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Registered voters pick GOP

January 05, 1997

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

Elephants now outnumber donkeys in Washington County.

For the first time in the history of the Washington County Board of Elections Supervisors there are more Republicans registered to vote than Democrats - 33 more to be exact, according to election board records.

Election Deputy Director Kaye Robucci reported that as of Dec. 31 the loyalties of Washington County's 61,325 registered voters are as follows:

27,388 Republicans

27,355 Democrats

707 members of "other parties"

22 members of Ross Perot's Reform Party

5,853 people declined to affiliate with a party.

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These figures compare to 35 years ago when, as of June 1, 1961, the first time such numbers were recorded, Washington County's 38,176 registered voters were broken down into:

21,754 Democrats

15,990 Republicans

Five members of "other parties"

427 people who declined to affiliate with any party.

Local Grand Old Party leaders were understandably pleased at the news.

"I was cheering when I heard that," state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said Friday. "A lot of us have been working in the vineyards for a long time."

Democrats outnumbered Republicans by about 6,000 registered voters 22 years ago when Munson was first elected a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly, he said.

"It's a major turnaround over those years," Munson observed.

And the switch is not unique to Washington County, according to Munson.

"I think this is part of the trend we're seeing through much of rural Maryland," he said.

The state Republican party has made "a major effort for some time, through the mails, to encourage people to change to the Republican Party," Munson said.

Susan Saum-Wicklein, chairwoman of the Washington County Republican Central Committee, also credited the state organization for working to make Maryland "a viable two-party state."

"It is important that the state of Maryland be perceived by voters as a two-party state," she said. "It is not healthy for anyone to have an overpowering majority ... It is real important that the state be not so skewed in one direction."

The local central committee has done a good job of recruiting viable candidates, giving voters a choice on the primary level, Saum-Wicklein said.

Washington County has a tradition of electing conservative candidates, she noted.

Local Democratic leaders were circumspect.

"It is the mark of a long trend," Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said Friday. "Clearly, nationally, the Republican Party has made gains."

"As a more moderate Democrat it doesn't surprise me at all," said Ronald L. Bowers, the lone representative of his party on the five-member Board of Washington County Commissioners.

"I've seen our community ... coming to the center for a long time," he said.

Bowers blasted the local Democratic Central Committee. "I don't think they've been proactive enough," he said. "The Central Committee and leaders in the Democratic Party have to realize the day of liberalism in the Democratic Party is gone."

Voters seek moderate candidates and right now they are not finding enough of them in the party to make them want to register Democratic, Bowers said.

Rick Hemphill, chairman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee, could not be reached for comment.

The national Democratic Party splintered, fell under the control of special interest groups and "really came out with a message that just didn't sell to the average person," Poole said.

Ironically, the same situation now threatens the national Republican Party, he said.

As to the local registration numbers "a lot of it is a demographics issue. The population is becoming older and more conservative and there are a lot of economic issues at stake," Poole said.

Although Poole, an 11-year veteran of the Maryland General Assembly, acknowledged that the county's voter registration trend will likely continue, he said he is not worried.

"We've got a long history of electing people from both parties," Poole said. "There's room for political officials on both sides."

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