Two years before he comes up for reelection, Maryland State Sen. Decatur Trotter appears to be readying himself to do battle for his Prince George's County-based seat. At least, that's what his predecessor, former county power broker Tommie Broadwater, believes.
Trotter was appointed to the Senate after Broadwater was convicted on food stamp fraud charges last October and sentenced to serve six months in prison.
Since his return from prison, Broadwater has frequently said that he would like to regain his seat. He now says he is convinced Trotter is gearing up for a potentially bruising campaign, an assertion Trotter denies.
Broadwater bases his belief in part on the fact that Trotter commissioned the Bethesda-based Potomac Survey Research firm to conduct a poll among voters in his district. The results haven't been released yet, but the guessing has started.
"I guess Trotter's trying to get his ducks in order to see how popular he is," Broadwater said. "I think he knows that the overwhelming majority of people in the 24th District and in Prince George's County would support me over him," the former state senator said, adding that he believes the poll will show that.
Broadwater was released in May and is awaiting the outcome of voter referendum action on a proposed law approved in the General Assembly's last session that could prohibit him from running for office in 1986.
Conducted over the telephone between Aug. 16 and 19, the survey quizzed voters about county issues and their opinions on nearly a dozen public figures who occupy or may aspire to elective office.
Potomac Survey Research's Keith Heller said that his firm polled "a random selection" of voters in the 24th Legislative District on a variety of issues. Voters were also asked whether they recognized the names of Trotter, County Executive Parris Glendening, former State Sen. Tommie Broadwater, County Council Chairman Floyd Wilson, Attorney General Stephen Sachs, Baltimore Mayor William D. Schaefer, County Council member Hilda Pemberton and Rep. Steny Hoyer.
Also on the list were the names of two other politically active county residents, Landover lawyer Wayne Curry and community worker Cora Rice.
Trotter described the poll, made only in his 24th District, as a routine tool often used by politicians to find out what their constituents are thinking, and said the results were about to be made available.
"I think he's sensitive about how he got his position, and he should be," Broadwater said last week. Trotter was not Broadwater's choice for his seat.
One county resident who was called for the survey, Monica Chatman, a Howard University graduate engineering student who lives in Seat Pleasant, said she was asked for positive and negative reactions to the people named.
"They really did try to compare Decatur Trotter and Broadwater," she said. "They really wanted to know whether you would vote for Broadwater if he ran for reelection."
Trotter, however, said that people who assumed his poll was aimed at Broadwater "don't know all the facts."
Curry, who was a Jesse Jackson delegate to the Democratic National Convention, is said to be gearing up to run in 1986 for an as-yet-unspecified elective office. He said he heard about the poll through the grapevine, but was not consulted about it in advance.
Rice, who ran against Wilson for his County Council seat in 1982, said she heard about the poll for the first time from a reporter. Rice, a Broadwater ally, called the poll "idiotic."
Wilson said that he was going to join Trotter in commissioning the poll, but hadn't had an opportunity to give his final approval to the questions being asked.
According to Wilson, the poll cost $7,000.
"There's nothing going on," he said. "It's just a survey to test the pulse of the community."
Glendening, who once taught a college course on polls and surveys, said he knows of three polls -- including this one -- being conducted in the county now. One, he said, is being done on behalf of a mysterious gubernatorial candidate. Another is being done by FACT, the lobbying organization that is working to have TRIM, the controversial property tax revenue cap measure, amended.
"This is the polling season," Glendening said. "Next year, after the legislative session, will be the maneuvering and feeling-out season."
Sachs, whose early and energetic entry into the Democratic race for governor in 1986 has played a large part in pushing the 1986 political season ahead, was curious about whether Trotter's results will jibe with his own assessment of his recognition factor in Prince George's.
"I'm not very well known in Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- not yet," he said in a telephone interview from his Baltimore office. "I've got two years to work like hell."
The only other name on the poll that has been linked to a possible gubernatorial race is Schaefer's. Schaefer administration officials said that they, too, knew nothing of the poll.
Heller described Trotter's poll as a "base-line survey" of the type often used for comparison purposes for follow-up polls closer to election time.
"He's been in office a relatively short time," Heller said of Trotter. "It's important that people do research rather than just guessing [what people think]."