Democrats have the edge in new council districts


If the County Council election were held tomorrow and people voted along strict party lines, Democrats would sweep four races and narrowly miss in the fifth, election statistics show.

Voter registration numbers, released last week, show how party affiliations in the five newly drawn and numbered County Council districts could affect next fall's election.

By law, district lines must be redrawn after the census every 10 years to reflect population changes. The council argued about precinct changes for two years before finally establishing new district boundaries.

Although candidates and their aides will be scouring the new numbers for clues about the elections this fall, county political leaders caution against making too much of voter registration totals.

In the new 1st District, for example, voter registration totals are nearly identical to 1990 when Republican Darrel Drown emerged as a landslide winner despite a heavy Democratic edge in voter registrations. Mr. Drown retains 11 of the precincts he won in 1990.

The new numbers "don't scare me and they don't thrill me," Mr. Drown said. There is "definitely a higher Democratic registration -- and that's scary," he said, "but I am finding that party means less and less to people. They are voting more for the person than the party."

Pulling out his calculator, Mr. Drown figured the voter ratio for the district as 1.24 Democrats to every Republican.

"Any time it's 1.4-to-1 or less, we have a chance," Mr. Drown said. "AllI ask for is a chance. It's winnable."

The new 1st District includes Ellicott City and Elkridge. It shows Democrats with a 10-point advantage in registered voters, 48 percent to 38 percent. Democrats outnumber Republicans in 16 of the district's 17 precincts, and have an overall registration edge -- 11,144 voters to 9,007 voters. Independents -- 2,791 of them -- make up 12 percent of the district.

Democrat George L. Layman, who expects to oppose Mr. Drown in the general election this fall, says his party's registration advantage may not mean much, but he thinks he can win.

"I don't think registration is going to make the difference," he said. "It's going to be the person that makes the difference. This is too close to be a party election."

The 3rd District, which includes southeast Columbia, Savage and North Laurel, has registration numbers resembling the 1st District. Democrats control 12 of the 14 precincts, again with 48 percent of the registered voters. The GOP has only 35 percent of registered voters, however, with independents accounting for 16 percent.

Republican Dennis Schrader, who almost upset incumbent Democrat Shane Pendergrass in 1990, plans to run again this fall, with Democrat Charles A. Acquard as his likely opponent in the 3rd District race. Ms. Pendergrass is planning to run for the House of Delegates.

The Democrats took away four of Mr. Schrader's winning precincts in the 1994 redistricting, leaving him with just five, but the race still falls just inside Mr. Drown's "winnable" circle at 1.4 Democrats to every Republican.

Mr. Acquard says he finds no solace in the 13-point Democratic lead in the voter rolls. "It's better to be in the majority than minority," he said, "but I don't get comfortable in those numbers. Candidates who work hard can win even if the numbers are against them."

The 2nd and 4th districts mirror each other also. The 2nd District east Columbia -- shows Democrats with a 24-point edge over Republicans, 54 percent to 30 percent, with independents and members of other parties making up the remainder. Democrats outnumber Republicans in 15 of the 18 precincts.

In west Columbia, the new 4th District, Democrats outnumber Republicans, 54 percent to 31 percent, with independents accounting for 14 percent. The district includes 14 precincts captured by the Democrats in 1990.

Democratic incumbents C. Vernon Gray and Paul R. Farragut hold an advantage of almost 2-to-1 in the Columbia districts, leading Republicans to say privately that they have little hope of winning either race this fall.

The 5th District appears on the surface to be a tossup. Nine of the 17 precincts have more registered Democrats, but Republicans lead in the overall count, 44 percent to 43 percent, with independents accounting for 11 percent. The district still includes 12 precincts won by the Republicans in 1990, however.

Former Republican John W. Taylor, who lost to incumbent Charles C. Feaga in the 1990 primary, has switched parties and plans to run against Mr. Feaga as a Democrat this fall.

Mr. Taylor said he thinks many of the Republicans who voted for him in the 1990 primary will vote for him in the 1994 general election and effectively blunt the GOP advantage in that district.

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