Maryland voters troop to the polls today to help elect the next president, determine the makeup of the state's eight-member congressional delegation and decide a variety of ballot questions, including six proposed amendments to the state constitution.
Turnout among the state's record 2.5 million registered voters -- which is expected to be moderate among a seemingly disinterested electorate -- continues to be a wild card, though political observers in the state are predicting no surprises.
President Clinton, who leads Republican Bob Dole in polls nationally, is heavily favored to win Maryland, where Democratic registered voters outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-1. The question remaining is whether Clinton's popularity will have any effect on the state's congressional races.
"I don't sense any passion, either with joy or anger," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Baltimore Democrat. "Whether the president has any coattails in Maryland remains to be seen."
Keith Haller, who heads Potomac Survey Research, a Bethesda polling firm, said he believes last-minute questions about fund raising by both major parties, particularly those by the Democratic National Committee, have helped to deflate voter interest.
"Three weeks ago, there was realistic possibility that the presidential election would have impacted two or three pivotal congressional races," Haller said.
But he believes that is no longer the case.
While officials of both parties remain hopeful that the election will change the makeup of the state congressional delegation of four Democrats and four Republicans, few observers expect a new lineup.
Two congressional races are consistently mentioned as contests that could have been tipped in favor of the Democratswith more of a burst of Clinton support.
Those two are in the 2nd District -- Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties -- where Democrat Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis is running against GOP freshman Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and in Western Maryland's 6th District, where Democrat Steve Crawford is pitted against conservative Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.
Also mentioned by Richard R. Parsons, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, as a race that is "closer than it appears" is the contest in Maryland's 8th District.
There, Democratic newcomer Donald L. Mooers is challenging Rep. Constance A. Morella, a popular liberal Republican who has been forced to straddle the ideological fence under the conservative House GOP leadership since the 1994 elections.
GOP hopes to gain 1 seat
Meanwhile, Republicans are hopeful that they can capture at least one seat. "I think our incumbents are safe; I really do," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party. "We'd like to pick up one additional seat, maybe two."
One of the places the state GOP is looking for that seat is Maryland's 5th District in Southern Maryland, where Republican state Del. John S. Morgan is mounting a credible challenge to Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the incumbent Democrat.
In the Baltimore area's 3rd District, Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin is facing Republican Patrick L. McDonough, who has stayed visible, nipping at the congressman's heels.
There are no surprises anticipated in the overwhelmingly Democratic 7th District, where the state's newest congressman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, is being opposed by perennial Republican candidate Kenneth Kondner.
In the 4th District, Republican John B. Kimble is running against Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn; and in the 1st District, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest is expected to fend off a challenge by Steven R. Eastaugh, a Democrat who ran against him in 1994.
In the presidential race, the major candidates have done some fund-raising here, but little campaigning, though they have said that Maryland's popular vote and its 10 electoral votes -- out of 270 electoral votes needed to win -- are important to them.
But both Democrats and Republicans alike have been active in efforts to light a fire under voters.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat who has been stumping hard on behalf of the party, worried aloud yesterday about voter apathy.
"We've got an enemy out there. It's complacency," Glendening said. "The turnout is likely to be lower than normal, but I want to make sure complacency doesn't run rampant."
On Friday, Gene M. Raynor, the state election administrator, predicted that the turnout could be as high as the 81 percent seen in 1992, but other political observers doubt that.
Four years ago, in an election Clinton won by a margin second only to that in his home state of Arkansas, Maryland voters were sparked to the polls by the emotion-charged referendum on a law, ultimately approved by voters, that kept most abortions legal in the state.
This year, voters statewide will vote to approve or reject six proposed amendments to the Maryland Constitution.
Those questions range from changing the makeup of the controversial Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which investigates complaints against judges and recommends disciplinary action, to limiting the power of a lame-duck governor from making appointments.
Voters also will be faced with local ballot questions, including hotly debated measures regarding taxation in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Prince George's County voters will be asked whether they want to abolish a controversial 18-year-old cap -- known as the Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders (TRIM) -- on that jurisdiction's base property tax rate of $2.40 per $100 of assessed value.
A related question on the Prince George's ballot, put forward by TRIM proponents, would expand the cap, asking voters whether they want a referendum whenever the county government wants to increase any tax or major fee.
In Montgomery County, voters will decide on an amendment to the county charter that would lower the county's piggyback income tax rate to 56 percent from 60 percent. The measure would offer officials the option of lowering property taxes by the same amount of total revenue, instead.
Montgomery voters also will be asked to decide whether to repeal the 1990 Fairness In Taxation (FIT) measure that generally limits county spending to the annual increase in inflation.
Polling places in Maryland are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. today.
Pub Date: 11/05/96