State dwarfed on Super Tuesday

Maryland primary eclipsed by Calif., New York, Ohio

January 31, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

Suppose they gave a presidential primary and nobody cared?

That is the problem facing Maryland as it approaches its vote March 7 -- so-called Super Tuesday, when 10 other states have primaries.

With its proximity to the nation's capital, its highly educated populace full of important opinion-makers, and its reputation for giving hope to quixotic campaigns with surprise victories -- from George Wallace to Jerry Brown to Paul E. Tsongas -- one might think that Maryland would be a sought-after prize.

Think again. On Super Tuesday, Maryland is a sapling lost amid the giant redwoods of California, New York and Ohio.

"In terms of Iowa and New Hampshire, California and New York, Maryland is insignificant," says Arthur W. Murphy, a Washington-based political consultant. "We are not even a flea on a camel's hump."

The numbers tell the story. Though Maryland has more delegates than those chosen this week in Iowa or next week in New Hampshire, it doesn't have their lead-off position. And it is dwarfed on Super Tuesday.

Of the 1,999 delegates from the 11 states with primaries March 7, Maryland has but 123 -- 92 for Democrats and 31 for Republicans.

By contrast, 434 Democratic and 162 Republican delegates are at stake in California; 294 Democrats and 101 Republicans in New York; 170 Democrats and 69 Republicans in Ohio. Those are the big three Super Tuesday prizes.

"It seems to me that there are a whole lot of states that begin with the letter M that are about the same size," says Republican pollster Carol Arscott of the Super Tuesday also-rans.

The M states that Maryland joins in the second tier are Massachusetts and Missouri, with Georgia and Connecticut. That group is a bit above Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont.

"There is no way or shape on earth that Maryland will ever be a significant player by virtue of size," Murphy says. "It is intellectually interesting, but no more."

Says Arscott: "The outcome is not going to hinge on what happens here."

Making headlines

The nomination has never hinged on what happened in Maryland, but the state did manage to make headlines on the Democratic side when the primary was in mid-May. In 1912, Champ Clark beat Woodrow Wilson, though Wilson went on to get the nomination at the convention in Baltimore.

In 1964, George Wallace nearly won over favorite son Daniel Brewster and, in 1972 -- no primary was held in that divisive year 1968 -- Wallace did win, one of his most successful forays out of the old Confederacy. Four years after that, Jerry Brown won a surprise victory over Jimmy Carter.

Such results make Rob Johnson, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, think the state will receive attention this campaign season.

"The sense I'm getting from the presidential campaigns is that they will not ignore us," he says. "They are nervous about Maryland because of our history." A case in point, he says, is Tsongas' 1992 victory here over Bill Clinton.

"You can't just take a pass on Maryland," Johnson says. "You have to work if you want to win here. We've got a little bit of a maverick streak."

Roger Berliner, state coordinator for Bill Bradley, also says Democratic candidates will pay attention to Maryland.

`Classic confrontation'

"I think it is perceived as a significant state," he says, "You have a classic confrontation here -- a large number of liberal, progressive, independent Democrats, machine Democrats, labor Democrats, a large African-American community. It's a perfect setup. And as a border state it has implications heading south.

"But will we get the same attention as California or New York? Of course not," Berliner says. "I wouldn't recommend to the candidate to spend as much time here as in those states."

All agree that predicting the shape of campaigns anywhere is impossible until after the primary Tuesday in New Hampshire. If the race is still alive, Maryland could get lost in the stampede for as many delegates as possible, or receive attention from candidates hoping to keep campaigns alive by winning smaller states.

Berliner says he certainly expects Bradley to campaign here, but can make no promises. "It is too early to determine," he says. "In this business, you learn that matters are fluid from one hour to the next, much less one week to the next."

Richard Bennett, chairman of the state Republican Party, says it remains to be seen how his party's candidates will treat the state.

"I cannot specifically state that any major candidate will be in Maryland," Bennett said. "You hear rumors, but I can't say for certain."

Maryland got caught in the Catch-22 of primary scheduling -- either join the rush for a date early in the process and get overshadowed by the big states, or stick with a later date when the stage is empty but the nomination is probably decided.

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