Republicans prep for Nov.

Leaders call for unity against motivated Democratic Party at election kickoff rally

Maryland Votes 2006

September 24, 2006|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Republicans must rally behind their candidates - and against a motivated Democratic Party - if they are to maintain their overwhelming political advantage here, GOP leaders told an assembly of candidates and party faithful last week.

At a unity breakfast hosted by the Republican Party and County Executive David R. Craig, winning candidates from the primary election and those who came up short joined together to put the sometimes-bitter past few months aside and focus on their strategy for the general election.

"The Democrats are newly energized. We need to be too," said Robert Mumby, president of the Harford County Republican Club. "If not, we'll have to live with the consequences for the next four years. Now is the time to do everything you can."

Craig acknowledged that several of the party's candidates this year are former Democrats. But he said they had switched not to take advantage of voter habits but because their party had left them behind.

"We are the party of the people and the party of the future," Craig said. "Democrats in the county and in the state are only concerned about how to scare you, blame others and take advantage of government. They have no plan."

Before leading the crowd in the singing of "God Bless America," James V. McMahan Jr., who recently registered as a Republican, thanked the party for accepting him.

"Three and a half years ago, you welcomed me into your party," he said. "I am a Republican and proud of it. God bless our president, and God bless America."

About 30 percent of Republican voters turned out for the primary election, the lowest figure in at least 12 years. In choosing their nominees, voters largely rejected partisanship, choosing several candidates who had switched parties and sending home some longtime Republicans.

"You and I both know that it's who gets out on Election Day, and the primary was abysmal for us," said Howard McComas, the local chairman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s re-election campaign.

Democrats, who believe the area's moderate voters are dissatisfied, are hoping to parlay what they see as an openness to change into their first significant gains in more than a decade. They will hold a similar election kickoff event Sept. 30 when they open a Democratic headquarters in downtown Bel Air.

"There are many [Republicans] walking away from primaries angry," said Michael G. Comeau, chairman of the Democratic central committee. "There were some tactics that went below the belt and there were some personal things out there. When you have that discontent, there is that opportunity."

Swing voters, defined by McComas as those who are friendly to the GOP but might not vote on Nov. 7, can expect a deluge of direct mailings, door-to-door visits and automated phone calls as money is pumped into the state and county.

"That is what will make the difference for the party," McComas told the crowd.

Attending the function at the Maryland Golf and County Club in Bel Air were County Council President Robert S. Wagner and Del. Joanne S. Parrott, who were bounced by voters after a combined 36 years of service. Wagner was beat by a surprisingly large margin of victory by horse breeder Billy Boniface, and barely edged the third candidate, Aaron Kazi.

Parrott, who was celebrating her 20th year in politics, was defeated by newcomer Donna Stifler.

Mumby and McComas recognized several of the unsuccessful candidates and urged them to continue working for the party. But they didn't mention Wagner or Parrott.

"I apologize if I've left anyone out," Mumby said.

Craig, however, invited both to the front of the room during his remarks. He related his loss to James M. Harkins in the 1998 Republican county executive primary, which he said was "the last time everybody thought they'd see me." Craig said he took time to rethink what he wanted to do with his political life, and later ran for mayor of Havre de Grace.

"I hope these two people do that over the next few weeks," he said.

Register of Wills Harry L.W. Hopkins surprised many with his presence. Hopkins, a 60-year Democrat, switched parties to retain his position and beat Republican central committee Chairman William G. Christoforo.

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