Voters in the District and Maryland rejected an array of establishment politicians in Tuesday's primary elections, voicing unhappiness over a range of local issues and expressing what analysts describe as unease with the status quo.
Issues as diverse as abortion, special interest campaign contributions and disgust with District politics laid the groundwork for voters to remake the face of local government in the Washington area, several political analysts said yesterday.
Both Montgomery County and the District are virtually assured of getting self-styled mavericks as chief executives and new faces on their governing boards. The Maryland General Assembly will return without four veteran senators who opposed abortion. And while Maryland Democrats overwhelmingly renominated popular Gov. William Donald Schaefer, they rejected several incumbent lawmakers he endorsed.
At least one result was apparent in several races: Big money cannot necessarily buy elections. Both Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer and D.C. mayoral candidate John Ray had huge financial advantages over their rivals, but lost. Both drew heavy fire for taking substantial donations from real estate developers.
Geoffrey Garin, a Democratic pollster, said that to some extent the results reflect a growing dissatisfaction with incumbent politicians nationwide, what he calls "a shift in the burden of proof in our politics."
"Two years ago, the burden was on challengers," Garin said. "Now it has shifted more to the incumbent to show he is part of the solution, not part of the problem."
But Garin and others cautioned that the anti-incumbent sentiment was not overwhelming, stopping far short of a simple run-the-rascals-out landslide. In the District's Democratic mayoral primary, for example, voters turned out in large numbers and cast a significant share of votes for mayoral contenders with records as political insiders.
And in Prince George's County, County Executive Parris N. Glendening and several other incumbents trounced highly publicized challengers by wide margins. Among the incumbent victors was County Council member Anthony J. Cicoria, who is under indictment on charges of tax fraud and theft.
Alvin Thornton, an associate professor of political science at Howard University, said Sharon Pratt Dixon's victory in the District's Democratic mayoral primary "indicates discontent, there is no doubt about that."
"But it's instructive to remember that incumbent politicians got more than 60 percent of the vote in that race," Thornton said. "She will have to fashion a governing consensus with only about 36 percent of the vote. You have to be careful about overstating."
In Maryland, turnout was light in almost all races. Several analysts said this lack of interest indicates there was no intense resentment directed at incumbents. But it allowed well-organized interest groups to be able to affect several elections dramatically.
Stan Gildenhorn, a Montgomery County lawyer and adviser to Kramer, said Kramer lost to County Council member Neal Potter in part because of a series of unconnected, intensely local disputes. Some residents were angered by a Kramer proposal to build a trash incinerator in northern Montgomery and others by a proposed trolley line between Bethesda and Chevy Chase.
"There's a dichotomy here," Gildenhorn said. "The light turnout does not indicate massive voter discontent. But those who did turn out were motivated by pockets of discontent."
Analysts agreed that the most intensely motivated interest group in Tuesday's elections was abortion-rights activists. After antiabortion forces filibustered to block abortion-rights legislation in the Maryland General Assembly early this year, abortion-rights supporters targeted five veteran lawmakers for defeat. Four lost.
"There's no doubt in my mind that abortion is the story of this campaign," said Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Opinion Research, a Maryland polling firm. Pointing to two incumbent Democratic senators who were defeated, Frank J. Komenda of Prince George's County and Margaret C. Schweinhaut of Montgomery County, Coker said, "If they had been pro-choice, they would still be in the Senate.
"A lot of voters who may have been satisfied with the incumbents stayed home," Coker said. "The pro-choice people did a better job of turning out their voters than anyone else."
Another issue that appeared to move some voters was cynicism about the role of money in elections. Ray, who had been favored to win the District's Democratic mayoral nomination, was criticized repeatedly by his rivals for taking contributions from developers. Kramer, also the preelection favorite, suffered a similar fate.
Arthur J. Shultz III, a Ray supporter and head of group of downtown property owners called the Franklin Square Association, said that Dixon benefited from Ray's link to the real estate industry.
Dixon's nomination signifies "a clean break" with politics as usual, Shultz said. "It's not unlike the election of Jimmy Carter after Richard Nixon and Watergate."
Thornton said that Tuesday's race completed a regionwide spread of anti-developer sentiment that began with the election of Fairfax County Board Chairman Audrey Moore three years ago.
"To the extent that money becomes an issue, it hurts the candidate who has it," Thornton said. "Money is necessary for politics, but it's not sufficient alone to win. In this area where people talk about transportation problems, development interests are a negative."
In Maryland, Gov. William Donald Schaefer learned Tuesday that his political coattails were shorter than he had hoped and that his word, as with other incumbents, was being taken with a grain of salt in some quarters.
Schaefer had gambled that by wading into Democratic primaries he could cement old friendships, create some new ones, and build a more compliant General Assembly for his second term. Instead he found himself backing a string of losers: Kramer, Komenda, and Sen. Francis X. Kelly of Baltimore County. He also campaigned heavily for two others who were trailing opponents with absentee ballots left to count, House Majority Leader John S. Arnick of Baltimore County and Sen. John A. Pica Jr. of Baltimore.
Several of the governor's other endorsed candidates did win, but Republicans in particular viewed the results as a chink in Schaefer's armor. They also were encouraged that Schaefer's little-known Democratic opponent, Fred Griisser, polled more than 98,000 votes, or about 23 percent of the total.
William S. Shepard, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, said he views the results as a good sign for the GOP in the Nov. 6 general elections. "That represents a protest vote against Schaefer," Shephard said. "There is disaffection with the governor and they are looking for an alternative."
Schaefer, however, said that in the cases where candidates he supported did lose, it did not reflect poorly on his politicking. "The people who opposed things came out and expressed their displeasure," he said. "The people who were satisfied apparently did not bother."