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Humbled Democrats go back to organizing Thrashing by GOP puts focus on building party from ground up


Smarting from their worst whipping ever at the hands of Republicans in November's election, Anne Arundel Democrats are taking the advice of Lyndon B. Johnson: They are vowing to get even. The Democrats are resorting "We're in trouble. We need an organization," said Del. Michael E. Busch of Annapolis, one of the Democrats trying to mend a party in disarray.

Party leaders agree that the once fat-and-happy Democrats have neglected for more than a decade the traditional party-building activities, from moving up promising young Democrats to welcoming newcomers to the county.

"Let's get over this idea that you are in a Democrat-controlled county -- all you have to do is get up and cheer," said Darryl Jones, the outgoing Central Committee chief.

Democrats have spent recent months developing a strategy to have their organizational house in order in time for presidential and congressional races next year. They will be involved in registration and precinct-building as well as soliciting money and finding talent.

Among their efforts:

* Increasing the number of elected and high-profile Democrats on the local speaking circuit, from scouting groups to clubs to neighborhood associations.

* Chartering two new Democratic clubs, one for the Broadneck Peninsula and the other for Greater Annapolis, bringing the total to 12 in the county.

* Trying to shed the tax-and-spend image given them by the Republicans in favor of a plat-form of diversity, crime-fighting and pro-business measures.

VTC * Distributing a local party newsletter.

* Ensuring that party workers welcome new Democrats to the area.

In November's election, the Republican Party retained the county executive's seat and took control of the County Council. It captured the majority of county House of Delegates seats and ousted veteran state Sen. Michael J. Wagner of Ferndale.

Overwhelmed Democratic workers were juggling five precincts, and the candidates, rather than the party, had to supply voter registration lists. Democrats expended their energy squabbling, often in a civil war between north and south county.

Meanwhile, the Republicans, underdogs in party registration, had built a strong organization by offering candidates money and organizational support. They turned what was exclusively Democratic territory into friendlier country, particularly with 23,620 unaffiliated voters added. There are 110,881 registered Democrats and 85,928 registered Republicans.

More ominous for the Democrats is that the majority of the voters under age 21 who have selected a party have chosen the GOP. The Board of Elections shows 2,939 young Republicans and 2,722 Democrats.

"We've come to realize that . . . we need to get out and work just like the Republicans did," said Sen. John C. Astle of Annapolis. "I never had a party I could go to and get help."

Mr. Astle admitted that if he were arriving on the political landscape now, he might be signing on as a Republican because that is the group that has been advertising opportunities for citizens who want to take a politically active role in their communities.

Leaders of the Democratic party-building say they will shy from ideology, largely because the county's Democrats hardly sing in unison on issues. Sandwiched between the liberal Democratic areas of Prince George's County and Baltimore, Anne Arundel is quite conservative. Gov. Parris N. Glendening did poorly with voters here -- though he may well need them if he seeks a second term.

But Mr. Wagner said the lack of a strong ideology and platform may hurt candidates. The county has changed from typical Democratic working-class voters to middle-class people who fear the government is giving away their money, he said.

"The Republicans believe in something, they have a message," he said. "The Democrats don't have anything they believe in."

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