Drives for votes enter the fast lane

THE SIZE OF the voter turnout will determine who'll be Maryland's next governor.

By any measure, the contest between Democrat Parris Glendening and Republican Ellen Sauerbrey is too close to call, a statistical dead heat. The most recent Mason-Dixon Political Media Research poll had Mr. Glendening six points ahead (with 10 percent undecided), hardly the cold comfort he needs two weeks before the final roundup. The winning formula is simply a case-study of who gets out the vote.


So, following the same crumpled text, both parties are planning get-out-the-vote drives. While GOP strategists are reluctant to discuss details, Maryland's Republican Party, for the very first time, is organizing a razzle-dazzle march to the polls. They're targeting Montgomery County which has the largest concentration of Republicans (136,000) in Maryland.

Montgomery is one of only three subdivisions where Mr. Glendening leads, and GOP strategists, while conceding Montgomery to the Democrat, are working to hold his victory margin to between 55 to 60 percent of the total.


For Democrats, the reverse of the script is at work. Mr. Glendening is relying on heavy black turnouts in his home county of Prince George's County and in Baltimore City. In a recent Washington Post survey, Mr. Glendening had 82 percent of the black vote. Some 61 percent of Baltimore's population is black, 51 percent for Prince George's.

So, for the next two weekends, Democrats -- reinforced with workers from organized labor as well as community leaders -- will be tramping through the city's black neighborhoods to encourage a large turnout of voters.

Both parties are relying heavily on voter lists for targeting as well as on phone banks for follow-up contact with voters.

If the recent past is a reliable indicator, the voter turnout should hover between 55 and 62 percent. In the 1990 general election (Gov. William Donald Schaefer) the turnout was 55 percent; in 1986 (Mr. Schaefer), turnout was 54 percent; in 1982 (Harry R. Hughes), the turnout was 61.7 percent; and in 1978 (Mr. Hughes), the turnout was 55 percent. So, in recent history, 55 percent of the voters have determined the results.

Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2-1 -- 1.4 million to 677,000 in the state. While Democrats are spread out across the state, more than half of the registered Republicans are in four counties -- Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard -- the bulwark of Mrs. Sauerbrey's support.

It might be inappropriate to compare apples and artichokes, but in the primary election 535,845 Democrats (38 percent) and 230,395 Republicans (34 percent) voted. Mr. Glendening collected 54 percent of the Democratic vote in a four-way race, carrying every jurisdiction in the state except Calvert and Caroline counties.

Mrs. Sauerbrey gathered 52 percent of the GOP vote over the heavily favored Rep. Helen Delich Bentley. Mrs. Sauerbrey swept every jurisdiction except Baltimore City and Harford and Allegany counties.

What's vexing candidates and political rubberneckers alike is the lack of local contests that usually boost voter turnouts. Most local elections were settled in the primary and no incumbents seem to be threatened.


Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes is walloping Republican Bill Brock by nearly 2-1 in the trial heats. Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein is a lead-pipe cinch for re-election. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. is ahead in the polls but he's being challenged aggressively by Republican Richard Bennett.

And the only congressional district where there's a contest is in the 2nd District. Democratic Del. Gerry L. Brewster and Republican Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are dueling to succeed Mrs. Bentley, the outgoing Republican who gave up her seat for a losing run in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

In Baltimore County, which comprises most of the 2nd District, there's a local contest of interest between incumbent Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden and the challenging Democrat, Council member Charles A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger III.

The iron rule of getting out the vote is: Maximize your strength, then branch out.

While Mr. Glendening leads in Maryland's three most populous subdivisions, Mrs. Sauerbrey commands the vote in the remaining 21 counties where the population is thin and the anti-urban feelings are intense -- rural areas, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland.

Critical to Mrs. Sauerbrey are the counties surrounding Baltimore City like a suburban noose -- Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard, Carroll and her home base of Baltimore County. Four of those five counties are still under Republican control.


In 1990, their ejection of Democrats was widely viewed as a vote against the city and the urban problems it was exporting to the suburbs. This year, riding a national riptide of anger and anti-politics, anti-city feelings could be even more intense, heightened by Mr. Glendening's election-year pact with Mayor Kurt Schmoke and his promise of more aid to the impoverished city.

In the end it's the numbers that count. Vote early and often.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes on Maryland politics from Owings Mills.