Montgomery County Democrats and Republicans yesterday presented sharply contrasting interpretations of County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist's reelection chances and the political impact of the long-running controversy over the Department of Liquor Control.
A poll conducted by the Democrats found that a majority of voters in the county take the allegations against the department seriously, but the poll still showed Gilchrist, a Democrat, in a strong position to defeat any potential Republican candidate. However, a Republican poll, released as soon as results of the rival survey began circulating, showed Gilchrist to be in serious trouble.
The Democratic poll, conducted Nov. 14 from a sample base of 391 registered voters of both parties, asked the question: "How seriously do you regard allegations which have arisen involving the Montgomery County Liquor Department?" Thirty percent regarded it as very serious, 30 percent somewhat serious, 16 percent said not serious and 24 percent said they didn't know enough to comment.
However, Central Committee chairman Stanton Gildenhorn and other Democrats said the poll showed Gilchrist easily distancing a number of candidates in either a primary or general election.
In a primary, according to the poll, he would defeat Councilman David Scull, regarded as a possible challenger, by a margin of 51 percent to 22 percent with 27 percent undecided. In a general election, the poll shows Gilchrist beating Del. Luiz Simmons, his strongest possible Republican challenger, by a margin of 51 percent to 24 percent with 25 percent undecided, and school board member Marian Greenblatt by 53 to 24 percent with 23 percent undecided.
Those figures painted a much different state of affairs than did a Republican poll conducted Aug 28-30 among 400 registered voters of both parties. One question cited by Republican Central Committee Chairman Paul Clark asked respondents to give Gilchrist a job rating of "excellent" or "good" or "only fair" or "poor" or "no opinion."
Clark said only 3 percent gave Gilchrist an excellent rating, 40 percent said good, 36 percent said only fair and 12 percent said poor with the rest having no opinion.
As for the various charges of mismanagement and favoritism that have been raised in connection with the liquor department, a summary of the Republican poll said: "A further blow to the incumbent is the accusation that he abused county government personnel hiring procedures, as in the liquor department . . . . If this could be proven to the voters, nearly 70 percent would vote to elect a new person in 1982."
The Republican poll, which Democrats dismiss because it was taken "too early" and before several investigations cleared the Gilchrist administration of illegal acts in the liquor controversy, also showed that only 29 percent of the respondents would have voted for Gilchrist on the day they were polled, while 34 percent would vote for anyone else and 37 percent were undecided.
"To me, I think Gilchrist has real trouble in a reelection bid," Clark said. "And I don't think that time would have substantially altered our polling results."
But Gildenhorn said the fact that the Democratic poll indicated no Republican getting more than 25 percent of the vote in mock local elections against Democrats showed that "only hardcore Republicans intend to support Republican candidates."
The Democratic poll was conducted by Potomac Research, a Washington firm operated by Dick Nugent and Lanny Davis that did polling for the Gilchrist campaign in the 1978 Gilchrist election and more recently for Congressman Steny Hoyer.
The Republican poll was conducted by Dick Werthlin's Decision Making Information firm, the D.C. office of the California-based firm that handled polling for President Reagan.