BOSTON – Western Maryland Democrats, confident their state will once again support the Democratic presidential nominee, are marching into border swing states such as West Virginia with an ambitious strategy to capture those electoral votes for Sen. John Kerry.
Marylanders are sending volunteers across the Potomac to organize fund-raisers, register voters and canvass citizens, hoping to sway enough voters to tip the state in the Democrat’s favor.
Dan Rupli, a Frederick attorney and delegate to the Democratic National Convention, has formed the Potomac Alliance for Kerry-Edwards to organize and register West Virginia Democrats.
“We don’t have a whole lot of influence on the outcome of (Maryland) state elections, so we wanted to use our resources to organize key counties on the West Virginia side of the river,” he said.
Western Maryland is reliably in the GOP camp, regularly voting for the Republican presidential candidate, but statewide Maryland voters traditionally deliver the state to the Democratic nominee. Maryland last supported a Republican presidential candidate, George H.W. Bush, in 1988.
Rupli’s volunteers are concentrating on West Virginia’s panhandle, which borders Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Derek Scarbro, field director for the West Virginia State Democratic Party, said a Democratic edge in those counties could be vital because most of them have a large number of independents and only a slight Republican edge in registration.
“If we’re able to close that gap or reduce their margin of victory there, it could really help the rest of the state,” he said.
Although Democrats enjoy a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration over Republicans in West Virginia, each party has won the state four times in the past eight presidential elections. In 2000, Republican George W. Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore 52 percent to 46 percent.
Simple geography may give the Marylanders an advantage in the panhandle, Democratic strategists said.
“There’s a large disconnect there,” Scarbro said. “Geographically, they’re very isolated from the rest of the state.”
Also, the demographics of the area are changing, making it easy for Western Marylanders to relate.
“A lot of people that live in that part of the state are from the D.C. area,” Scarbro said, as the population grows and continues to move out farther from the center. “Traditionally, the state party didn’t focus much on that area, because it used to be pretty rural.”
Anne Barth, political director for West Virginia’s Victory 2004 Campaign, described the work of Marylanders and West Virginians as “neighborly.”
“Those folks that live across the border from each other know each other well, so they’ve been working very well together,” she said.
Rupli’s West Virginia volunteers also have a sister organization making forays into Pennsylvania. The Mason-Dixon Alliance for Kerry-Edwards has targeted an area he calls “the triangle,” the area between Harrisburg, Pa., Baltimore, and Hagerstown.
Overall, Rupli said he believes he and his volunteers can boost numbers for Democrats by as much as 6 percent in targeted areas in West Virginia, and 3 percent in Pennsylvania.
Money statistics seem to support Rupli’s claim. A recent fund-raiser in Shepherdstown, W.Va., raised $100,000 for Kerry-Edwards, which is more than the $88,000 that Al Gore managed to raise in the state during the entire 2000 election cycle, Barth said.
The money is nice, Rupli said, but the real goal is to get new people involved.
“When you get people excited about crossing state lines, you get people excited about participating in a truly national election.” – 30- CNS-7-26-04