Gov. Harry Hughes today guaranteed a brief and intense race to fill Gladys Spellman's congressional seat by setting the special primary and the general election on the earliest dates permitted by state election laws.
Hughes' decision to select an April 7 primary and a May 19 general election for the 5th Congressional District seat set off frenzied speculation and planning by Republicans and Democrats as well as the state and county election borad officials, who must run and monitor the county's first special partisan election in memory.
"It's almost like you're going to announce and then immediately say, let's vote," said former Maryland Senate president Steny Hoyer, who has made clear in the last few days that he will be running for the seat. "You're looking at 39 days of continuous campaigning. I guess it'll be a cheap voter registration drive."
Hughes' announcement also sparked some murmurs of discontent from various state legislators who had toyed with the notion of entering the race but discovered today that a primary will occur during the last and most hectic week of the current General Assembly session.
"I'm a little annoyed at the governor," said state Sen. Arthur Dorman, who has been "consulting with his family" over whether to step into the Democratic primary race. "We don't get out of here unitl [April 13] so we are practically precluded from getting involved. [The primary date selected by Hughes] is a great big minus."
Despite the problems posed for some legislators, both Republican and Democratic candidates and party officials endoresed the governor's decision to hold the special election as quickly as possible and predicted it would work to their advantage.
"The short general will be helpful to Republicans," said Bowie Major Audrey Scott, one of three Republicans to have announced for the seat since the House of Representatives declared it vacant this week. "From what I hear . . . there will be a lot of [candidates] in the [Democratic] primary and a short general election will not give them enough time to heal their wounds."
On the Democratic side, Hoyer as well as the two other certain contenders -- State Sen. Edward Conroy and Gladys Spellman's husband Reuben -- said they thought a quick primary and general would help them. Unlike several other interested candidates, all three have adequate name recognition among county voters to make an impact in a quick race. They are also likely to be able to quickly raise the $30,000 or so that will be needed to fund a primary campaign and the $100,000or $200,000 that county politicians speculate will be required for the general election.
While differences of opinion exist on who will be most helped by a quick special election, all sides agree that a 40-day primary race followed by a 42-day general election race will force all candidates to deviate from the tactics of a longer campaign.
Instead of attending dozens of small coffee klatches and civic association meetings and circulating through shoping centers, candidates will have to quickly identify voters certain to come out in a special election and concentrate their door knocking energies and mass mailings among those persons who are certain supporters.
"The key to a quick primary is getting to the voters," said state Republican Party Chairman Allan C. Levey. "Mass media is not going to have as much effect as door to door and phone book contact. In the GOP primary we're not going to have a lot of voters out there. The Republican registration is only 40,000 and so if we get 10,000 voters on election day I'd be surprised. In a four-person primary that means that 3,000 to 4,000 votes could win it."