While both Democratic and Republican political strategists are predicting hard times for GOP candidates in the November elections, Prince George's County Republicans are confident that the economic news will not affect their chances.
Reagan administration policies are "not really an issue here," said Ella Ennis, the Republican candidate for the 9th District council seat who is considered one of her party's strongest council candidates. "I think people are interested in the local issues, and the local issues are that taxes are too high, that we need to better manage the money in our county, make sure educational priorities are straight, preserve our environment."
There have been no Republicans on the Prince George's County Council since 1970, when the county first adopted the charter form of government. Outspent, outnumbered and out-organized by the 3-to-1 Democratic majority among county voters, Republicans have spent most of the last eight years on the political sidelines, despite the 1978 election of Republican Lawrence J. Hogan as county executive.
This year, Republicans hope to change all that. A 1980 revision in the county charter shrank the council from 11 members to nine, and required that council members be elected from individual districts, forcing candidates to run on their own rather than as members of slates.
Republican candidates considered most likely to win election -- such as Ennis, who served on the redistricting commission, and Wilbert Wilson, a Hogan aide -- got into the race early and took positions of high visibility in civic activities. And like most Republican candidates in the county, Ennis and Wilson say they are stressing their service to their communities as individuals rather than party ties.
"You have a lot of people who've lived here all their lives," said Ennis, who began campaigning more than a year ago. "They do get out and talk to their neighbors. I think that makes the difference."
But Prince George's Democrats are equally certain that Democratic voters will remain faithful to their party.
Although unemployment in the county was most recently recorded at 6 percent, well below the national average, concern over last year's federal cutbacks as well as the national economy has put voters "in the mind to punish Republicans," said one Democrat.
"It'll be like robots back to the factory," said State Del. Thomas Mooney, a Democrat who recently survived a close reelection fight. "They'll go straight down the sample ballot."
"We certainly do get people who say, 'Republican? Get away from me. I don't want to talk to you. Look at Reagan and the economic system,' " said Virginia Kellogg, manager of Melvinor Williamson Gray's 7th District council campaign.
"I suppose my response is, 'Look at the party and look at the person,' " said Kellogg.
But the Republicans remain outfunded (all but two council candidates are virtual unknowns running on shoe-string budgets) and out-organized; unlike the Democrats, who dun their candidates for contributions to print mailers and sample ballots to send to all registered voters before the elections, the Republican Central Committee will send copies of the election issue of the party newspaper only to Republicans.
The council races line up this way:
* District 1: Republican John Ritchie, 38, of Laurel, owner of a construction equipment firm, faces two-term incumbent Democrat Frank Casula, 62, also of Laurel. Casula has always emphasized constituent service and, said one Republican, "is almost revered up there" in the Laurel-based district. Casula was the only incumbent with no primary opposition. Ritchie has called for the creation of a task force to find jobs for unemployed county residents, and renovation of the old Glendale Hospital site on Rte. 450 into a planned community for the elderly.
* District 2: Newcomer W. Michael Zane, a 32-year-old Hyattsville management recruiter, faces Democrat Anthony Cicoria, 39, of University Park. Zane, who plans to spend less than $100, says he will meet Cicoria "on his own turf," by emphasizing the concerns of the elderly.
* District 3: College Park City Council member Joseph Drewer, 36, a Republican, faces Democrat James Herl, 29, who won his primary race by 11 votes. Drewer, an accountant, says he offers management expertise to an ill-managed government. Herl emphasizes his experience as a council aide.
* District 4: Republican Kenneth Powell, of Lanham, a 22-year-old University of Maryland graduate who works part time at a computer firm, faces Democrat Richard Castaldi, 37, mayor of Greenbelt. Castaldi, who has a well-financed organization, beat three Bowie challengers to win his party's nomination. Although the election is two weeks away, Powell says he is only just beginning his campaign "going door-to-door and [to] shopping centers and that type of thing."
* District 5: Democrat Floyd E. Wilson, 46, of Glenarden, is unopposed.
* District 6: Republican Wilbert Wilson, 38, of Largo, a Hogan aide, faces Democrat Jo Ann Bell, 44, of District Heights, a school board member who upset incumbent Gerard McDonough in the primary despite her late entry and a 6-to-1 fund-raising disadvantage. Bell is emphasizing Wilson's ties to Hogan, whom many Democrats like to portyay as anti-union, anti-public schools, and insensitive to minorities. Wilson is focusing on Bell's role in the layoffs of teachers last spring.
* District 7: Democrat Hilda Pemberton, 42, of Landover, a county hospital commission personnel officer, faces Republican Melvinor Williamson Gray, 44, of Suitland. Pemberton stresses an ability to work with others to achieve gains. Gray's theme is "Helping people to help themselves."
* District 8: Democrat Sue V. Mills, 46, of Temple Hills, the only incumbent council member to win more than 50 percent of the vote in her district, faces Republican Louis Cross, 84, of Clinton, and Independent Joseph Johnson, 39, of Clinton, a veteran of numerous citizen referendum drives.
* District 9. Incumbent Democrat William Amonett, 51, of Bradywine, who narrowly defeated two challengers, faces Republican Ella Ennis, 42, of Fort Washington. Ennis says her opponent has been tied unduly to special interests and is unresponsive to constituents.