Allan C. Levey, who as state GOP chairman has touted the virtues of Republicanism, received what he considered some invaluable first-hand experience concerning the problems of his minority party when he ventured into his first campaign for office.
Levey, a candidate for state senate in Montgomery County's 15th District, arrived at Fox Chapel Elementary School in Germantown during his Election Day round of the district's precincts. There he found a long table filled with Democratic Party brochures and literature and manned by four Democratic precinct workers.
"Congratulations," one of them called out, "you're the first Republican we've seen here today."
Levey lost to incumbent Democratic Sen. Laurence Levitan, gathering 43 percent of the vote. "I got devastated," Levey said.
"I saw what's wrong with our Republican Party," Levey sighed afterwards. "It's the grass-roots organization. I went to several precincts where there were no Republican Party representatives.
"It certainly would have helped greatly to have a grass-roots organization, and I think that's what we've got to work on for the next four years."
This was, to put it mildly, not a good year for Republicans. As county GOP chairman Paul Clark more bluntly put it, in the aftermath of this rout: "We got blown out of the water in Montgomery County."
Republicans who boasted earlier this year of making inroads into this liberal Democratic stronghold ended up reduced to just two seats in the legislature. The drubbing came not for want of attractive Republican candidates.
Much of the problem this year can be attributed to the national Republican administration and a president who has seemingly polarized the electorate along party lines. "This was not an election we could have done anything about," Clark said. "It was not a local campaign but a campaign based on a response to presidential policies."
But blaming a backlash against President Reagan explains only part of the problem, as GOP leaders conceded. Republicans were trounced in Montgomery County partly for lack of an organization, a shortage of foot soldiers in the trenches and a resistance by a small, conservative hard core to efforts to broaden the GOP's base.
Republicans have precinct captains in only 140 of Montgomery's 202 precincts, meaning 62 precincts are simply vacant. Even in the 140 that are filled, the precinct "organization" is often one or two persons who cannot man the polls for 13 straight hours on Election Day.
The only successful Republicans in Montgomery County, including Sen. Howard A. Denis and Del. Constance Morella, who survived this years' Democratic tidal wave, have been those who bypass the official party and build their own organizations.
Those Republican candidates, such as county executive nominee Joseph C. McGrath, who relied principally on the party precinct organization to deliver the votes were roundly trounced. "It's difficult, especially since the Watergate years, to find Republican volunteers to do anything," Clark said.
Moderate Republicans have, in the words of one candidate, adopted an "every man for himself strategy." Their organizations are loyal to the candidate, not the party, which often leads to criticism among the GOP's often-narrow ranks.
Del. Luiz R. Simmons, who lost in his primary for county executive to McGrath, a more conservative, establishment Republican, was criticized by party regulars for ignoring the party and relying on his own organization.
Simmons has maintained that although he never really ignored his party label, the party organization was really nonexistent in his largely Democratic, blue-collar district that includes the city of Rockville. Simmons lost the delegate race in 1974, spent four years building his own organization in the 17th District and won in 1978.
Simmons' 1978 victory led Republicans this year to believe they could launch a successful effort to keep Simmons' seat in the GOP fold and maybe even pick up the senate seat. But the GOP candidates in the 17th had a rude awakening when they were beaten almost 3 to 2 by a solid Democratic vote.
Tradition has shown that in Montgomery County, with a 2-to-1 Democratic voter registration edge, Republicans do not win by being conservative, by being well-known or by being party regulars.
Former U.S. Rep. Gilbert Gude and Rep. Newton I. Steers and Denis, Morella and Simmons all were elected outside the official party organization. They put together their own cadre of loyal troops while espousing a liberal, nontraditional brand of Republicanism. In truth, they all could just as easily be Democrats, and Simmons actually is flirting with a party switch.
This year, Rockville City Council member Steve Abrams, touted as a bright hope for the GOP to capture Simmons' delegate seat in Rockville, did everything that tradition shows GOP candidates cannot do and win: He relied on the party's scant precinct organization and overestimated his own popularity as a councilman.
Though winning Republican moderates traditionally have downplayed their party affiliation, Abrams wore his like a badge of honor. His last newsletter was bannered "Republican For Delegate." Inside was a photograph of the candidate with, of all people, Rep. Jack Kemp, conservative architect of the Reagan tax-cut plan.
Simmons and some supporters are known to be particularly bitter at the county GOP for rejecting him in the primary in favor of McGrath.
They attribute Simmons' defeat to the philosophical control of the party by a handful of right-wing, hard-core activists who would subscribe to the adage that it is better to be right than county executive. That group's weight and importance is magnified in a low-turnout primary.
The party's right wing often stymied past efforts to broaden the GOP's base. The central committee, under Clark, has for years been bitterly split between the moderates, who backed Clark, and the conservatives, controlled by Forbes Blair.
But the new central committee will be without some of its staunchest conservatives, especially Blair and Carole Plante, who ran McGrath's losing executive campaign.
Out of 19 central committee members elected Sept. 14, only six will be holdovers from the last committee, which gives moderate Clark a freer hand to broaden the base and shape the future of the tiny, struggling party.