Parris Glendening, the Democratic nominee for Prince George's County executive, cracked his usually formal demeanor and attempted a joke during an interview this week: "Anything exciting going on in my campaign?" he asked, "I can't seem to find anything."
Glendening was feeling relaxed and happy because his campaign contributions had topped the quarter of a million dollar mark, while his Republican opponent, Ann Shoch (pronounced shock), reported collecting only a tenth of that amount.
Glendening is wrapping up the campaign with a radio advertising blitz and a flood of specialized mailings to residents of each council district and to groups such as nurses, teachers, municipal workers and politically active women. Shoch, meanwhile, pieced together a last-minute brochure that would reach fewer than half of the county's 240,000 registered voters.
One evening earlier this week Glendening enjoyed the cheers and whistles of 300 supporters at a rally at the University of Maryland, in support of him, Governor Harry Hughes, U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, and a busload of other Democratic officials. Shoch's rally the same day, also on the College Park campus, was attended by about 25 members of the university's Republican club.
Glendening, a University of Maryland professor and two-term council member, attributes his apparently commanding lead in the quest for the county's top job to a meticulous, two-year effort at coalition-building, and points to a campaign organization drawn from labor, business, minorities, women and other groups. After sweeping past three obscure candidates in the primary and wrapping up nearly every available endorsement, Glendening assembled a fund-raising and organizational steamroller that the Republicans acknowledge they have been unable to match.
"If we win on Tuesday, nobody will be more surprised than me," said a Shoch campaign worker. Shoch herself said in a recent interview, "I have absolutely no idea how I'll do . One minute I think to myself, maybe I'm going to win. The next minute I think, maybe I'm not."
The Republicans are hampered by the 3-to-1 Democratic registration majority and their own party's lack of fund-raising clout. Shoch also had to survive a close primary race, a fight that divided her party. Since then, she says, she has been disappointed by political associates who "were right out front and were going to do all this for you, and they've just done a 180 degree turn. One person said he was going to raise $30,000 for us, and we have not seen the first five cents."
Voters who take time to listen to what Shoch has to say learn that she and Glendening offer very different positions on the issues. Glendening is a strong supporter of ballot question K, the Plus-4 effort to modify TRIM, the charter-mandated cap on property tax revenue; Schoch opposes modification. Glendening thinks the public schools need more money; Shoch says more money should go to nonschool uses.
As the campaign nears conclusion, the candidates have become more aggressive. Glendening accused Shoch of racial insensitivity because of a remark she made in a radio interview in which, he says, she downplayed the seriousness of cross-burning incidents. She says her remarks were misunderstood. Shoch accuses Glendening, who claims to be running a campaign free of party bosses, of being a cog in the wheel of the county's dominant Democratic faction.
"I can't tell you how hard I've been pushed to dwell on the negative, and this is not normally my way," said Shoch, a 42-year-old resident of Fort Washington who was appointed by outgoing Republican County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan to the park and planning commission. "I'm not one who likes to throw stones and talk about people's mistakes but maybe it's time to tell people what he's been doing and it's not very nice," she said.
Despite these skirmishes, this campaign is a far cry from the pitched battle four years ago, when Hogan, now seeking to move up to the U. S. Senate, defeated incumbent Democrat Winfield M. Kelly, an equally feisty self-made millionaire. The two engaged in furious debates over taxes and government spending, with Hogan touting himself as an effective administrator who could stem tax increases and cut the budget. Voters rejected Kelly by almost a 10-point margin, and returned the conservative Hogan to his status as the only elected Republican officeholder in the county.