By Barbara Burnham and Rachel Brown
Clarence Ridgell, 76, sat behind the counter of Buzzy’s Historic Country Store with a newspaper in front of him, patiently answering questions like someone who had been voting for 50 years.
As Ridgell talked, the only other occupant in the store, his St. Bernard, strolled behind the counter.
Yes, Ridgell knows who his congressman is — Rep. Steny Hoyer. Yes, the St. Mary’s County merchant knows who he will vote for this year — Hoyer.
But when asked for any other thoughts about the elections, Ridgell simply said, “Not really. I’ll be glad when they get it over with.”
Most Southern Maryland voters interviewed recently by Capital News Service were like Ridgell — they were up on the issues, they said they vote regularly and they had mostly made up their minds about the election.
But they are just tired of the campaigning that comes with it. Several hundred miles of traveling through Southern Maryland and scores of telephone interviews turned up only a handful of voters who were even willing to give their opinions.
“I just wish it was over,” Jody Bailey, 30, a policy analyst in Charles County said during a recent telephone interview.
This lack of enthusiasm does not necessarily mean they do not care about the elections, Maryland politicians and political observers said.
“It’s hard to get people’s attention because of the concentration on the presidential election,” said John Morgan, a former state delegate from Prince George’s County. Morgan, a Republican who ran against Hoyer in 1996, said television coverage can give people the impression that local elections do not exist.
Some voters may also be turned off by negative television ads for Virginia’s Senate race between Sen. Charles Robb and former Gov. George Allen, which are reaching Southern Maryland through Washington TV stations, said state Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles.
“If you watch TV like most of us do,” you can’t catch more than an hour without seeing one such negative ad, said Middleton.
For Southern Marylanders, it’s not about the issues, but the way their candidate carries himself while in office.
Many of the residents interviewed said they were looking for someone who displayed honor and integrity while in office.
Patrick Crews, 44, of LaPlata described these qualities as “things that are hard to find” in a public official. Dorothea Barstow, 47, a homemaker in Great Mills said elected officials should do what’s right and follow their hearts, no matter what the polls say.
Ridgell, a Democrat, said he didn’t want his candidates playing around like President Clinton — but he still plans to vote for Vice President Al Gore.
Bailey said she had not made her choice for the 5th District congressional race, which pits Mechanicsville Democrat Hoyer against Republican challenger Tim Hutchins of LaPlata. But Bailey, a Republican who crossed party lines to vote for President Clinton in the last election, said she does expect to vote in November for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the GOP nominee for president.
Todd Tarburton, 31, a supervisor from Charles County, said he wanted to vote for Bush, but only if he doesn’t make any major mistakes.
“I don’t think it will be a tie once they (debates) are over,” said Tarburton.
Many could not identify a single, most-pressing issue facing the nation, saying there are too many to choose from. Crews said apathy toward government and taxes were most important while Tarburton said health care should be a top priority.
“It’s hard to believe we can put people on the moon and still have problems with diseases we’ve had for years,” Tarburton said.
Most of the 16 voters interviewed said the budget surplus should to go to beefing up social programs and not to a tax cut, as Bush has proposed. One said such tax cuts “aren’t going to amount to a hill of beans.”
But a couple wanted the money returned to the taxpayers.
“It’s like the government has a credit card with the American public’s name on it,” said Crews.