Could be a sizzler of an election, after all

IN Maryland, as in most states, there are local and state ballo issues that could affect the size of the voter turnout this November -- not to mention the outcome of the presidential election if the contest is close.

The abortion issue is crucial. Not only will it affect future state law, but it could determine the award of the state's presidential ,, votes as well.


In addition, there are two close races for Congress, a sharply drawn contest for the U.S. Senate and several critical local ballot questions. Add to the list an anticipated high black voter turnout and the name H. Ross Perot (and his non-running mate, James Stockdale). It could be a fascinating election after all.

Recent polls give Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton a 10-point lead over President Bush. But when Mr. Clinton's name was associated in the Mason-Dixon poll with the pro-choice position on abortion and a favorable position on gun control, his lead over the president widened significantly.


In Montgomery County, for example, Republican women are openly rebelling against their party and breaking with their president on the abortion issue. The Republican platform is stridently pro-life, and Mr. Bush is in lock-step with the pro-life forces. It remains to be seen if the Democrats can take advantage of this in a traditionally liberal state.

The name of Ross Perot on the ballot (here and in 46 other states) still might serve as a magnet for angry voters in both parties even though he's no longer an active candidate. Don't forget that Mr. Perot's volunteers gathered 160,000 signatures to petition his name to the ballot, and that ain't hay.

The U.S. Senate race pits conservative (and black) Republican Alan Keyes against the populist-feminist incumbent, Barbara Mikulski. Ms. Mikulski is one of the most popular political figures in Maryland and one of the few who has it both ways: She's equally popular with the blue-collar bunkies in Baltimore and the wine-and-cheese crowd in Montgomery County.

Mr. Keyes, of Montgomery County, ran against Sen. Paul Sarbanes in 1988 and collected 40 percent of the vote. This time around, however, he's alienated many in his own party by paying himself $2,000 a week from his campaign treasury and by denouncing the Republican Party as racist.

The two hotly contested House races are in the 1st and 4th districts, while a heavy black turnout is expected in the newly reshaped 4th, Maryland's second predominantly black district.

In the 1st, two incumbents are scrapping for a single seat -- Republican Wayne Gilchrest and Democrat Tom McMillen. Mr. Gilchrest is a native Eastern Shoreman, but Mr. McMillen was thrust into the predominantly Eastern Shore by the whims (and politics) of redistricting. He's trying hard to present a conservative face to the voters east of the Bay Bridge.

In the 5th, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, is being challenged by Republican Larry Hogan Jr., whose father once served in Congress and as Prince George's county executive.

And in the redrawn 4th, two blacks confront each other. State Sen. Albert Wynn, D-Prince George's, faces Michele Dyson, a Republican from the Montgomery County side of the district.


Also on the ballot in Montgomery is a referendum on the latest "Ficker amendment," ramrodded by the Montgomery political gadfly Robin Ficker. The amendment, expected to attract as well as repel voters, would force the County Council to reduce property taxes in direct proportion to the amount it raises income taxes.

In Baltimore city, a ballot question concerning dismissal procedures for civil service employees is expected to draw municipal workers as well as other union members to the polls. In addition, there'll be the usual assortment of loans and bond issues that appeal to special interests.

Election board officials in both Baltimore city and Prince George's County say voter registration has been running much higher than normal. If new voter registrations are a harbinger of the voter turnout, Maryland should have a larger than usual vote for president. The abortion issue as well as heightened black interest and a large Jewish vote all should benefit Democrat Clinton.

But all other issues aside, every indication is that the economy is the single most persuasive ingredient in this presidential election. And Maryland has been hit much harder by recession than by previous slumps in the economy.

Vote early and often.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes every other Thursday on Maryland politics.