And now the voters speak


The television ads have had their chance to work, the mailboxes are crammed with political fliers, and the debates are over.

What happens next is up to Maryland's voters.

Beginning at 7 o'clock this morning, voters will begin casting primary election ballots at 1,702 polling places across the state, choosing from among 2,800 Democratic and Republican candidates for almost every elective office from the courthouse to the State House. Polls close at 8 p.m.

During those 13 hours, Democrats and Republicans will pick their respective nominees to succeed Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and to run for the U.S. Senate seat Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes has held for 18 years and wants to hold for six more.

Two-term Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. of Baltimore is being challenged by former Deputy Attorney General Eleanor M. Carey of Baltimore and Rockville lawyer Patrick J. Smith. Former U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett, unopposed in the GOP primary, will face the winner in November.

Maryland's longest-serving statewide official, nine-term comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, also is seeking re-election. The 81-year-old Democrat is opposed by Rockville lawyer James B. Moorhead. Republican National Committeeman Richard Taylor of Germantown is vying with newcomer Timothy R. Mayberry of Boonsboro for the GOP nomination.

Also up for grabs are all eight of Maryland's congressional seats, all 188 General Assembly seats, the executive job in the state's largest suburban counties, seats on county councils and commissions, on party central committees, and on the Circuit Court bench.

Party winners will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.

Although the weather forecast for today was perfect -- sunny, with a high in the 80s -- state elections chief Gene M. Raynor predicted that only 40 percent of Maryland's 1.4 million registered Democrats and 677,000 registered Republicans will bother to vote. If it were not for stiff competition for many local offices, he said, "It'd be 30 percent."

In 1986, the year Mr. Schaefer beat Stephen H. Sachs in the Democratic primary, Democratic turnout was 48 percent. (Republicans, with no primary race at the top of the ticket, had a 28 percent showing.) Four years later, with Mr. Schaefer a shoo-in for re-election, Democratic turnout dropped to 39 percent, the Republican to 26 percent.

The new wrinkle this year is that Democratic primary winners no longer have a free ride in the general election. Maryland's underdog Republican Party is solidly in the hunt.

For for the first time in memory, the GOP has hotly contested primaries for both governor and the U.S. Senate, races that on election eve were too close to call. In all, more than 500 Republicans are seeking office this year, nearly twice the number who ran in 1990. Among them are 219 GOP candidates for the General Assembly, up from 130 four years ago.

"You have what I believe is a very strong glimpse of a future two-party system in Maryland," said Western Maryland College political science professor Herbert C. Smith.

Despite the surge of candidates, pollster Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Political Media Research of Columbia, said that among the statewide races there were "no dynamic new faces." Most had held or sought office before.

One prime example is Bill Brock, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee who is trying to become the U.S. senator from Maryland. He faces tough opposition in the GOP primary from Montgomery County developer Ruthann Aron and state Del. C. Ronald Franks, an Eastern Shore dentist.

This will be the first statewide election in Maryland since the legislature's 47 districts were redrawn after the 1990 Census, and the second since boundaries for the eight congressional districts were changed.

That census revealed how the epicenter of Maryland voting strength had migrated from Baltimore to the Washington suburbs, a shift expected to benefit Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening.

Mr. Glendening entered today's primary as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor. If he wins today and again in November, he would become the first Maryland governor from the Washington suburbs since Oden Bowie, who was elected in 1867. By midweek last week, the latest polls gave Mr. Glendening a 25 percentage point lead over his closest rival, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg of Pikesville, and even larger leads over the other two major Democratic candidates, state Sens. American Joe Miedusiewski of Baltimore and Mary H. Boergers of Kensington, but the actual vote is expected to be closer.

"Elections tend to tighten up in the final week," said Glendening spokesman David Seldin. Mr. Glendening spent the day before the election in a series of events in Baltimore with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke at his side.

Mr. Steinberg looked for votes on a commuter train he rode from Baltimore to Washington. Mr. Miedusiewski pumped hands at senior centers in Anne Arundel County. Ms. Boergers waved to motorists in Baltimore and Montgomery County.

On the GOP side, House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey of Baltimore County did a five-city blitz across Maryland in a final appeal to undecided voters to heed her call for smaller government and lower taxes. She hopes to catch her better-known and better-financed opponent, former newspaperwoman and five-term congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley, at the wire.

The third Republican candidate in the race, William S. Shepard, spent the day calling supporters and volunteers, hoping to engineer the upset that eluded him when he was the GOP nominee four years ago.

Mr. Raynor, the election law administrator, urged Marylanders to vote, saying "Many elections are won and lost by a handful of votes. Your vote counts."

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