A landslide 20 years ago


WHEN Baltimoreans went to the polls on Nov. 7, 1972, their choice for president was between the heavily favored Republican ticket of Richard M. Nixon-Spiro T. Agnew and the fumbling combination of Democrats George S. McGovern and R. Sargent Shriver. Also swimming against the Republican tide 20 years ago this fall were Democratic Reps. Paul S. Sarbanes (3rd), Clarence D. Long (2nd), Goodloe E. Byron (6th) and Parren J. Mitchell (7th). And one other matter was settled by voters: whether the state should have a lottery.

Joseph Sachs, who in those years was active with his wife Phyllis in the formation of "NDC-5" -- the Northwest Democratic Coalition in Baltimore City, remembers the organization backed McGovern's party reforms.

"We all thought McGovern was a sincere candidate," he says. "We believed in him. Besides, we absolutely hated Richard Nixon."

The Dems were doomed from the beginning. They were still reeling from the close defeat in 1968 of Hubert H. Humphrey and the bitter internal struggles that had shaken the party. Party rules for the national convention were changed radically, and there was no clear frontrunner through the early primaries.

By Maryland's May 16 primary McGovern was the candidate to stop. He performed poorly in Maryland, however, trailing George Wallace -- the day after Wallace was shot while campaigning in a Laurel parking lot -- and Humphrey. McGovern was from a small state, South Dakota, and had to replace his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton, D-Mo., who was forced to withdraw because of his prior history of hospitalization for "nervous exhaustion and fatigue."

"That election was over," Mr. Sachs says, "the minute the Eagleton thing broke. I knew right then the election was lost and that I had backed one more lost cause. I did that a lot."

Baltimoreans awoke Nov. 8 to these headlines:

"President Wins Maryland Easily"

"Nixon Defeats McGovern in Landslide"

Though Humphrey had squeaked by in Maryland in 1968, Agnew's presence on the Republican ticket notwithstanding, the Dems weren't to repeat in 1972. The Nixon-Agnew ticket prevailed by more than 300,000 votes despite a 3-to-1 Democratic advantage in registration. Nixon took every county in Maryland and lost Baltimore City by 8.35 percent, the smallest Democratic margin in the 1960-1980 era.

Marylanders, however, split their tickets and elected Long, Sarbanes, Byron and Mitchell.

The lottery was approved. There had been little opposition, even from the churches, and the 121-year-old constitutional ban on lotteries was overturned, 736,692 to 234,072.

Some $813 million in lottery tickets were bought in Maryland in the 1991-1992 fiscal year. That's 11 times the combined national vote for Nixon and McGovern in the election two decades ago.

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