WASHINGTON – Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Washington and Oregon all have one thing in common — each has been visited more in the past two weeks by the major presidential candidates than Maryland has been in the entire election.
But party officials in Maryland do not bemoan the candidates’ absence.
“I think that we have two of the best surrogates in the governor and the lieutenant governor,” said Rob Johnson, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. He added that because “we are a solid Democratic state, we are going to deliver our electoral votes in an impressive fashion.”
Maryland’s 10 electoral votes are not enough to compel frequent visits from the presidential candidates, who need 270 votes to win the presidency. And Maryland, which has a strong Democratic majority, is expected to go to Democratic Vice President Al Gore, as Johnson noted.
But Maryland has done better than some states in similar situations – Hawaii is a solid Democratic state that has yet to get a visit from a presidential candidate seeking its four electoral votes in this election.
The candidates have at least stopped in Maryland, although residents have to reach back to last month for the last time Gore visited, and back to the beginning of summer for a visit by the Republican nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Ellen Sauerbrey, chairwoman of Maryland’s Bush effort, said that voters here should be glad that Bush got to visit three times. “He (Bush) has been to Maryland a number of times,” Sauerbrey said.
If Bush has not stopped by more often, she said, it is because candidates have to make choices about what stops are most beneficial for their campaigns.
“Anyone that has worked in national politics understands that candidates have to go where they are most needed,” she said. “There are states with more electoral votes, like Florida and Michigan, that have to be the target.”
In their place, the Republicans have been sending surrogates like former drug czar Bill Bennett and 1996 vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, while the Democrats have turned to Gov. Parris Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, among others.
Maryland Democratic officials said they want Gore and vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman to focus on states that they need to win.
“I don’t think that anyone would be upset by them coming here more often, but we understand the math of the electoral map,” said Maurice Daniel, Maryland’s Gore campaign director.
Pollster Carol Arscott said that Democrats like Daniel would probably be upset if Gore was paying more attention to the state.
“Maryland is a firm part of any Democrat’s base. If Maryland is in play, then there are much bigger problems (for the Democratic candidate),” said Arscott, of Gonzales/Arscott Research. “Maryland gets attention when there is a Republican landslide.”
She said 1988 was the last time Democrats had problems in the state. George H. Bush won the state that year, and Maryland was getting visits from members of the Bush team.
Arscott added that with the younger Bush’s team not making such campaign stops in the state this year, the campaign is hushed here.
“You could completely divorce yourself from the fact that there is a campaign going on,” she said of Maryland voters.
To party officials in battleground states, that does not seem like such a bad thing.
“With the amount of hours we are putting in, they (Maryland) should be grateful,” said Matt Resch, the press coordinator for Bush’s campaign in Michigan. Dana Bykowski, a spokeswoman for Gore’s Michigan campaign, called the atmosphere “intense” and “crazy.”
Jill Strickland, a spokeswoman for Gore’s Pennsylvania campaign, said the “field operation is a constant seven days a week, 20 hours a day job.”
“Sometimes it keeps us up at night — the thought that this big decision rests on what we do here,” said Strickland.
“I can’t wait `til its over with,” she sighed.