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Political Animal

This Means War

By Brian Morton | Posted 10/30/2002

The last week of any political campaign is war.

You may never have seen the inside of a campaign office at this point, but it is sheer adrenaline, caffeinated hyperdrive, and panic all at once. And most of it, especially in an election season such as this year's gubernatorial race, is all about Getting Out the Vote.

Look at the last governor's race equivalent to this one: 1994. We had two candidates running for a seat left open by a term-limited William Donald Schaefer. Except there is a major difference between this year's race and eight years ago: There is no popular senator running for re-election. In the 1994 election, Paul Sarbanes, running for re-election against William Brock, nabbed more than 809,000 votes--a better total than either of the two gubernatorial candidates that year and equaling only Maryland's legendary Comptroller Louis Goldstein.

This year there are no draws like Sarbanes and Goldstein on the ballot; even though Schaefer is now running for comptroller, it is safe to say he doesn't have the popularity Goldstein enjoyed statewide, or even the popularity he once had running for governor.

So we're in for a close one, folks.

Let's crunch a few numbers. In 1994, the Glendening/Townsend ticket that barely won the state by 6,000 votes ran strongest in four localities, the same ones the Townsend/Larson ticket is aiming for this year: Montgomery, Prince George's, and Baltimore counties, and Baltimore City. The Glendening ticket was strongest in Montgomery, pulling in 149,015 votes with a 63 percent turnout. After that was Prince George's, with 114,256 votes and a turnout of 54 percent, Baltimore City right behind with 114,022 votes and a mildly impressive (for the city, anyway) 46 percent turnout, and Baltimore County with 102,398 votes and 64 percent turnout.

That means that the top four jurisdictions for the Dems produced about 480,000 votes. The rest of the state brought in just over 228,000 votes.

The top producers for Ellen Sauerbrey in that race were Baltimore County, with 134,663 votes; Montgomery County with 104,988; Anne Arundel with 83,663; and Prince George's with a respectable 52,855, for a total of 376,169 votes.

The difference was in the outlying counties, which overwhelmingly went for Sauerbrey.

Which is why the Dems have focused on what might be called "the checkmark strategy." The "checkmark" is the physical path from Interstate 270 down through Montgomery County, around the Capital Beltway, and up I-95 into Baltimore City on into Baltimore County.

Ever since seeing those tallies from 1994, it has been a point of order for the Kathleen Kennedy Townsend campaign to work toward taking Montgomery with overwhelming numbers and drive up turnout in Baltimore City and Prince George's, which makes the choice of Admiral Charles Larson for the No. 2 spot on the Dem ticket that much more incomprehensible. It also makes the choice of Michael Steele for the Republicans that much more savvy. If Ehrlich can carve enough black votes away from Townsend in Prince George's and the city, it makes Montgomery the tossup (hence, until he was rebuffed, Ehrlich's sucking up to Rep. Connie Morella).

The fact remains, however, that Ehrlich is a much stronger competitor in Baltimore County than Sauerbrey ever was, and it will be a surprise if Townsend runs as strong there as the Glendening/Townsend ticket did eight years ago. From all reports, Larson may be a nice guy, but the fact is, nobody knows him. And in politics, anything that isn't a plus comes downright close to being a minus.

Add in the fact that political polling in Baltimore City is about as reliable as the local TV meteorologists' five-day forecasts (which is to say, not very), and it is anyone's guess as to whether the finicky Baltimore voter will come out to the polls. And statewide, as it is in national elections, low turnout tends to favor Republicans. Remember also that '94 was the year both the House and the Senate turned over in the "Angry White Male" year that brought us Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, House Speaker Newt Gingrich--and Rep. Robert Ehrlich.

Nationally, one of the big worries is charges of "voter fraud" by Republicans. Back in 1992, this writer recalls seeing a nationwide GOP fund-raising letter with check boxes for items the party felt were important enough to fund in the election season. One of the items was "ballot security," something Democrats have always felt to be akin to "voter intimidation." In the 2000 race in Florida, state officials purged alleged "convicted felons" from the rolls, only for the Los Angeles Times and to point out that the state wrongly targeted thousands of legitimate voters.

Florida wasn't the only place--in April 1995, The New York Times slapped Gov. George Pataki for his assault on the "motor voter" law, by attempting to gut the budget for the part of the Board of Election staff required to administer the law. Now John Ashcroft's Justice Department has moved the program to combat alleged "voter fraud" to a nationwide level. USA Today's Jim Drinkard reported last week that even though the Republican Party has compiled a list of 3,273 names they allege appeared more than once on the voter rolls two years ago, "state officials have found little evidence of multiple voting."

So the battle is joined, and the ground war is on. Despite which way you lean politically, the only solution is to go to the polls. Let the final numbers decide.

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