It's not just the votes that count

In pursuit of victory, superstitious politicians value their rituals and traditions

Election Day

Maryland Votes 2006 -- A Special Section

November 08, 2006|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,Sun reporter

Peter Franchot's victory in the race for state comptroller yesterday could be attributed to many factors - his reputation for independence, his positions on the environment and education, or the clean campaign he ran. But Franchot knows better.

"I've got a lucky yellow tie I've worn every day for the last two months," he said. He had the tie on again yesterday. But it wasn't his only defense. "I always tie my right shoe before my left shoe," he said. "Politicians are superstitious."

Especially on Election Day, when those on the ballot are careful to uphold the rituals and traditions that have carried them to victory in the past. That means Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin bought a cinnamon raisin bagel yesterday morning from Goldberg's in Pikesville and had lunch at Sabatino's in Little Italy, as he does every Election Day.

It means that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. partied with two dozen of his old Princeton friends on election eve, as he has done in every race since his first, in 1986. And it means that Mayor Martin O'Malley went to Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption, a tradition that has served him well but almost didn't come off this year.

"I was very anxious that the Basilica renovations would finish on time," O'Malley said. The work was done just under the wire: The Basilica reopened Saturday after being closed for two years.

Even politicians no longer on the ballot hold fast to their traditions. Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who lost the Democratic primary to Franchot, was at Iggy's Sandwich Kings, also in Little Italy, for breakfast yesterday, where he has met old friends every Election Day for years.

Every time he was on the ballot, former Gov. Parris N. Glendening would work polling stations until they closed, at 8 p.m. "I worked a poll up until the last person was in line," he said. "It was dark, it was cold."

The practice began during his first run for office, for Hyattsville City Council in 1973. In a small-town election, face time with voters really means something, Glendening said. But even in his statewide elections, he continued the practice. Through 19 elections, he never lost.

"Most candidates are superstitious, and having done something once, you stick with it," Glendening said. But mostly, he said, he tried to stay out of the way of his staff on Election Day.

"What I discovered very quickly is that the most superfluous person in the entire operation on Election Day is the candidate himself or herself," he said. He tells candidates now the best thing they can do is tune out the noise.

"I say you're gonna hear a million rumors all day long," he said. "The best thing you can possibly do is not listen to the radio and not answer your cell phone. There will be rumors that Prince George's County has slid into the ocean. Or that turnout is 150 percent in Carroll County. Or that the entire election system just went down in Baltimore City."

At Northwestern High School in Baltimore yesterday, Cardin said he had been hearing mostly positive news about the election system this time around, unlike on Primary Day in September. The school is his father's old polling place, and Cardin stops there every Election Day.

"My father covered this polling place every election - from the time it opened to the time it closed, and we always did well," Cardin said. His father died last year, so yesterday Cardin's brother Howard and a cousin were there, continuing the tradition.

"It's home," Cardin said.

The rituals don't always work. Former Vice President Dan Quayle went to the dentist every Election Day. Former Rep. Constance A. Morella would have a kosher hot dog at every retirement community in Silver Spring.

U.S. Sen. John McCain is among the most superstitious of politicians. According to The Washington Post, he must see a movie every Election Day before polls close. And during elections, he carries a lucky compass, a lucky feather, a lucky penny and, sometimes, a lucky rock. Needless to say, he also has lucky shoes.

Not all politicians have such rituals or superstitions, or at least they won't own up to them. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger hits Baltimore City and the three counties in his district on Election Day but has no other traditions, a spokeswoman said. Former Gov. Harry R. Hughes said he never did anything special on Election Day, other than vote with his wife.

And a spokeswoman for Ehrlich - who has won 15 straight elections - said the governor does not have an elaborate routine. "I'm afraid the governor's only Election Day ritual is winning," e-mailed Shareese N. DeLeaver. (To be fair, she followed that line with a smiley face emoticon, to make clear she was joking.)

But later, DeLeaver remembered that about 25 of Ehrlich's friends from Princeton, where he got his undergraduate degree, always come into town the day before an election to campaign for him. On Monday, they could be found at the corner of Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue in Dundalk, waving signs at passing cars.

"I came from Hong Kong - 8,000 miles away - just to support Bobby," said Jeff Blount, 48, a lawyer who said his children couldn't believe what he was doing. "This [election] was so close, I felt I had to make an effort to be here personally."

The group was organized by Bob Kautzmann, a mortgage trader from New Jersey who played football with Ehrlich at Princeton. Kautzmann has campaigned for Ehrlich every Election Day since his first race for the House of Delegates in 1986.

"Quite honestly, I'm not that into politics," Kautzmann said. "But he's a friend, and I'll do anything for him."

But not all of Ehrlich's old friends dared come support him - some because of their own superstitions. "One guy wouldn't come because he's never done this before," explained Kautzmann. "He didn't want to jinx it."

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

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