State Democrats Show Signs of Disarray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 27, 1998; Page B1
Peter Krauser said yesterday that he was starting to feel a little like Will Rogers, who used to say: "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat."
But it was hardly the position Krauser wants to be in. After all, he is the chairman of Maryland's Democratic Party.
In a week that saw Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry follow the lead of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and refuse to endorse Gov. Parris N. Glendening for reelection, Krauser said he was worried that a splintering of the Democratic Party could end up helping Republicans right into the governor's mansion for the first time in 32 years.
He has reason to be concerned. Some of the harshest anti-Glendening rhetoric this year came Thursday from the governor's fellow Democrat, Curry. In endorsing challenger Eileen R. Rehrmann, Curry declared that Glendening had "betrayed" Prince George's County and that "it's time for him to go." It is the kind of talk that is music to Republicans' ears.
"It can reach the point where it's self-defeating," Krauser said of the primary campaign's verbal warfare. "It's getting dangerously close."
The governor can draw encouragement from a Washington Post poll last week which showed him trouncing his Democratic primary challengers and leading his main GOP rival, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, by 12 points. But he is hardly in an ideal position for an incumbent seeking reelection.
The same poll showed that his support is soft and that he faces three challengers from his own party. Among them are Rehrmann, the Harford county executive, who has been endorsed by Curry and Schmoke, and former Redskins player turned insurance executive Ray Schoenke, who has committed $2 million of his own fortune to his campaign.
Neither have made much progress in the polls, and most political analysts expect Glendening to win the Sept. 15 primary handily. The bigger questions are: How damaged will he be by attacks from Rehrmann and Schoenke as he goes into what is sure to be a bitter fight with Sauerbrey? And will divided rank-and-file Democrats pull together for a general election that will be in large part decided by voter turnout?
It may, for example, be difficult for Curry and Glendening to make peace come Sept. 16. There hasn't been much peace between them for the past four years. Curry has declared that Glendening, who spent 12 years as Prince George's county executive before becoming governor, left the county with a fiscal mess.
Schmoke has insisted that Glendening, in a private conversation, agreed to back legalizing slot machines to generate revenue for Baltimore schools.
The governor has denied both claims, but has largely refused to be drawn into the fray with his Democratic critics. In his campaign appearances, he focuses on Sauerbrey, who is already using the anti-Glendening comments of Rehrmann's running mate, former Montgomery county executive Sidney Kramer, in her speeches.
While Glendening has had his policy disagreements with Curry and Schmoke the most serious being his opposition to the mayor's interest in gambling the real antagonisms have been personal. So it remains to be seen whether Curry's and Smoke's lack of enthusiasm for the governor will lead some of their supporters to just stay home on election day. Both men control street organizations that may be important in getting voters to the polls.
"In a close election, things on the margin count. What Schmoke and Curry do on the margins could matter," said Alan Lichtman, an American University professor who has long studied Maryland politics. And, he said, there could be wider ramifications for Democrats, which have controlled state politics for generations.
The current dissension "is a sign of a party cracking," he said. "There could be problems because it's personality-based. It makes Democrats look bad and makes the general election tougher. The Democratic Party needs to do some soul-searching."
Republicans were salivating at this week's news of Curry's endorsement and the disarray it wrought.
"The real effects of this aren't going to be seen in the primary. It will be after the primary," said Kevin Igoe, a College Park-based GOP consultant. "You can't change people and they way they act. After Sept. 15 Glendening will still be Glendening and Curry will still be Curry, and they won't like each other any better."
Republicans traditionally turn out more of their voters during off-year elections such as this one. And they sense that this year's race is their best chance to capture Maryland's governorship since Spiro T. Agnew was elected in 1966 following another intra-party battle among Democrats.
That is a strong motivator for GOP turnout. But Democrats recognize the threat and are mounting their own get-out-the-vote operation, which Krauser said is more ambitious than the party has attempted before. It will be aggressively reaching out to union members, African Americans and women, who generally favor Democrats.
"The Democratic Party is often like a large, squabbling family but in the end we'll all pull together," said Krauser, who is officially neutral as party chairman but was installed in his position by Glendening. "The bottom line is Democrats have too much at stake."
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