Pulling for win, parties push hard in D.C. suburbs

November 07, 2006|By JEAN MARBELLA

Hey, over here! Up north on 95! It's us, Baltimore.

Remember us? We used to be the center of the universe when it came to statewide politics. But that giant sucking sound you might have heard in recent days was the vacuum created as many of the major candidates in today's elections headed southward en masse, toward the Washington suburbs.

Or rather, the "voter-rich" Washington suburbs, as they're now invariably described. They received much of the attention yesterday, on the last full day of campaigning before the polls open today, signaling a shift in Maryland, away from the traditional city-centered base of Baltimore and toward the new, sprawling suburban region that surrounds Washington.

I must confess, in the way that people on either coast consider the Midwest fly-over territory, I generally think of the D.C. suburbs as drive-through territory between Baltimore and Washington. But this year, the Washington suburbs are hot; that's where the It voters live, the candidates believe.

"We've definitely gotten a fair amount of attention this year. We got Bill Clinton last night - you can't get bigger than that," said Jolene Ivey, referring to the former president's Sunday appearance for the state's Democratic candidates in Upper Marlboro.

Ivey expects to be elected state delegate today representing the 47th District of Prince George's County - she has no Republican opposition - and she was among a group of Democratic officials and community leaders who hosted a rally for Ben Cardin yesterday morning in Hyattsville.

Later in the afternoon, just a couple of hours around the clock that is the Washington Beltway, Cardin's opponent, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, appeared at a rally of his own in Landover, hosted by a group of black ministers from Prince George's who were endorsing him.

While both Senate candidates focused on Prince George's, the Democratic gubernatorial ticket, Martin O'Malley and Anthony Brown, were in neighboring Montgomery County (although they ultimately made it back up to Baltimore for a rally in Federal Hill Park). While their Republican opponent, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., managed to spend yesterday away from the D.C. suburbs, he's logged his share of campaign time there, most recently on Sunday when he appeared with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a Prince George's firehouse.

What makes the D.C. suburbs so attractive this year is not just the numbers - it's been years now that Prince George's and Montgomery counties, with 440,000 and 508,000 registered voters, respectively, have dwarfed Baltimore City's 330,000. In the past, candidates could count on the three jurisdictions to vote Democratic - so Republicans often focused their attention elsewhere.

But this year, things aren't quite as they were. For one thing, Steele, an African-American who lives in Prince George's, has drawn a number of Democratic politicians and black ministers to his side. Yesterday, in an office park in Landover, a group of those ministers, several of whom said they're Democrats, endorsed his candidacy, some noting that it was time for the state to send a black man to the U.S. Senate, others framing it more as a values issue than a racial one. Steele, a former Catholic seminarian, opposes embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage.

Whatever the reason, the suburbanites welcome the attention this year.

Valerie Gordon of Potomac said she's always resented the Baltimore-centrism of Maryland candidates.

"Baltimore has a lock on things. It's Baltimore and Annapolis," said Gordon, who runs a baby blanket business from her home and was shopping at White Flint Mall yesterday. "We get no attention from the Baltimore candidates."

For her, like many in an area where radio station WTOP gives traffic updates every 10 minutes, the big issue is congestion on the roads - which is why Ehrlich has her vote today, for his support of the Inter-County Connector highway that will run through Prince George's and Montgomery counties. It used to take her two hours sometimes to get to an Orioles game. Not that she goes to many any more.

If the D.C. suburbans ever had a need for Baltimore - say, for the occasional baseball game - the flagging Orioles have become less of a draw over the years, particularly with Washington getting its own team. And even our Baltimore Symphony Orchestra now goes to them, to the new Strathmore concert hall in North Bethesda, saving them from having to come to us.

"But I do get up to Baltimore," Gordon protested. "I just had to go to BWI."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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