Before electon day, a typical Democratic voter in Prince George's County is likely to receive at least one telephone call from the Maryland Republican Party. Unless he is firmly committed to President Carter, the party will send him a letter. Even if he will not talk on the phone, the state GOP will probably drop one of its own Ronald Reagan flyers on his doorstep.
This Democratic voter, on the other hand, may not hear much at all from his own party before he goes to the polls. Perhaps he will get a call, if he lives in an area where Democratic registration is heavy. Possibly a neighborhood volunteer will drop by for a quick visit. His Republican neighbor, meanwhile, will almost certainly hear nothing from Carter's supporters, unless everyone else on the block is a Democrat.
The imbalance in attention has little to do with the campaign strategies of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Both candidates are more or less ignoring both Prince George's County and Maryland. Instead, the cajoling that the Prince George's Democrat receives -- whether or not it has any effect on his vote -- is the result of a what has essentially become a grass-roots race between the two state party organizations, a race that so far has been won by the underdog Republicans.
In a state where Democrats hold the governor's seat, seven of ten spots in Congress, an overwhelming majority of local offices and a 3-to-1 edge in party registration, the Democratic party is being both outspent and outmanaged in the field this presidential year by a Republican organization whose very existence was debatable two years ago.
The turnaround, due in part to the state Democratic leadership's reluctance to raise funds actively for the presidential election, is already being mentioned by members of both parties as the opening act in a effort by the GOP to run competitively in the 1982 state races for the first time in a generation.
And because the national presidential campaigns, following a change in election laws allowing local parties to spend an unlimited amount on federal elections, are depending on party leaders in states such as Maryland to help staff and pay for field work, the difference between the two organizations' efforts could swing a close election this fall.
David Doak, the Carter campaign manager in Maryland, says that "the best thing we can hope to do with field organization is sway the outcome by 5 to 10 percent. But that can mean everything in a close race." Meanwhile, Republican party chairman Allen Levey, the architect of the GOP's financial comeback in the state, not surprisingly is predicting that "media is great, but party organization in the field is what's going to win this election."
Between September and Nov. 4, Levey's state organization, combined with several local Republican committees, will probably raise and spend close to $100,000 on the fall election. The state GOP paid for all the Reagan literature that will be distributed in the state, covered the cost of a voter registration drive, and has had phone banks operating in Prince George's, Montgomery, and Anne Arundel counties for over a month now. Phone banks are now beginning canvassing calls in most of the rest of the state, and the party is paying for special mailings to all Republicans in addition to those voters who tell callers they are undecided.
In contrast, the state Democratic party has spent almost nothing on the fall presidential campaign up until now, and is just beginning to try to raise the money it will need to help local party organizations print their ballots and get out the vote on election day. State Democratic leaders have been so discouraged in their fund-raising efforts, in fact, that they received to cancel a large fundraiser planned for Nov. 1 to raise $75,000 for the election.
These Democrats point out that several county committees of the party, like the Montgomery central committee, will spend up to $30,000 on their own during the campaign. The state party is also scheduling popular Gov. Harry Hughes and other elected officials into statewide speaking tours the Republicans cannot hope to match. But party leaders admit that in the bottom-line field work of phone banks, mailings, and canvassing, they are lagging behind.
In all, state Republicans, who during the last election year in 1978 had a $67,000 budget and ended up $10,000 in debt, plan a $250,000 budget for this year, while the Democratic party will probably have less than half of that amount to spend.
Luckily for the Democrats, the Carter campaign is making up part of the margin between the two parties by investing relatively more of its $29 million in election funds in Maryland than the Reagan organization . The Carter campaign is providing literature in Maryland rather than asking the state party to buy it, and is paying to operate and staff a phone bank in Baltimore City. Election day and ballot-printing money may also come out of the Carter campaign, and the Democratic National Committee sent the state party $13,000 to pay for a voter registration drive last month.
Meanwhile, the Reagan campaign's budget in Maryland consists largely of the salaries of the headquarters staff and field coordinators and the cost of office space. The state GOP is being counted on to make up the rest of the presidential campaign.
Levey argues that this burden, while allowing Reagan to spend a little more of his federal election money on television, is "a great boon to party organizations all over the country," especially in the small states where the national campaigns are largely invisible and local officials must make up the difference. "The rule of thumb in 1976 and 1978 was the candidates ran their own races. Now they are doing it together with the [state] party, which means that when it's all over, we'll have a new base of members to work with."
The party will also have a new base of contributors to work with. Levey has raised much of the money this year through slick direct-mail "prospecting" operations designed by a national Republican-oriented consulting firm. The last letter that went out, under Ronald Reagan's signature, resulted in nearly 1,000 new contributors, which will now be appended to the parties fundraising list for next year and 1982.
Democratic leaders, meanwhile, agree that they are being outspent, but blame their problems on Maryland's proximity to Washington and the nature of their contributors. "A lot of our big people are maxed out," said Ed Crawford, the chairman of the Democratic party finance committee. "They've been hit up three or four times already by the national people in Washington, and the Congressional committees. We're last on the priority lists."
"They're rich!" said Barbara Hoffman, the Democrats' executive director, of the GOP. "They have so much money! But that is because the Republican party is the party of the wealthy people, it's that simple. The fact is that a lot of staunch Democrats are also poor."
But there is more to the organization and funding gap between the parties than constituency. The state's elected Democratic officials, beginning with Hughes, have been reluctant for various reasons to fundraise for this fall campaign. In contrast, Republican Prince George's Executive Lawrence Hogan alone has raised $14,000 for the fall party effort.
"The governor is working hard on the campaign, but in terms of financial help he has not come through," said one party leader of Hughes. "That's just not the way he is. He's not the type of guy who will pick up the phone in his office and make a few calls and raise $75,000. The other Democratic officials seem rather cautious. The federal election laws are so damn complicated -- and they don't want to get hammered or burned on them. So they are sitting back."