleground."

A straw poll showed that Texas Gov. George W. Bush enjoys strong support for his presidential bid from Maryland party officials.

Bush picked up 125 votes to second-place finisher, U.S. Sen. John McCain's 33. Publishing millionaire Steve Forbes was third with 12 votes.

In a straw poll for vice president, U.S. Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio was the top choice, followed by Elizabeth Dole.

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