GOP numbers falter

Democrat registrations soar by 3-to-1 margin

January 21, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

Democrats are surging in voter registration in Maryland leading up to the presidential primary, outpacing Republicans by a more than 3-to-1 margin since the 2004 contest.

With tomorrow's deadline to register to vote in Maryland's Feb. 12 primary at hand, Democrats have accounted for 51 percent of registrations in the past four years, while Republicans garnered 15 percent. That split is a contrast to the period leading up to the 2004 presidential primary, when Democrats got 37 percent and Republicans 30 percent.

Some political experts and observers attribute the shift, which served to maintain the Democrats' nearly 2-1 registration advantage overall in Maryland, to dissatisfaction with the president.

FOR THE RECORD - A graphic accompanying an article about voter registration trends published in Monday's editions provided an incorrect figure for the percentage of unaffiliated voters and members of smaller political parties in Maryland. They represent 15.9 percent of the registered voters in the state.
The Sun regrets the error.

"What it reflects is animosity toward the Bush administration," said Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor.

The good news for the political process, Crenson said, is that the high voter turnout for the 2004 election - the highest since 1968 - could signal the start of a trend. With recession fears and the war in Iraq on voters' minds, he predicted another high turnout in November.

"What we may be watching is a long-term reversal of the declining interest in politics," Crenson said.

Since 2004, more than 311,000 registrations had been tallied through Thursday, and 31.8 percent filed as unaffiliated or members of unrecognized parties. The remaining registrants are members of the Green or Libertarian parties.

Unaffiliated and others make up about 16 percent of the total of Maryland's 3.1 million voters.

The Republicans' plight is illustrated vividly in Howard and Montgomery counties, where GOP registrations dropped by a combined 7,850 voters over the past four years, while the number of Democrats increased 21,669.

Republican leaders expressed unconcern about the numbers.

"There are cycles," said Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican who is minority whip in the General Assembly. "I don't think it will ever get to the point where a Republican couldn't win. We are still very competitive."

Quincy Gamble, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, agrees that President Bush's unpopularity is a significant factor, but he said party officials also have worked hard to register more voters as Democrats.

"Here in Maryland we've had a strong party and strong leadership," Gamble said. "The direction George W. Bush has taken the country is not what people believe."

Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said voters are angry that although billions are being spent every month in Iraq, prices for gasoline, food and home utilities are rising, but paychecks are not.

"They're totally frustrated," Cummings said. "They want to be protected from terrorists, but they want a balance."

However, at the same time, the presidential campaign is exciting voters with "some good choices" among Democratic candidates, Cummings said.

State Republican Party Chairman James Pelura discounted Bush's low approval ratings as a reason for his party's poor showing, pointing to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's flagging popularity in a recent poll by The Sun.

"We've had a difficult situation here with Sept. 11. President Bush has done a marvelous job in seeing our country move ahead after that," Pelura said, noting that no attacks have occurred within the United States.

Moreover, neither former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, nor O'Malley won by a landslide, Pelura said, which motivates him to work at reinvigorating Republican registration efforts while also targeting young and independent voters.

At the Howard County election board Friday, three voters expressed varying motivations as they registered.

Song Pak, 30, an Ellicott City real estate broker, has lived in the United States for 16 years, but became a citizen two weeks ago, he said.

"It's my first time ever voting," he said as he registered unaffiliated to give himself time to get his political bearings.

David Kowarski, 50, of Ellicott City changed registration from Democrat to Republican to help influence selection of the GOP's presidential nominee, he said.

"I thought the Democratic nominee was probably already decided [in favor of Hillary Clinton]," he said. His daughter Lisa, 17, also registered as a Republican to support Mitt Romney.

Carmen Mister, 37, of Columbia had moved from Randallstown in May, but didn't want to miss the chance to vote for Sen. Barack Obama, a Democrat from Illinois.

"My great-grandparents fought for my right to vote," through their civil rights activities decades ago, she said. And she wants her son, Ryan McCready, 14, to have a black leader to admire who isn't an athlete or entertainer.

This cycle's registration has been marked a new wrinkle: 17-year-olds signing up to participate in the primary. State elections Administrator Linda Lamone said 3,565 such voters, who will turn 18 before the general election Nov. 4, registered in the month since Dec. 19, when the state reversed an earlier decision to bar these youngest voters from the primary.

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