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Advantage: Democrats

Democrats are crowing at this year's voter registration statistics in Maryland, which show, for the first time, that there are more than 1 million registered Democrats in the state than Republicans.

The total number of registered voters has grown to 3.4 million. Of those, 1.94 million are Dems, 926,000 are Republicans, 484,000 say they are not affiliated with a party and the remainder belong to minor parties, such as Conservative, Libertarian and Green.

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The jurisdiction with the greatest disparity: Baltimore City, where just about 8 in 10 voters are Democrats, and 9 percent are Republicans.

There are seven counties in Maryland where there are more registered Republicans than Democrats: Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Queen Anne's, Talbot and Washington. Of those, there are just two where Republicans are an outright majority of all registered voters: Carroll, where the 54,000 Republicans make up 51 percent of voters; and Garrett, where there are 11,115 registered Republicans, or 61 percent of the voters.

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Registration numbers confirm the view that some traditionally swing jurisdictions may be drifting to the left. In Baltimore County, which sent Bob Ehrlich to congress for years and had a Republican county executive as recently as 1994, Democrats outnumber Republicans 298,800 to 131,881. In Howard County, represented by both Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly, there are 84,790 Republicans, and 55,269 Democrats.

It looks to me like the true "swing" jurisdictions in Maryland now -- and perhaps the most interesting places to take the political pulse of the state -- are Harford, Cecil, Calvert and St. Mary's counties.

In those places where the suburbs and rural stretches meet to become exurbs, the two major parties at the moment are closely matched.

Look for votes in those counties to show whether presidential and statewide races are blowouts or close contests. (In Harford, for example, 43 percent of registered voters are Democrats, and 42 percent are Republican; in St. Mary's, the numbers are 43 percent Democrat and 39 percent Republican; the Calvert breakdown is 42 percent Republican, 40 percent Democrat; in Cecil, the figures are 38 percent GOP, 42 percent Democratic.)

In my view, the latest registration numbers call in to question the strategy of Maryland Republican leadership that the party needs to stick to its conservative base, rather than reach out and win over indepdent moderate voters and peel off some Democrats.

We'll update the numbers today, when final Prince George's County figures are available (yes, more Democrats being added to the rolls).

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