SEVERNA PARK, Md. – The wind through the open window is having fun with Tony Caligiuri.
“One minute, the breeze is just right,” Caligiuri says. “…The next minute, it surprises me.”
The executive director of Republican Robert Dole’s Maryland campaign stops in mid-sentence to chase flying papers. But that doesn’t trip him up. He seems as patient with the wind as he is with the presidential race the pollsters say is all but over.
“If we watched the polls, sure, Bill Clinton appears to have the election locked,” says Caligiuri, who is on leave as staff director for U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Kennedyville). “What those pollsters aren’t looking at is the progress that Dole has made.
“Clinton is the only one standing still in those polls. Dole has been constantly moving. That’s what we are focusing on.”
It’s a focus that could be easy to lose. In 1992, President Bill Clinton received 50 percent of Maryland’s vote; George Bush, 36 percent. And according to the Maryland State Administrative Board of Election Laws, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans here roughly two to one.
“One of our main goals is to visit groups that are traditionally Republican,” Caligiuri says. “But we also are visiting groups that support Democrats and have throughout their history. We are bringing our message to those who want to hear it and those who are not so sure they want to listen. We will continue to do this until November 5.
“We haven’t lost this election. And we don’t plan to.”
Theirs is a grassroots operation with a mission to get out among voters and say why Dole deserves to win, Caligiuri says.
Staffers have visited College Republicans at Johns Hopkins, Frostburg State and Salisbury State universities. They have set up booths with literature at county fairs and held rallies featuring such state Republican draws as Ellen Sauerbrey, 1994 candidate for governor.
Each day begins with a conference call linking all state campaigns with the national headquarters in Washington, D.C., Caligiuri says.
“That daily call helps us map out the strategy for the day or sometimes for the week. If Dole is focusing on crime and drugs for the day or week, the national office wants to make sure the state campaigns are focusing on the same thing.”
Dole has made three appearances in Maryland. To kickoff his campaign a year ago, Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, participated in a rally in Queen Anne’s County. In the spring, he stopped in Gaithersburg for a rally, then headed to Towson to meet veterans at the American Legion Post. This summer, Mrs. Dole was a speaker at the state Republican Convention.
“Dole has the character, integrity, and he has a deeper understanding of every-day people. That’s what we are stressing,” Caligiuri says.
The state campaign office is an every-day-people kind of place. Passersby on bustling Route 2 might not even notice the place, located atop an ADT Auto Parts store.
Operations are spread among four or five rooms. Gilchrest, the Dole/Kemp Maryland campaign chairman and Caligiuri’s once- and-future boss, has an office right down the hall.
Staffers are twentysomething, energetic and put in long hours. Including Caligiuri, only five are paid — at minimum wage for 60-hour weeks — to run Maryland operations. The rest are volunteers. In addition, volunteer county directors in each of 23 counties and Baltimore City recruit volunteers and organize events.
Atop the auto parts store, Aaron Tomarchio, 22, is among the paid.
As regional field director, the Bel Air native makes daily contact with eight county directors, ensuring that they have all the signs or literature they need for door-knocking or rallies and parades.
“If one of my counties needs a speaker for a rally, I help with that. If one of my counties needs about 100 signs to put on lawns, I make sure they get them,” says Tomarchio, a St. Mary’s College graduate who volunteered with Sauerbrey before joining Dole.
“Another part of my job is making sure the morale stays up. With all the pro-Clinton press, sometimes it gets hard. Some of my volunteers get a little down about it. But more than anything, a lot of volunteers are angry about the media’s interpretation of the outcome of the election. So that gets them fired up.”
Gilchrest, who seeks his fourth term in the balloting Nov. 5, drops in at the office on the recent windy day and predicts the presidential vote in Maryland will be interesting.
“Maryland spans the political spectrum,” the congressman says. “But there are some common points among voters. They are concerned about jobs, economic development and education. I believe we are delivering a message that addresses those concerns.”
“We are hoping to win Maryland,” Gilchrest says. “If we can do that, we can win this election.” -30-