IN THESE DAYS of making do with less, the good voters of Maryland's Fifth Congressional District have made a significant contribution to the cause: After due consideration and with a respectable degree of popular consent, they have cut the ballot for their vacant seat in the U.S. House by more than 93 percent -- from 32 runners to two. This feat alone should help to concentrate the minds even more on the final round of this special contest, which will held May 19.
Whatever did matter in the making of these two solid victories by Republican Audrey Scott and Democrat Steny Hoyer, family ties didn't bind voters to any political traditions; a Democrat named Spellman and Republican named Hogan each lost to someone else in his party. Instead, the voters turned to candidates with more on-the-job elective experience -- and therein lie the makings of a good contest in the weeks ahead.
Just as these connections didn't spell victory, there is ample reason to question whether ties to a Republican president or to the new executive and congressional powers assumed by the GOP nationally will determine the winner in the Fifth in May. For one thing, if it really did boil down to this, the Democrat, not the Republican, might take the prize; Prince George's County and Maryland were Carter country. But we suspect that the voters' next decision will be based more on the kinds of closer-to-home concerns that tend to influence more congressional elections generally than do presidential coattails.
Already, Mrs. Scott is looking not only for unity in the Republican Party but also for Democrats -- knowing that they outnumber GOP voters in the district by a 3-to-1 margin. Mr. Hoyer, who was outnumbered 18-to-1 on his own party primary ballot, has more of an intramural unity search to take care of first; in the Democrats' claustrophobic contest many factions rubbed each other the wrong way.
However this next round proceeds, the voters can take comfort that their choice will be between two public servants whose records and reputations have stood up well over the years. Their futher articulations of the new responsibilities they seek -- as well as their differences -- should be well worth the public scrutiny and participation that we hope will attend this special election.