On the trail of the rare, elusive city Republican

October 10, 2006|By JEAN MARBELLA

It's not quite as hard as spotting an American golden-plover or a buff-breasted sandpiper, but you have to pity the Baltimore Board of Elections, searching for that rare Republican who lives in the city.

Maybe the city Board of Elections could use a sort of Peterson's field guide like the birders rely on: Are there any distinct markings to this rare creature? Any particular feeding or mating rituals? Any locale where they tend to migrate this time of year?

As Sun reporter Melissa Harris reported this weekend, the board has been searching for more Republicans to serve as Election Day judges. Given that state law calls for each polling place to be staffed with judges from both parties, and that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 8 to 1 in the city, you can see why the election board got such a lopsided response to its appeal: Of the more than 1,300 people who have expressed interest so far, only 125 were Republicans. That isn't even enough to place one Republican in each of the city's 292 precincts.

I thought I'd try to help the board find some Republicans. The board has been under the gun since the September primary, when a lot of polling places opened late as judges - of both parties - went missing in action. How hard could it be to find a Republican in the city?

The problem is that many are sort of undercover, one party activist told me. They're tired of being novelties in the city or having to constantly defend themselves against the majority opinion, so they don't necessarily advertise their leanings.

"If I'm at a party, I'll get introduced as, `This is a city Republican.' It's kind of like being a conversation piece," he told me, as long as I wouldn't use his name. (See what I mean about being undercover?) "So you try to assimilate."

I started with the obvious - I went to the city GOP headquarters, which is in a rowhouse in Charles Village. I rang the bell several times, and got no answer. I called their number as well, and got a recording. Maybe it was the Columbus Day holiday.

I continued up Charles Street, and, because of the reputation of campuses as liberal hotbeds, bypassed Johns Hopkins University. Steve Lyons, president of the College Republicans chapter, told me later by phone that most of his members kept their party affiliation "pretty quiet" anyway.

"Most of the professors are probably liberal so we don't want to get on their bad side," Lyons said, "or risk any discrimination - most of which is probably unintentional."

The elections board might check out the chapter's regular meetings, Tuesday nights at 8, either on campus at the Mattin Center on Charles or across the street at the Rocky Run Tap & Grill. But Lyons doesn't think his members can offer much assistance on Election Day - they have classes to go to, and many are from out-of-state and will vote by absentee in their home districts.

I did stop at Loyola College, where I met Erik Schmitz, 21, a senior who considers himself an independent but thought I'd have better luck on his campus than others. "I think for a Catholic institution, we're very liberal, but for a university, we're very conservative," he said.

"We have a big business school," he added helpfully, "I would look there."

Over at the Sellinger School of Business and Management, I did find a couple of students who said they were Republicans. But one, Kyle Mahoney, 19, is from New Jersey and thinks if he votes in November, he'll vote up there, and the other, Nick Lafferty, 19, is from Westminster and although a Republican says he's "not really into politics that much."

Getting nowhere fast, I went back to the office and worked the phones. Here are some suggestions for the elections board, culled from various city GOPsters:

Try recruiting at Ravens games - there seem to be more Republicans at football games than at baseball games.

Check out Jos. A. Banks rather than Brooks Brothers. And bypass anyone wearing French cuffs. (Or Birkenstocks - particularly with socks.)

See if The Washington Times will reveal its subscribers in the city.

Try happy hour at the Ropewalk tavern in Federal Hill, which has a life-size Ronald Reagan statue and whose owners are Republicans.

"Well, we do let the Democrats in here too," warns general manager Linda McFaul, "so there are no guarantees."

But if you're really looking for a Republican, here's the bit of advice I got most often:

Try the counties.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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