For most of the candidates hoping to represent Montgomery County in the Maryland General Assembly for the next four years, the most pressing issue now is money. In a year when a campaign for the state Senate is expected to cost up to $35,000, there simply isn't enough money to go around.
The high cost of campaigning and the incumbents' desire to keep their seats found a convenient common ground in Montgomery this year. After some initial balking, the Democratic officeholders have scrambled aboard an unlikely slate, in order to share the expenses of office space, direct mail, and literature.
In Maryland's "good government" county, the majority Democratic Party is entering the election with the closest thing to a political machine since the reforms of 1966.
"We'll probably be the only major league ball game in town," said retiring Sen. Victor L. Crawford, chairman of the "Democrats For '82" incumbents' slate committee. "We decided to take a leaf out of Prince George's County's book and put something together."
The result is that Democrats will field a general election line-up that should include few new faces, with the most likely prospect for change coming where there are "open" seats, or seats now held by Republicans. Where there are open seats on the Democratic side, the incumbents have in all but one case handpicked the contenders to fill their slate.
Those left off the incumbents' slate have been crying "foul" from the sidelines, and some hope to win by flaunting their outsider status. A few talked earlier of putting together an "outsiders" slate. Others are resigned to running their campaigns on shoestring budgets, relying on door-to-door campaigning. Many believe they can beat the machine by talking issues, while the incumbents stress experience.
The Democratic slate-making and the infighting it has caused would ordinarily give Republicans cause to rejoice. But Republicans this year face the unhappy prospect of seeing potentially vulnerable Democratic seats slip from their grasp, all because the GOP candidates are having an even harder time finding money.
Where GOP officials first touted this as a good year for Republicans because of the divisions in Democratic ranks, they now concede that some of their brightest prospects may not be able to raise the cash to overcome the overwhelming 2-to-1 Democratic voter registration edge. And the party itself is in no position to help, with its own candidate aid coffers completely empty.
It is not as if there are no real issues in the county this year. On the contrary, legislators taking their seats in January 1983 will be representing the county's interests in Annapolis at a time when a scaled-back federal government is already transferring more burdens onto state legislatures.
The loss of federal dollars is expected to generate increased competition between Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City. Montgomery, as the most affluent of the counties, could prove a tempting target for other money-starved jurisdictions. There already was a glimpse of the coming combat during the last General Assembly session, with Montgomery and Baltimore openly feuding over various state aid formulas.
Also, legislators elected this year will be serving when several key aid formulas are scheduled to be renegotiated. Among them is aid to the schools, Montgomery's prized institution. Baltimore city and the poorer counties are looking for wealthy Montgomery to help subsidize their deteriorating school systems at a time when many Montgomery residents say that their own schools are slipping.
But campaigns for the state legislature are traditionally low-profile races, especially since voters will also be choosing a governor, a U.S. senator, congressional representatives, a county executive and County Council members. As one party outsider, lawyer Abbe Lowell, recently put it, "I am frustrated by the fact that issues are very unimportant on the House of Delegates level. More important is name recognition, loyalty to the party, money, and running on the right slate."