In swing district, a hunt for votes

Green Spring Valley

Maryland Votes 2006

November 03, 2006|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,Sun reporter

To campaign door to door along the rolling hills and tree-lined roads of Green Spring Valley requires real stamina to make it from one far-flung house to the next, down one long, winding driveway after another just to reach a doorbell and, hopefully, a voter.

Both Democrats and Republicans do it anyway. They know that it is in northwest Baltimore County's precinct 3-13 where there are votes to be had, where people are paying close attention to next week's fiercely contested gubernatorial election, where constituents don't make their decisions based solely on whether the candidate is flanked by the letter R or D, but based on much more.

The future of Maryland's political landscape could be determined right here.

Political observers say Baltimore County is the linchpin in the too-close-to-call governor's race.

And in Baltimore County, perhaps no neighborhoods are more critical than those contained in precinct 3-13.

Eight years ago, the precinct - where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans this year by more than 2 to 1 - chose Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat in a tight race for re-election, giving him a significant edge with 694 votes to opponent Ellen R. Sauerbrey's 547. But four years ago, this same area went in a completely different direction - with Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. trouncing Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend among these same voters. He got 849 votes to her 521.

"It's a battleground," said Gary Vanhoven, an employee of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development who is volunteering his time for Ehrlich in the 11th Legislative District, which includes 3-13. "It's an area where the vote could go either way. ... They are people who cross party lines."

Stanford Zinn lives on Velvet Valley Way and owns a physical therapy office in the city. The registered Democrat has closely followed the gubernatorial race and plans to vote for the Democratic challenger, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, on Tuesday.

During the campaign, he has seen Ehrlich do little but denigrate O'Malley's job performance, painting Baltimore as a place where crime has gotten worse and the mayor is to blame. That's not what Zinn has seen. Zinn, 52, sees a city with a growing tax base and a place where people are no longer racing for the exits.

For months, Zinn said, Ehrlich "has been slinging a lot of mud, that's what I've seen." Besides, he said, under the Ehrlich administration, health care costs have "continued to zoom out of control." After promising not to raise taxes, the governor oversaw the doubling of auto registration rates, he said.

Not far away, on Baronet Road, lives Norman Tucker, a retired restaurant executive. Tucker is a registered Republican. He plans to vote for Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin for U.S. Senate, but this year will be one in which he splits his ticket.

Just as four years ago, he plans to vote for Ehrlich.

"Everyone thinks he's done a fairly good job, especially considering the Democratic legislature," Tucker said, adding that lawmakers "stymied [Ehrlich] a lot of the way."

He said he supports Ehrlich's positions on funding stem cell research and legalizing marijuana for cancer patients.

"I like where he came from, the hard road he came from to get where he is," Tucker said. "He pulled himself up from his own bootstraps and I like that. He says what he thinks. He doesn't hew to a set standard that's raised by a platform committee. He's his own man."

On a recent evening, Del. Bobby A. Zirkin, the Democratic candidate for state Senate in the 11th Legislative District, and Dana Stein, a Democrat running for Zirkin's old seat in the House of Delegates, canvassed a stretch of Stevenson Road. Flanked by a group of eager teenage volunteers, the two were armed with literature for their own campaigns. But they were also carrying loads of green-and-white cards touting O'Malley's accomplishments.

Zirkin didn't even have lawn signs for his own campaign when a supporter asked for one. Every last sign piled into the back of his black SUV bore the names of O'Malley and his running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown.

Zirkin, a two-term delegate, is pretty well known in these parts. It's O'Malley, he figures, who can use the talking up.

"This is a crucial precinct for the mayor," he tells Beckie Lamborn, an art teacher at the McDonogh School, who greets him on her front lawn flanked by her dogs.

She tells him O'Malley has her support, just as Townsend did four years ago. Still, Lamborn said, she hasn't been completely impressed with the tone of the campaign.

When she watched the debates between O'Malley and Ehrlich, they didn't sit well. "I was pretty upset that they were arguing so much," she said. "I think we all want the same things."

Martin R. Resnick lives not far away on Verdant Road. He is understandably coy about whom he is planning to vote for this year, mostly because politics makes up a chunk of his business as owner of Martin's Inc, a catering and banquet hall business.

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