Once a month, about 40 Prince George's Republicans meet at the Ramada Inn in Lanham for breakfast. It's mainly a social occasion with a speaker thrown in, and any Republican willing to contribute $100 a year plus $5 for each meal is welcome.
On the other side of the Beltway, within eyeshot of the Ramada Inn, a smaller number of county Democrats convene every other Tuesday in a group jknown as "the Breakfast Club." They are elected officials, and their misson is to dole out patronage.
The difference between the "the breakfast Clubs" is the story of Prince George's County politics today. The Democrats not only enjoy a 65 per cnet (257,117 to 171,401) advantage in voter registration, they also hold virtually all the 70 or so elected county and state offices.
The two breakfast groups reflect this political reality: The Democrats control the action. THe Republican are spectators and can only talk about it.
The Democrats maintain an office and a paid executive director. The Republicans closed their headquarters after last November's election and have no pid staff.
The "Breakfast Club" is formally known as the democratic Party Advisory Committee. Inder it are the party central committee, whose chairman, lawyer Lance Billingsley, Conducts Breakfast Club meetings, and an army of precinct workers to do the envelope-stuffing and doorknocking that win elections.
Under the united party its detractors call a well-oiled by a few top engineer, the formerly factionalzied Prince george's Democrats have won a lot of elections in recent years.
Youn can count the Republican officeholders on the fingers of one hand: U.S. Rep. Marjorie Holt, whose district includes parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel County, where she lives; Bowie Mayor Audrey Scott; Laurey City Councilman Frank Salinger; Forest Heights City Councilman Anthony Brooks, and maybe one or two more.
Watergate and a unified county Democratic organization combined to make 1974 a lingering disaster for Prince George's Republicans.
"It's one of those infortumate things when you have everything up for grabs in a bad year," said Melissa Martin, a 34-year old Bowie housewife "and very proud of it") who became Republican county chairwoman in December. "It's kind of lonely."
The Republicans are now looking to 1978, when all offices are again up for gabs. Martin professes tp be optimistic but complains that "it's very difficult to gain the visibility you need if you're not in office."
Former U.S. Rep. Lawrence Hogan, whose seat is now filled by Democrat Gladys Spellman, is widely regarded as the most formidable Republican in the county.A private poll commissioned by Democratic County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. showed Hogan the only Republican running him a close race.
Hogan, however, has apparently taken himself out of local politics by recently accepting a lucrative jobs as executive vice president of the associated Buildings and Contractors Association.
"That's dissapointing," Martin said. "Larry would have been a fantastic candidate. He would win if the registration were five to one Democratic."
Martin said she is "looking to citizens organizations popping up all over" to challenge the one-party control of the county. "In two years time, we may well find damn good Republican can popping up."
They're not popping up yet, however. Martin said two or three people are considering challenging Kelly but she decline to name them.
"The Republicans have zero," said John Lally, an aide to Kelly. "You can't just come out of the blue. Name recognition is important."
Some of the democratic politicians have more name recognition than they want, or at least the wrong kind. Kelly, State Senate President Steny Hoyer (D-District Heights ) Maryland Democratic national committeeman Tom Farrington and his law partner, Washington Capitols president Peter F. O'Malley, and Democratic party Chairman Lance Billingsley are frequently called political bosses by their critics. Collectively, they are attacked as a "machine."
These men and their supporters vigously reject the "machine" label. What has happened, they say, is the formation of a strong, legitimate organization in which formerly feuding factions share the power. Intra-party strife in the early 1970s, they say, permitted the election of a Republican County executive and three Republican County Council members who frequently feuded among themselves.
There are some Democratics who subscribe to the machine theory, but they are so far scattered and unorganized.
"To win in this county," according to Council member Darlene Z. White, "you have to have a total ticket and precinct organization, and I don't think there's that capability now."
"I don't see at this point any (viable) candidate for office coming out of the so-called critics," said Democrartic chairman Billingsley. "The majority of the critics I'm aware of have run in past Democratic primaries and lost. Their critism is sour grapes."
Apparently the biggest problem facing the Democratics now, in this period of relative calm as they prepare for 1978, is the county grapevine.
After Hoyer held several meetings in November with elected county politicians to seek their support for his gubernatorial bid, reports filtered out that he wanted rthem to run only for their present offices on his ticket.
Hoyer denied he intended any such message, but one participant, County Council member Francis B. Francois, reported, "The implication was clear that Hoyer will be backing a local ticket in the county and will give preference to those incumbents who have performed adequately and desire to stay where they are."
Francois said he had not dicided on his own political course. "It's possible I will still run for Council. It's possible I will run for county executive," he said.
Since Hoyer and Kelly are holding a joint fundraiser tonight, Francois said if he chose to challenge Kelly, "I certainly won't be on Hoyer's ticket."
There also have been reports that some County Council members would be dumped fron the organization ticket next year.
"There are no such list," Billingsley said emphatically. "Within the Democratics Party, there has been no discussion that any presently elected official would be dropped from the ticket."
Such rumors, however, have made political waves beyond the county. For one thing, they have apparently encouraged Baltimore County executive Ted Venetoulis, who is considering running for governor against Hoyer and several others, to touch base with dissident Democratc in Prince George's. Venetoulis said recently the discussions have been "very low key."
In a sense, he was treading on St. Hoyer's turf, and he was careful to pay his rhetorial respects, and to tread light y. "I think they're a pretty tough group,? he said of the Prince George's Democratic Party.