Reduced share of the white vote troubles Schmoke's advisers


About a year ago, the senior staff of the Kurt Schmoke campaign met and decided that the greatest barrier to the mayor's re-election would be the "hostility and unfair- ness" of The Baltimore Sun.

"From the beginning, I felt we would be running against the Sun papers," Larry Gibson, Schmoke's campaign manager, said Friday. "Mainly on the editorial pages, but to some extent in the news pages, there has been unfair treatment of Kurt."

On Friday, The Sun ran an editorial referring to Schmoke's victory margin in the primary -- he finished 27.9 percentage points ahead of his nearest opponent -- as "less than some observers had expected considering the giant campaign chest the incumbent had amassed."

"What observers?" Gibson said. "Who are they? This editorial was biased and unfair. And we knew from the very beginning of the campaign that the Sun papers would not treat Kurt fairly, that they would be our No. 1 opponent.

"Right now, Kurt is vacationing for a few days at a place with a beach. If he saw a child drowning and walked on the water to save him, the Sun papers would run an editorial the next day that said: 'Schmoke Can't Swim!'

"After a [primary] re-election victory like Kurt's, people pick up that paper and read that editorial and it causes the paper to lose credibility among a large portion of the city."

Aside from smoldering over The Sun editorial, Gibson spent the day after the election crunching numbers. In politics, even when you win big, you have to know how, where and why you won if you want to win big again.

According to Gibson's analysis:

* While achieving a considerable victory last Thursday, Schmoke did worse among white voters than he did in 1987.

"In 1987, Schmoke got 33 percent of the white vote," Gibson said. "This year, he got 30 percent of the white vote."

To put it another way, Schmoke lost the white vote 2-1 last time. This time he did even worse.

* Offsetting this trend and then some, was Schmoke's huge margin of victory among black voters.

"In 1987, Schmoke got 62 percent of the black vote," Gibson said. "This time he got 78 percent of the black vote."

To put it another way, Schmoke won the black vote 2-1 last time and won it nearly 4-1 this time. Both the black population and black voter registration of Baltimore is about 60 percent. You can also subject the vote totals to another analysis:

"From a politician's perspective," Gibson said, "you must ask yourself: Who is my constituency? The constituency of Kurt Schmoke's vote in 1987 is that he got 72 percent of his vote from blacks and 28 percent of his vote from whites.

"In 1991, he got 76 percent of the vote from blacks and 24 percent of it from whites."

There is one problem with this kind of analysis, however. It is solely a numerical analysis. From both a governmental and philosophical point of view, Schmoke's constituency is all of Baltimore, black and white.

And this is why the results of last week's primary election trouble the Schmoke campaign.

"Why did Kurt do worse among whites?" Gibson said. "I do not know. I am very troubled by it. Certainly, I am. It is mystifying to me. Kurt made a decision to campaign in both black and white areas, and he split his time about 50-50.

"And we made a real effort in white areas this year in our campaign organizing. Our campaign workers in white areas did an excellent job and if they hadn't, I think the numbers would have been even worse."

* As the education and income of white voters go up, so does Schmoke's vote. Schmoke does the worst in blue-collar white areas of Baltimore and the best in white-collar white areas.

In Highlandtown and Canton, for instance, blue-collar white areas, Schmoke received about 18 percent of the vote.

In the Northeast corner of the city, where incomes rise somewhat, Schmoke got 25 percent of the vote.

In Homeland, an area of upper-middle class voters, Schmoke actually achieved a majority: 59 percent of the vote.

"The trouble is," Gibson said, "Homeland has a lot of grass and few voters."

In the Northwest part of the city, which contains a significant Orthodox Jewish population, Schmoke got 50 percent of the vote. "And we look upon that as a real victory because it is a turnaround from 1987, when Schmoke lost that area," Gibson said.

But to understand the dynamics of winning a citywide election in Baltimore, you have to understand one thing: "Baltimore is a city of black people and blue-collar whites," Gibson said.

From a purely political standpoint, Schmoke's huge margin in the black community is an enormous political benefit, more than offsetting his poor showing in the white community.

That is because Schmoke's victory Thursday was not based on a delicate coalition of various racial, ethnic or special interest groups. It was based on a monolithic win among blacks.

This means Schmoke can be re-elected mayor for as long as he holds onto that core vote.

It also means that popular white politicians such as Mary Pat Clarke, re-elected Thursday as City Council president, have virtually no chance of unseating Schmoke unless they can switch black votes from Schmoke to themselves, a daunting proposition.

Schmoke's totals in the black community are so overwhelming, you don't learn all that much by listing them. So take a look at Schmoke's worst showing in the black community:

In Du Burns' home base, the 8th Ward in East Baltimore, Schmoke got 65 percent of the vote. In 1987, he lost that ward.

And though happy about the victory, Gibson was still troubled by the implications of Schmoke's dropping white vote.

"There is no way to look at it and feel good," Gibson said. "Kurt's persona is not threatening. So I don't understand it."

From the very beginning of the campaign, however, at the same meeting at which The Baltimore Sun was defined as Enemy No. 1, Schmoke's forces were very clear that victory would not be based on white votes.

"We never lost sight of our base support from Day One to Election Day," Gibson said, "and that is black voters. And the core within the base, so to speak, is older black voters. Among voters 55 and older, Kurt got something like 82 percent of the vote this time.

"Step One, therefore, was: Take care of our base. Step Two, however, was: Campaign throughout the city, black and white."

The key decision, the decision that came even before Steps One and Two, however, was to choose the overall form the campaign would take.

"Competence is boring," Gibson said, "and Kurt wanted to run on his record of competence. We received advice that this would not work. So we contemplated a high-profile campaign with a lot of hype that the media would have loved. And we also contemplated a campaign that stressed the future.

"But, in the end, we decided to stick precisely with Kurt's record of competence with what he had done as mayor. We had 14 television commercials in various stages of production, but we were saving them only to counterattack. And we didn't need them.

"Our opponents actually helped us! By asking 'What has Schmoke done?' they asked exactly the question we wanted. We wanted voters to ask what he had done, because telling them the answer was exactly what our campaign was about."

On the Monday before Election Day, Gibson took a look at his final polls -- the campaign did a lot of polling, spending some $72,000 out of a $700,000 total budget on it -- and met with Schmoke to tell him what his victory margin would be.

I asked Gibson if he had been correct.

"No," Gibson admitted. "I told Kurt he would get 55 percent of the total vote. As it turned out, he got 57.5 percent."

9- But Schmoke might keep him around anyway.

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