GOP strangely silent in Balto. Co. Republicans offering little competition in local elections; 'Nobody's out there'


Pity Baltimore County's Republicans.

Instead of an aggressive, countywide assault on Democrats who four years ago recaptured control of county government, the local GOP seems slow off the mark.

Their best-known veteran councilman -- Towson's Douglas B. Riley -- is leaving public office. They have no candidate for county executive or one to vie for the most vulnerable Democratic council seat in Catonsville.

"Nobody's out there starting to hit the streets. That's true, and it's unfortunate," says Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican who enjoys support from Democrats as well as from his party.

Perhaps the brightest potential Republican star in the House of Delegates -- Kenneth Holt of Bradshaw -- is silent. He is weighing a risky race against the state Senate's unlikely hero of the Larry Young scandal -- Essex Democrat Michael J. Collins, who co-chaired the General Assembly's joint ethics committee.

Party loyalists quickly point out that they have a strong county-based candidate for governor, for Congress and for other offices, and that plenty of time remains before the July 6 filing deadline.

But so far the GOP is quiet, at least in the most prominent local races.

The reasons seem plentiful. Some feel that it's a year for incumbents, that Republicans must concentrate on Ellen R. Sauerbrey's gubernatorial campaign, that County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger is too strong to fight, or that the economy is too good.

"It's tough when you don't have anything to complain about," says Catonsville Republican Del. Donald E. Murphy, who points out that crime is down and the economy is up. "It's not like Washington. We have to live with one another."

In several areas, Republicans appear eager to compete for seats. GOP candidates are vying for House of Delegates seats in the east county's 6th Legislative District, where Democrats had a lock on public offices until Holt's 1994 victory.

Also, two Republicans -- but no Democrats -- are vying for Riley's Towson council seat.

But unopposed 2nd District Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., whose district covers parts of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties, acknowledges that his fellow Republicans are more active in places other than Baltimore County.

"Harford and Anne Arundel are unbelievable," he says.

In Howard County, Republicans have launched an aggressive challenge to longtime Democratic county Councilman C. Vernon Gray.

But in Catonsville, Republicans aren't challenging Democratic Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, who won his seat four years ago by a 579-vote margin over Republican incumbent Berchie Lee Manley. She is considering a race against Ruppersberger.

The noncombative mood also prevails farther east, in the 8th Legislative District covering Overlea, Parkville and north through Cub Hill and the Long Green Valley.

There, with the four seats split between the two major parties, both sides seem content.

The Democrats "are doing their thing, and we're doing ours. People are very happy with two and two," says Republican Del. James F. Ports Jr. about himself and his district colleagues -- Del. Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Republican, and Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell and Del. Kathy Klausmeier, Democrats.

Overall, Republicans are outmatched numerically -- 243,533 registered Democrats in the county, compared with 109,144 Republicans.

"This is primarily a Democratic state and county, and Republicans are aware of the odds," Manley says.

The Democrat-controlled redistricting after the last census created districts much more difficult for Republicans to win, Ports said.

Despite losing two County Council seats and the county executive's office in 1994, Republicans insist they're not fading. They gained three delegate seats four years ago, including two in traditionally Democratic areas -- Catonsville and Essex.

Perhaps the most difficult obstacle for the county GOP is the political consensus the popular Ruppersberger has built among Republicans and Democrats since defeating Republican incumbent Roger B. Hayden in 1994. Hayden, who works for the Baltimore Orioles, is out of politics.

But, while finding a serious challenger to Ruppersberger seems highly unlikely, the Republicans haven't given up.

"Careful targeting is going on," says Alfred Mendelsohn, a Reisterstown Republican running for his party's central committee chairmanship.

"I have to think we'll excite somebody to run for executive," he said, though conceding that running against Ruppersberger is like opposing "a 500-pound gorilla."

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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