With Schmoke and Neall Out, It's Time for a Mary-o Scenario

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's Labor Day 1993 and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall are the odds-on favorites for their respective parties' nominations for governor, "preparing" for a yearlong marathon run to primary victory. Then each, in turn, takes himself out of the running, leaving the pundits scratching their heads and the race wide open.

It's now six months later, and as we approach April Fools' Day 1994, the Republican cast seems set at three candidates, two of them women. The Democratic field continues to grow like kudzu, with just one Mary among the Mickeys, Parrises, Joes, Franks, Eds and Stewarts (and Petes?).

Will 1994 be the Year of the Woman in Maryland? By default? Perhaps.

There is certainly precedent for it. Free State voters of both parties have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to elevate women to high office. Between 1986 (the year Rep. Marjorie Holt retired) and 1992, Helen Delich Bentley, Constance R. Morella and Beverly B. Byron served concurrently from Maryland in Congress, along with Sen. Barbara Mikulski. A female governor would be a first, but not a radical first.

Barring a dramatic -- and actuarially unlikely -- change, the GOP nominee next fall will be a woman from Baltimore County. The question is, what must occur in the Democratic primary to produce a nominee who is a woman from Montgomery County? What will turn Mary H. Boergers from an also-ran into a primary victor? What will produce a Mary-o Scenario? Our answer: just a few simple, and not so simple, things.

First, the current front-runners must fail to ignite the passions of Democratic primary voters. So far, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the embers are already beginning to flicker and fade. Neither Lieutenant Governor Melvin A. Steinberg nor Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening has emerged from the pack after the departure of Mr. Schmoke and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. from the race.

Mr. Steinberg's campaign seems driven by inertia, flaccid from internal bickering and a lack of purpose or direction. Further, Mr. Steinberg carries the curse of all running mates trying to ascend to the top spot: the taint of incumbency. To the voters he symbolizes a continuation, more of the same. And, from our disparate samplings around Maryland, the one thing we've learned for sure about the voters this year is that they want their next governor to be someone they perceive as the polar opposite of the status quo.

Mr. Steinberg's backslapping, back room deal-making style is incongruous with the image of up-front leadership most look for in an executive candidate. His current standing in the polls (mid to upper 20s) is, most probably, his high-water mark.

Parris Glendenning's candidacy is intriguing. He has shown himself to be a tireless, methodical block-by-block politician, who can move easily among seemingly dissimilar groups. He is working desperately (maybe too desperately) to ensure that the contest is seen as a choice between himself, as the outsider, professor-cum-populist, and Mr. Steinberg, the consummate insider. In any "normal" year, his organizational and fund-raising skills would likely carry him to victory. They might yet.

But he still trails Mr. Steinberg by a fair margin with six months to go. And, ultimately, we don't believe that 1994 is going to be a normal political year in Maryland. It will be as tough for Mr. Glendening, this year, to shed his 12 years of incumbency as the executive of one of the state's largest jurisdictions as it will for Mr. Steinberg to claim he has no ties to William Donald Schaefer.

By definition, State Sen. Mary Boergers stands out in the field. The lone woman in a six-person -- possibly seven-person -- Democratic primary race, she is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the historically high turnout of the party's left-of-center voting blocs. She is from populous Montgomery County, with a huge reservoir of heretofore untapped voter potential in off-presidential elections.

Out of the blocks last spring, she courted the party's liberal constituencies in an attempt to galvanize those activists. Our polling research conducted for numerous county-wide candidates in the state is showing sporadic signs that her early wooing is beginning to pay dividends.

Moreover, a recently released independent survey showed Ms. Boergers' overall voter preference number doubling in the past six months and her level of support among men increasing five-fold, albeit from a small baseline.

On the voter's principal issues of concern now, crime and fiscal matters, there is virtually no disagreement, except for each candidate trying to out-tough the other and averring he (or she) was there first.

Consequently, Senator Boergers will need something to happen that transmutes the name recognition dynamic presently casting her as a heavy underdog. A break or two to pull even, and then away, from the pack. An issue that forces the other candidates to play on her field. Strangely, this may already be happening.

For those who thought that the abortion debate was settled when the referendum on Maryland's new law passed overwhelmingly in 1992, recent events suggest that abortion -- Senator Boergers' strong issue -- may turn up in the primary campaign.

Senator Boergers built her career in the abortion-rights movement, first as a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, then as a legislator leading the charge for abortion rights. Apparently, some of the more rigid members of the abortion rights crowd believe that they were betrayed by Ms. Boergers when she urged them to accept the fact that no new law would pass without some type of parental notification requirement. A few of the wounded leaders of the Question 6 battle have loudly declared themselves allied with rival candidates, producing, possibly, the unintended effect of "moderating" Mary Boergers.

Meanwhile, she continues to rack up endorsements from abortion rights and women's rights groups.

It's hard to imagine that the voters -- even Democratic primary voters -- will buy the line that Mary Boergers isn't strong enough ++ for abortion rights. The political reality is that parental notification is almost universally supported by the public at large. Ironically, her detractors may provide Ms. Boergers with the vehicle she will ride to victory. Presenting herself as the legislator who leavened the new abortion law with a parental notification requirement may actually broaden her appeal.

Mary Boergers has proven to be a smart, effective campaigner who, in the parlance of political operatives, "meets people well." In a statewide campaign, the first impression may be the only one you get a chance to make.

Finally, she may be the one best to claim the coveted mantle of "outsider" in this very strange election year. The Maryland Senate is, in fact, a rather exclusive group, but it is largely a boys' club, with few women admitted to the back room. If Ms. Boergers can wear her back-bencher status as a badge of honor, as Patty Murray did in Washington state two years ago, she could emerge the winner in a crowded contest with as little as 30 percent of the vote.

Patrick Gonzales is president and Carol Arscott vice president of Mason-Dixon Campaign Polling & Strategy Inc., based in Annapolis. Mason-Dixon Campaign Polling has done polling this year for executive, council and legislative candidates in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Charles, Harford, Howard and Montgomery counties.

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