Maryland Voters Prove Restless
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September, 16 1998; Page A19
Maryland primary voters were restless and rather contrary yesterday, throwing out two veteran state senators and a couple of incumbent officials in Montgomery County, expressing some irritation with the governor, and ignoring the GOP gubernatorial nominee's endorsement in the Republican race for comptroller.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey easily won their parties' respective nominations, as expected. But troubling signs emerged for both in some of last night's incomplete returns.
With 57 percent of the state's 1,662 precincts reporting, Glendening had 68 percent of the Democratic vote. That was less than overwhelming, analysts said, given that his only active opponents were two little-known, poorly financed campaigners.
By contrast, Sauerbrey was taking 81 percent of the Republican vote against a veteran but under-financed contender, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker. And Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was carrying 84 percent of the vote in early returns against several low-profile challengers.
For Sauerbrey, "anything over 75 percent is a very impressive number that demonstrates her message is really being heard by the state Republican voters," said Herb Smith, a Western Maryland College political scientist. He said Glendening needs to get at least 65 percent of the Democratic vote to appear solidly in control of his party's activists.
The news wasn't all rosy for Sauerbrey. With more than half the precincts reporting, her hand-picked candidate for comptroller of the treasury, Michael Steele, was trailing both Timothy R. Mayberry, a more conservative candidate who was the party's 1994 nominee, and Larry Mark Epstein, the 1990 nominee.
Should Steele lose, party insiders said, it will be a blow to Sauerbrey's efforts to present herself and the Maryland GOP as more moderate political forces that are acceptable to most voters in the comparatively liberal state. Steele, the Prince George's County GOP chairman, is an African American, and Sauerbrey has made a concerted effort to lure more black voters away from their traditional Democratic home.
In another sign of the conservative wing's potency in the Republican Party, voters ousted two prominent moderate senators: Republican leader F. Vernon Boozer of Baltimore County, a veteran of 27 years in the General Assembly; and Sen. John W. Derr (R-Frederick), a 16-year Senate veteran.
Ali said victories by Mayberry and other staunch conservatives could help Glendening portray the Republican Party as an unacceptably hard-right force, a major theme of his campaign already.
"He'll say that shows the Republican Party isn't really in the 20th Century," Ali said.
In Montgomery County, veteran County Council member William Hanna (D) of Rockville fell to Phil Andrews, a former head of Common Cause Maryland, in a race where Hanna's pro-development record may have hurt him. Meanwhile, Montgomery State's Attorney Robert L. Dean lost to fellow Democrat Douglas F. Gansler. Dean was hurt by allegations of an extramarital affair that had some echoes of the problems dogging President Clinton.
In fact, several analysts said, voter disgust with Clinton and the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal may have contributed to yesterday's comparatively low voter turnout in Maryland.
Democratic Party activist and former U.S. Rep. Michael Barnes said he was alone when he went to vote in his Kensington neighborhood at about 7 p.m.
"Usually there's a line of people," said Barnes, a past chairman of Glendening's reelection campaign. "I think all Democrats are worried about the turnout. I certainly am. We have a lot of work to do to remind people between now and November why it is so important to vote."
Barnes said of the Clinton scandal, "I think that hurts a lot. People don't want to hear about politicians, politics or government. And I think unfortunately that rubs off on a lot of good people."
Discontent with President Clinton wasn't the only factor that contributed to yesterday's low voter turnout. In many places, major races simply weren't as interesting as they were four years ago.
Montgomery and Prince George's counties, for example, had sharply contested Democratic contests for county executive in 1994. This year, the two men who won those primaries and the general election -- Montgomery Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Prince George's Executive Wayne K. Curry -- faced little-known opponents, thereby creating much less excitement than existed four years ago.
Throughout the state, in fact, several legislators were unopposed, as were the Republican and Democratic candidates for attorney general, one of only four Maryland offices elected statewide. And in the U.S. Senate contest, a high-profile race in many states, Mikulski overwhelmed a handful of challengers yesterday, while Republicans were choosing among a list of contenders with little experience.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company