A prominent Prince George's Republican ambled up to County Council member Parris Glendening at a party last month, just after maverick Democrat William Goodman had switched to the GOP and decided to run for county executive. The prominent Republican made it clear that he was not pleased.
"I left your party to get away from some of you people," the Republican told Glendening, a Democratic candidate for county executive. "Now I can't believe who's representing us. I've got (former Democrat) Perry Smith running for Congress; I've got Bill Goodman running for county executive."
"He said," Glendening recalled, "he might as well go back to being a Democrat. So we sent him a change of affiliation in the mail."
Though Republicans have always considered themselves a downtrodden minority in Prince George's, where they are outnumbered 3 to 1 in voter registration, this election year is shaping up as one of the worst for the local GOP in at least a decade.
Ten years ago, the Republicans had representation on the County Council, in the executive office, and in the House of Representatives--all countywide offices. This year, with the filing deadline less than a week away, only four Republicans have filed for any of the county's 31 state legislative seats, considered easier to win. Only six are vying for one of nine newly drawn council seats. And although some Republicans gamely insist that fresh, viable candidates will appear by the deadline, they have far more excuses than names of people willing to run.
"I guess a lot of people are looking at it very, very realistically in terms of whether they can win," said Republican John Burcham, a two-time Congressional candidate who was expected to run for county executive this year and declined. "Maybe running for office doesn't have the appeal it used to have as something to do. . . . There's more to life than running for office."
Likely to head the Prince George's GOP ticket is congressional candidate the Rev. Perry Smith, a Baptist minister and former civil rights leader who converted to the GOP in January, vowing to bring 10,000 blacks with him, and who has managed, by estimates within his own organization, to bring over only a few hundred. The county's most successful Republican, county executive Lawrence J. Hogan, is running for the U.S. Senate, and appears to be worrying little about the fate of lesser candidates at home.
Nothing illustrates the Republicans' disarray better than their quest for a candidate for county executive, easily the most powerful position in county government.
The Democrats have front-runner Parris Glendening, a two-term council chairman who already has raised about $200,000, opened two campaign offices, and picked up a handful of major endorsements. The groups include two police organizations and several building trades unions. Though Glendening suffers from lukewarm relations with some Democratic leaders, few of their complaints have anything to do with the concerns of the average voter; they center mainly on objections to Glendening's personality and style.
The Republicans, meanwhile, were depending on the candidacy of their well-liked party loyalist John Burcham, who twice ran unsuccessfully against former Rep. Gladys Spellman, but did little over the past few months to further his executive race save allow a few friends to run a poll. He decided just a month ago that he would not run, citing family responsibilities. In the meantime, Goodman, co-author of the controversial TRIM charter amendment limiting tax revenue, switched his affiliation, saying in an interview that he could not win a Democratic primary.
"I said, well, who in the hell are we gonna get, we can't just let Glendening and the Democrats walk away with it," said Republican activist Ray LaPlaca. He uttered the lament at a party in May, he said. "John Burcham was there, (park and planning commissioner) Charlie Dukes was standing there, and Ann Schoch walked in. We looked at each other and said, 'Why not Ann?' "
With that, Ann Schoch, also a park and planning commissioner, became the nominee of choice for mainstream Republicans, who publicly say they supported her all along and privately admit they could not live with Goodman, a former state delegate who was dumped from the dominant Democratic ticket in 1978 and subesequently lost his independent bid for a state Senate seat.
Though Goodman is now running as a fiscal conservative and has allied himself with virtually all of incumbent Hogan's policies, his reputation, in the words of Burcham, is that of "a big spender . . . quite liberal." Burcham added delicately, "I know a lot of Republicans who have been around for a long time who were not particularly excited about the thought of Bill's heading the ticket."
"Almost everybody I've talked to in the party felt that Goodman was unacceptable," said Schoch, who was persuaded to drop her second try for a County Council seat in order to run for executive. She admits she was reluctant.
"I was feeling really comfortable in my race. I had been working hard since the beginning." But loyalty to the party came first, said Schoch, especially if her backers can come up with the money to run a respectable race. "Charlie Dukes, Ray LaPlaca--they were all a part of the group that came to me with John. They all said they would do whatever they could for me. I really felt I was being pushed," she said.