'Super' day sparks so-so enthusiasm with voters

March 09, 2000|By Michael Olesker

BY 10 O'CLOCK on primary election morning, at the Mount Washington Elementary School, 54th Precinct, 27th Ward of the 42nd Legislative District, City of Baltimore, there were 79 people who had roused themselves to vote. Seven were Republicans. By one in the afternoon, at St. Leo's church in Little Italy, there were just 91 people who had voted. Thirteen were Republicans.

Thus, on a so-called Super Tuesday in which roughly two-thirds of the Maryland electorate stayed home, did we express our frenzy to take part in the great political drama of the day.

At Mount Washington Elementary, the voting booths were set up next to a couple of tables where the school's parent-teacher group was selling children's books and cookies and cakes. But who's to buy when so few people show up?

At St. Leo's, the ladies who work the polling booths sat around with little more to do than swap neighborhood chat. Then Vince Culotta, owner of Sabatino's restaurant, sent some complimentary lunch over so the day shouldn't be a total loss.

Meanwhile, on the second floor of Sabatino's, Rep. Ben Cardin had commandeered a room for himself, his wife, Myrna, and about 20 volunteer poll workers.

"It's a superstition," Myrna Cardin explained. "The first election Ben ever won, he had lunch here. So now he comes here every Election Day."

"You gotta stick with what works," the congressman said.

A lot he had to worry about. On Super Tuesday, Cardin ran unopposed. For all intents and purposes, so did Vice President Al Gore, who got 67 percent of the Democratic vote in Maryland and swept all primaries across the country. Bill Bradley never had a shot. He showed up around here twice during the campaign, as though doing everybody a favor. He is scheduled to withdraw from the race today, to the surprise of no one.

Several months back, Bradley spoke to NAACP leaders at the Hyatt Hotel. Before his speech, some Democratic leaders waited to meet him. Among them were Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Del. Howard Rawlings, and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor.

Bradley seemed utterly disengaged, a man who had deigned to show up but kept himself at a distance physically and emotionally. For long minutes, he stood on a balcony overlooking those waiting to see him, as though awaiting choruses of "Hello, Dolly." It was a little embarrassing to see these men of stature getting dissed. And these were Democrats who had risked political capital by backing him.

When Bradley spoke to the NAACP leadership, he got only polite applause. A little later, when Michael Jordan endorsed his candidacy, the gesture resonated for about 12 seconds, probably the worst defeat Jordan's known since he saw his first serious curveball.

When Bradley showed up at the ESPN Zone four days ago, it was far too late in the game. As he made his way around the Inner Harbor sports restaurant, patrons seemed pleased to see him -- but not so pleased that they actually left their seats to say hello. Bradley inspires distance. He seems to be thinking such lofty thoughts up there that everybody's too intimidated to go near him.

But, even with the Democratic nomination virtually wrapped up before Tuesday, look at these numbers: Across the state, about 468,000 people voted for Gore or Bradley; only about 338,000 voted for George W. Bush or John McCain.

In other words, in a race that everybody knew was already over, about 130,000 more people cast their Democratic ballots than for a Republican race that was more ferociously contested than any Republican primary since Ronald Reagan's first election.

How do the Republican professionals light a fire under voters in such swell economic times? On primary election day, the Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 374 points -- which is a drop of just 3.68 percent, given the record highs of the current era.

In Annapolis, the governor prepares to sprinkle the state's billion-dollar surplus in all directions. In blooming Howard County, unemployment is so low -- 1.3 percent in December -- that employers are complaining they can't find workers. They're offering 401(k) plans at Pizza Hut.

In beleaguered Baltimore, plans for the once-dreary Marketplace, and for the west side of downtown, make it sound like the second coming of the Inner Harbor.

"People vote their pocketbooks, pure and simple, and they're happy with this economy," Edwin F. Hale, president of First Mariner Bank, was saying yesterday. "And the Democrats are taking credit for it.

"Look, I've got hundreds of millions of dollars invested around here. And I'm just one guy, one bank. I've never seen such an extended period of prosperity. Unless there's a downturn in the economy, I don't see how the Republicans have a shot."

Maybe that's one reason Tuesday's turnout was so low. A fat and contented electorate was expressing its complacency.

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