Md. not a popular campaign stop Presidential hopefuls key on electoral votes in big-league states; CAMPAIGN 1996

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Marylanders probably will vote for president this year without benefit of an in-person promise, a motorcade or a handshake from either major candidate.

With Republican and Democratic candidates toiling in larger states with more electoral votes at stake, voters here may have to be content with television images. Reform Party nominee Ross Perot's travel plans do not include Maryland either.

Unofficially, each campaign regards this heavily Democratic state as Clinton's to lose.

The president, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have been in the state in the past year to raise money, and Gore may visit today.

But Maryland is not even penciled in as a campaign stop for Clinton now, though his plans could change. And Republican Bob Dole may be here for only the briefest moment -- touching down long enough at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to be photographed on Free State soil.

Still, Tony Caligiuri, executive director of Dole's campaign here, said Dole's standing has improved steadily.

"From the national perspective I can see where Maryland is not a targeted state [for either party]," he said, "but recent races for governor and the legislature show there's fertile soil here for the GOP."

Caligiuri said multiple visits to Maryland by members of the Clinton-Gore team tend to validate his point: Why would they spend any time here if they didn't have some concerns?

"The key for Dole is getting the Republican vote out in Prince George's, Montgomery and Baltimore counties to offset the big Democratic turnout in the city," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, the Republican Party's chairman in Maryland.

Terhes said Dole may gather momentum in the coming weeks but needs to be more aggressive in the next debate, on Wednesday.

"A lot of voters aren't tuned in yet," she said, "and Clinton's support is soft."

However strong the president's support is in Maryland, his team has the greater presence here.

"We're not taking anything for granted, but we're not running scared either," said Jess Sarmiento, Maryland spokeswoman for Clinton-Gore '96.

The Democrats' staff, in the Rotunda, has organized a series of candidate-free rallies on the same day Clinton administration achievements are trumpeted in similar events across the country. Maryland's Democratic congressional candidates are coordinating their campaigns with the Clinton forces, and Democratic women here strive to capitalize on the gender gap, the lopsided backing Clinton gets from women.

Beyond that, Maryland stands as a sort of showcase for the power of an incumbent president. Stated another way, what Clinton had to do to claim Maryland, he's been doing for the past four years.

Strong for Clinton in '92

Baltimore's Democratic mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke, and Schmoke's chief campaign strategist, Larry S. Gibson, regularly remind the White House of their contribution four years ago: Only in Arkansas, Clinton's home state, was the president's victory margin wider than it was in Maryland.

So, Baltimore voters were rewarded with a $100 million thank you note in the form of an empowerment zone grant. Only five other cities received one. In addition to being poor and in need of uplift, Baltimore's electorate gives Democrats a 9-1 advantage over Republicans in voter registration.

Though Maryland's 10 electoral votes do not put it anywhere near the big leagues of California (54) or New York (33), they are incrementally important to any candidate's drive toward the winning number, 270.

GOP isn't shut out in Md.

Republicans are not helpless in Maryland: Over the past 20 years, their candidates won Maryland in three of six elections: Richard M. Nixon in 1972; Ronald Reagan in 1984; and George Bush in 1988.

"In a close election, running a good campaign can help," said Carol Hirschburg, who helped engineer a GOP victory for Reagan in 1984. "But if Reagan had been in the position Dole is in now in national polls, we could have run the best campaign in the world here and it wouldn't have made any difference."

Dole is struggling to win states such as Florida and Texas, usually more certain to back the Republican than Maryland is to support the Democrat.

Maryland looks good for the Democrat this year, said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Opinion Research of Columbia, for various reasons, including these: Its "very sizable black vote is still solid for [Clinton]," and it "has a higher per capita group of government and state workers who tend to be favorably disposed toward Democrats."

As do other observers, Coker said Clinton is on the right side of the age divide.

"Bob Dole will have to work on his image a bit, but his biggest problem is the generational thing," he said. "The folks who have begun to vote Republican in presidential elections tend to be younger, college-educated professionals -- the baby boomers. They're the heart of the Republican congressional takeover of 1992, and Dole is not of that generation."

But there are other reasons for Clinton's strength.

The Maryland electorate, by and large, is in urban areas, and the core Democratic vote is urban: "It's been that way since [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt," said John T. Willis, Maryland's secretary of state, a political strategist for Gov. Parris N. Glendening and a student of presidential elections in Maryland.

What Clinton must not do, he and others say, is sit back.

"There's a very different campaign atmosphere that works against Clinton a bit this year," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, D-Baltimore. "In 1992, we had the [abortion] referendum. Sen. [Barbara A.] Mikulski was up for re-election, and we had more congressional races that were competitive.

"That kind of local excitement generates a good turnout. This time, the Clinton campaign will have to generate much of the excitement," she said.

Visit can help

A candidate visit, for example, even in solidily Republican Frederick County, could convert voters, according to John Ashbury, who runs a real estate management business there.

But the lasting impact would be negligible, he added.

"The people up here just don't trust him," Ashbury said. "There's been too much going on with File-gate and Whitewater."

Willis dismissed the "character" questions to which Ashbury alluded, calling them yesterday's news.

"Had it come to light this spring," he said, "it might have mattered. But it's not fresh."

Willis also said the electorate has a new perspective on the Republican revolution, a conclusion based in part on the falling popularity of its leader, House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"The notion that all government is bad has a limit. We've reached the logical conclusion of that argument," Willis said.

Pub Date: 10/14/96

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