IT'S NOT momentous enough yet to qualify as a full-blown Republican resurgence in overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland, but this year some GOP candidates seem to be attracting significant support across party lines. Republican registration has been rising in many counties -- and the increases may be reflected in local elections next month. In Greater Washington, which for years has been almost a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party on both sides of the Potomac, the lock on local government seats in Maryland may be snapped in Montgomery County -- but not on the basis of traditional partisan ideology. Instead, some civic movers who helped Democrat Neal Potter unseat County Executive Sid Kramer are supporting Republicans for county council seats.
Mr. Potter has dutifully endorsed all nine Democratic candidates for the council and has urged party members to unite behind the ticket after a primary that was something less than an intramural love-in. The non-Democratic candidates -- two Republicans and an independent with longtime Republican connections -- who enjoy crossover support are anything but Neanderthals of the sort who have come up short so often in Maryland. If anything, they would be more comfortable in the Mathias-Gude-Morella-Denis school of GOP politics. But their popularity in Montgomery seems to have more to do with the G-word in Montgomery's elections: Growth.
In Mr. Potter's own home area of Bethesda-Chevy Chase, for example, a number of Democratic civic leaders are dividing their election energies between Mr. Potter and Republican Betty Ann Krahnke, who is running against Democrat Marilyn Goldwater for the District 1 seat on the new reorganized council. In District 2 (up-county), several civic leaders who supported Mr. Potter in the primary are backing Republican Nancy Dacek, who is running against Democrat Vickie York. Both Republicans consider themselves advocates of "slow growth" -- a term short on precise definitions but long on grass-roots popularity this year. Both Democrats, too, are for "slow" or "controlled" growth but are closely allied with Mr. Kramer -- whom opponents portrayed as a tool of evil developers. In District 3, independent Steve Abrams is running an aggressive campaign on a variety of issues against Democrat Bill Hanna, and though Mr. Hanna is considered a heavy favorite, Mr. Abrams is looking to all sorts of local organizations for endorsements.
There is no question that the future development of Montgomery County is important to every voter; but any substantive differences in the candidates' positions has yet to become clear. There are issues that Montgomery is talking about, too -- transportation, housing, schools and the county's financial relationship to Annapolis. In the debates to come, voters who are shopping without regard to partisan labels should test the candidates on more than a single issue.