For politics and politicians, this is the off season. No elections loom this year, so it is time for issues to be examined, positions to be formulated and party structures to be patched. The Maryland Weekly has prepared a series of articles on how and what the two major parties are now doing in Montgomery County. The following article examines the Republicans .
The Republican Party in Montgomery County is neither juggernaut nor joke, neither machine nor mess, not an empty shell and not a bazooka. More than anything else, it is a collection of paradoxes.
Paradox No. 1: Republicans hold the county's two most powerful offices - county executive and U.S. representative. But of the 33 other major elective state and county offices, a Republican holds only one, a state Senate seat, and he was appointed.
Paradox 2: Of 330,488 county voters registered on Feb. 7, only 97,891 were Republicans. That was almost exactly half the Democratic total of 195,864. Yet the county Republican Central Committee raised about $52,000 in 1976. The Democrats raised about $40,000. The average individual Republican donation was nearly $7. The average for the Democrats was about $1.50.
Paradox 3: Although the Republicans could not even field a complete slate in 1974 or 1976, they are talking about and working toward a majority of the County Council in 1978. No less an adversary than Democratic county chairman James Doherty thinks that three of the seven Council seats, now all held by Democrats, may change party hands.
County Republicans acknowledged that they can do little to reverse or cut into the Democrats' registration edge. They concede that they will continue to lose more often than they will win. They concede that they ahve not been as organized or image-conscious as county Democrats. They concede that they do not have an issue, or a series of issues, with which to differentiate themselves clearly from the Democrats. Nor, they say, is there such a thing as a "Republican agenda" for Montgomery County.
But they say they have emerged from the party's brush with Watergate in excellent shape, and are looking forward to turning Gov. Marvin Mandel's recent legal difficulties against the Democrats in the 1978 county races.
The Republicans add that they have more "closet" supporters than even they can reliably count. Many will vote Republican despite their registration, the Republicans say, once they are convinced that it's the incumbent Democrats who have spend the county into trouble.
For now, the county party is coalescing and regrouping with an eye toward 1978, the next election in which any county officees come open.
Stanley H. Eckles, a Kensington real estate dealer who is county chairman, said the party is currently filling vacant precinct chairmanships, starting to groom 1978 candidates and asking likely candidates to declare themselves early.
"Everybody keeps saying, 'Why do anything in '77?'" Eckles said. "If we don't do it now, it won't get done."
"We have proven we can win in Montgomery County," added Forbes W. Blair, a Central Committee member for 12 years and former county chairman. "We do want to win.We just have to work twice as hard as the Democrats. Nothing comes easy for Republicans in Montgomery County."
One thing that seems to come relatively easy is volunteers.
The county Republican headquarters at 7979 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, is full of them most weekdays. All women, the volunteers serve there as part of their membership in the party's four general membership clubs and 17 women's clubs. In all, the clubs have about 1,500 members.
The volunteers lick envelopes, keep track of finances, answer queries and do general office work. They serve under Eileen C. Stathes, the office manager and the county party's only paid employee.
Beside recruiting candidates and "going over what happened in the last election," the 19-member central committee is organizing precinct leadership classes and formulating positions on issues, Eckles said.
There is "more than enough" in the party treasury to last until the party's annual "Neighbor to Neighbor" autumn fund drive, Eckles said. And the committee itself is more diverse than it has ever been, Eckles said.It includes a farmer, a jailer and an innkeeper. "We're not all $80,000-a-year lawyers," said Eckles.
But despite such signs of revitalization, most recent county Republican candidates, particularly the successful ones, have relied mostly on themselves and little on the party apparatus.
"It's gotten a lot better in the last four or five years," said James Gleason, the Republican county executive who has neither asked nor gotten much party help in his two campaigns for the office. But the party, Gleason said, "does not really have a very effective public image. I've generally gotten my own image across."
Having run twice for statewide office, Gleason said he has seen "at fairly close range what the statewide party could do. They're very successful at winning primaries and very successful at losing elections."
Gleason said the only local Republican function he ever attends it the annual Lincoln Day dinner, held on or near the 16th President's birthday. As a private citizen, "I don't think I've ever cast a vote for a unanimously Republican ticket," Gleason said. Republicanism is not the cause it once was, Gleason concluded. The public and the Montgomery County electorate are "just turned off to partisan activity," Gleason said.
However, Gleason said there is still "great hope" for the Montgomery County party "if they can enunicate a philosophy the people want enunciated." As for himself, "the thought had struck me in the past" to run as an independent, "but it's too difficult to enunciate why you're doing it," Gleason said.
County Republicans cannot be faulted for lack of imagination in their efforts to regroup and grow.
Several years ago, the central committee decided to mount a drive to enlist first-time voters. The job fell to Edgar Cadwallader, a central committee member.
"He got all the high school year-books from every public high school in the county," recalled Forbes Blair. "You know where it says Johnny played volleyball and acted in the senior play? Well, Ed would call up Johnny and start out with, 'Hi, Johnny, how did you like volleyball in high school?"
The young folks were "very flatered," Blair said. But the registration value, he admitted, was "nothing discernible."
Then there were the efforts, especially intense in 1976, to try to induce registered Democrats to declare themselves Republicans.
Fred Shand, a precinct chairman in Colesville, said he got no outraged lectures in his door-to-door travels, but no converts, either.
"Some of them came up with the most remarkable excuses," Shand recalled. "One guy said if he changed from Democrat to Republican, he'd be subject to jury duty. And his wife is one of my good workers!"
Although the Democrats' 271 registration edge is close to uniform throughout the county, two districts have gone Republican more often than the four others in the last five elections: the 16th and the 20th. The 16th covers the big, old, stately homes of Chevy Chase and Kenwood. The 20th covers eastern and northern Silver Spring.
Fred Shand is chairman of a precinct in the 20th district. "It's a very stable neighborhood," Shand said. "There are no apartments. That makes a big difference."
His reference was to lower Silver Sping, the county's most solid Democratic stronghold. Especially impenetrable for the GOP have been the huge apartment complexes along lower 16th Street. In nearly five years, the Republicans have not had a precinct chairman there who lasted longer than a few months.
Shand's precinct is a different matter. He has a card on file for each of his 2,000 registered voters, of whatever party. Each card lists donations, previous political activity and expressed areas of interest, all in an intricate code. Shand is aided by a deputy and "a-bout five" door-to-door volunteers he "can count on."
Some Republicans have elective office in mind when they join a party club or run for the central committee, of course.
But many other committee members have no interest in anything larger. They say their labors are strictly love.
Forbes Blair, for example, has never run for anything and says he never will. But he carries a briefcase full of county Republican matters wherever he goes. He says that if the GOP ever died, he would take his family and move to another country.
What makes Blair tick? A passionate hatred of Democrats, by all appearances. Consider these Blairisms:
On the Democratic County Council: "They work like hell at smoking ordinances and dogs - ordinances, but their priorities stink. They're great on parks and greenery, but that's not all there is."
On the Carter cabinet: "I'm afraid of that guy at HEW. I'm afraid of that HUD gal. I'm afraid of the whole group!"
"It's not fashionable to say socialism any more, but it's happening," said Blair. "We need private initiative in Montgomery County, free enterprise, local control.
"We're the ones out there watching out for your pocketbooks. We want people - I don't care if they are Democrats - to realize that and say, 'God damn, these Republicans are making sense.'" CAPTION: Picture, Stanley Eckles, chairman of the Montgomery County Republicans: "We're not all $80,000-a-year lawyers." By Margaret Thomas - The Washington Post