ANNAPOLIS – Maryland Democrats insist that the latest White House sex scandal will not harm them in November, but they still appear defensive about the issue and anxious that Republicans will try to use it against them.
“Republicans are desperate for an issue to run a campaign on,” said Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Peter Krauser, who conceded that most Democrats are eagerly awaiting a more complete explanation from President Clinton.
Krauser said it is too early to speculate on the possible effects of the scandal now, but he expects Republicans will try to use the negative publicity to hurt Democrats in local and state races.
But most state Republicans were cautious about the issue.
Maryland Republican Party Chairwoman Joyce Terhes called it “sad” and urged politicians to let independent counsel Kenneth Starr finish his investigation before making an issue of the charges.
And Del. Michael Burns, R-Anne Arundel, said that if the scandal does become an issue for the GOP, it will not be used gratuitously.
“Is there any more fundamental issue in America than honesty and trustworthiness?” asked Burns, a former executive director of the state GOP.
“We come up with issues that resonate with voters,” he said of the Republican platform.
Burns described Gov. Parris Glendening and other state Democrats as “holding their breath.” A federal scandal could have an effect on state politics, he said, as when “planets line up in conjunction, you have effects on the tides.”
“The Democrats are going to take a real whacking in this state and in the country” if the current Clinton scandal lasts through November, Burns said. “If the situation was reversed, I’d be scared to death for my party.”
Recent polls, however, show the public is solidly behind Clinton. A one-night USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll done Wednesday, the day after the president’s State of the Union address, gave him a 67 percent approval rating, the highest of his presidency.
Maryland Democrats, meanwhile, are daring Republicans to exploit the scandal at their own risk.
“Republicans should be very, very careful about what they say and what they do,” said Tim Phillips, Glendening’s campaign manager.
“Any glee on the Republican side is rude and coarse. This is not something to be gleeful about,” said Phillips of the scandal.
Krauser said Glendening and Clinton have what he described as a typical relationship for a Democratic president and a Democratic governor. He insisted that the relationship will not affect Glendening’s re-election bid this fall.
“All the [Democratic] governors are supportive of the president, and so I don’t see any fallout in that respect,” Krauser said.
State Sen. Michael Collins, D-Baltimore County, said he does not believe the latest allegations about Clinton will hurt or help either side.
“I don’t think sexual misbehavior is the exclusive political domain of either political party,” said Collins, a co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.
“It’s a tragic issue, but I don’t think it’s a partisan issue,” he said.
Carol Hirshburg, campaign spokeswoman for Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey, said Glendening is in trouble with or without the effects of a Clinton trip-up.
“Governor Glendening and his cronies are involved in enough scandals on their own that we don’t have to look for anything else,” she said.