Four years ago, Republican F. Vernon Boozer breezed unopposed to a new four-year state Senate term -- his popularity never questioned, even as a moderate in a conservative district.
But Tuesday night, after 17 years in the upper chamber, Boozer, 63, lost the GOP primary for his 9th District central Baltimore County seat to a political opponent who had never run for public office.
What happened? Some say nearly everything.
Low turnout, complacency by Boozer, redistricting, gun control, abortion, needle exchanges and even Boozer's talent for dealing with General Assembly Democrats converged to boost Dr. Andrew Harris, an obstetric anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, to a 54 percent victory, observers say.
"It was one of the most successful races I've ever been involved in. Everything worked," said a satisfied Robert O. C. Worcester, president of the private, nonprofit Maryland Business for Responsible Government, a group that rated Boozer as one of the most unfriendly legislators to business.
"We've been very clinical about this," Worcester said, characterizing Boozer, a moderate Republican, as "a square peg in a round hole," in a conservative, pro-business district.
Republican Del. Martha S. Klima, who served with Boozer, agrees.
"Over the last three years, Vernon's made some critical votes that angered his constituency," she said. "He voted to tighten gun control, he went against my position on emissions testing, and that was a very visceral, bitter battle, and he voted for the needle exchange."
He so angered conservatives that fellow Republican Sen. Larry E. Haines, from neighboring Carroll County, openly supported Harris against his own minority leader. Election night, he referred to Boozer as a "Democrat."
Some observers say Boozer, a Towson lawyer, also managed to alienate voters by representing bars and liquor licensees.
On top of all that, he faced a vigorous campaign by Harris, who now faces another untried candidate, Democrat Anthony O. Blades, a 61-year-old retired state parole official, in the November general election.
Boozer, however, contends his record was distorted, and that the low 31 percent Republican turnout favored Harris, whose supporters are social zealots, "ideologues."
"It was all abortion. They targeted [Frederick Sen. John W.] Derr and me. It's like a litmus test in the Republican Party today," he said.
All around the county "the voter turnout had a real impact," said Republican Del. Kenneth Holt, himself a state Senate candidate in the eastern 6th District. "Essentially you had core groups of partisans who rallied to attack incumbents they didn't like. Had there been a greater turnout, you would not have seen Boozer or [Councilman Louis L.] DePazzo put out of office," he said.
Boozer opposed a proposed General Assembly ban on late-term abortions because he said the law was poorly drawn and might have banned all abortions. He voted for money for a needle-exchange program for addicts in Baltimore -- a measure which failed -- because, he said, it would help save lives and state treatment money.
"I lost, and if I had it to do all over again -- with the partial-birth abortion -- they can have the job," Boozer told a shocked crowd of supporters in Cockeysville just 90 minutes after the polls closed Tuesday night. "I care too much about the women, their health and their lives. Don't cry for me."
Harris says he believes in "the big tent" theory that allows people of widely differing beliefs to belong to the Republican Party. But xTC he said Boozer was simply too liberal for the conservative 9th Legislative District created after the 1990 census. Instead of a more urban, Beltway-area district, it stretched to encompass the county's most conservative precincts all the way to the Pennsylvania line.
Boozer's role as Senate minority leader, working with the majority Democrats to craft legislation, also might have hurt him, says Howard County Republican Sen. Christopher J. McCabe.
"He had an ability to work with a Democratic majority in the state, which sometimes put him at odds with the strong philosophical beliefs of some of his constituents in the Republican Party," McCabe said. "Ultimately, that closeness created electoral problems for him."
U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a former north county legislator, thinks the Clinton sex scandals also may have brought out more conservative Republicans.
"The Clinton issue has excited Republicans," he said, citing more than 2,000 communications to his office on the subject in three days. "We have never had anything like that on any issue."
In fund raising, a traditional measure of political strength, Boozer had a clear advantage, according to the Sept. 4 campaign finance reports. He raised a total of $157,000 and had $37,678 left 10 days before the election. Harris reported raising $48,245, including a $10,000 loan from himself, and had $18,704 left.
But money means little in races driven by emotional fervor.
"The whole thing is simply amazing to me, how someone can come out of nowhere and win," said Republican County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, wondering aloud whether Boozer's unopposed win four years ago might have made him too lax this time in campaigning.
Whatever the reasons for Boozer's loss, the primary is over, and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat who forged a successful career in the conservative Republican north county, is already making overtures to Harris.
"Harris seems to be a hard-working family man -- a professional," Ruppersberger said. "You want to help people and make a difference. You can't do that by working your own political agenda."
Pub Date: 9/17/98