After years of watching the Republicans gaining on them, Democrats are cheered by figures released yesterday showing they beat the GOP by a margin of 2-to-1 in signing up new voters since the March primary.
The number of registered independents, apparently inspired by the pithy Texan Ross Perot, shot up 39.8 percent over the same period, far outstripping the pace of the dominant parties.
With perhaps 100 more registration forms still being processed late yesterday afternoon, state election administrator Gene M. Raynor said that the voter rolls in Maryland grew almost 7 percent after the 1988 general election, to a record 2.5 million eligible to vote in the Nov. 3 election.
This high-water mark reflects the state's rising population. These latest registration figures also mirror another trend: Baltimore's loss of residents and political clout to the suburbs.
Baltimore was home to more voters than any of the state's 23 counties in every presidential election until 1988, when Montgomery County took the lead, Mr. Raynor said. As the general election approaches this year, the city has slipped to third place, with Montgomery County first and Baltimore County second.
The counties not only gained voters -- the city lost them. The election board figures show that Baltimore has 360,553 registered voters, down from 398,924 in 1988.
Statewide, between 1988 and 1992, Republican Party registrations grew by 12.5 percent, independents by 26.5 percent and the Democrats by only 1.5 percent. But between March and the Oct. 5 registration deadline, Democratic ranks increased 15.1 percent, the GOP 14.5 percent, and the independents 39.8 percent.
Since the March primary, 197,000 adults signed up as Democrats, 91,000 as Republicans and 68,000 as what are commonly called independents.
Dr. T. R. Sundaram, a spokesman for Ross Perot's Patriot Party, said he was not surprised by the flood of new independents.
He said that a table manned by volunteers from Mr. Perot's Patriot Party at the Montgomery County fair registered 2,000 people in one weekend -- twice the combined total of the Democratic and Republican tables at the same event.
"Ross Perot's candidacy has heightened interest in the elections as nothing else," he said.
As might be expected, Democrats boasted that their edge in new registrations reflects the strength of their nominee, Gov. Bill Clinton.
"The Clinton-Gore campaign gave a lot of excitement to people who have not been a part of the voting public," said Baltimore City Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.
She said the party had set a goal of registering 125,000 new voters and surpassed that figure by 72,000. "If everyone who filled out the form did it correctly, we would have doubled our goal," she said. "Even with 197,000, we think that was super."
Joyce L. Terhes, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, conceded that there was "a big surge in Democrat registration." But she contends many are not Clinton supporters.
Instead, she said, Marylanders who normally would not vote at all are registering in large numbers to vote on Question 6, the abortion referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Because Maryland has traditionally been controlled by Democrats, she said, many of these first-time voters are signing up with that party. But that doesn't mean they won't vote for President Bush.