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Young Republicans do well at ballot box

September 19, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

They are young, they are Republican and, so far, they are scoring big in the ballot boxes.

In fact, this could turn out to be the year of the twentysomething Republican. Local primary races last week for nomination to Maryland General Assembly seats saw the emergence of three first-time candidates - each more than happy to wrap himself in the banner of conservatism.

The most dramatic result came when Alexander X. Mooney, a 27-year-old conservative Republican, handily defeated 15-year state Sen. John W. Derr, 57, in the GOP primary in District 3, which includes parts of Frederick and Washington counties.

Other young Republicans winning party nominations included Christopher B. Shank, 26, in the House of Delegates race in District 2B, which includes the southern and eastern part of Washington County, and 28-year-old Joseph R. Bartlett in the House of Delegates race in District 3.

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"I think as a society we are over-regulated and overtaxed. Government has taken away too much power from people," Bartlett said.

They represent a new breed of politician - too young to remember Watergate but raised in the midst of the Reagan revolution. They cringed at the election of Bill Clinton, only to applaud the GOP renaissance of 1994. They say they reflect the beliefs of a generation cynical about government.

"We tend to be more conservative. We tend to be the generation that doesn't expect government to solve all of our problems," Shank said.

Each of the local candidates has a political resume. Bartlett is the son of U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., and has worked on his father's campaigns. Mooney has worked as a Capitol Hill policy analyst. For the past four years Shank has been the legislative assistant to Washington County's delegation in the General Assembly.

Another reason for their emergence can be found in the numbers. Republicans hold a slim lead over Democrats in Washington County in the number of registered voters - 28,546 to 28,132 - after becoming the majority party last year for the first time in decades.

But the difference is more drastic among younger voters. There are 6,002 Democrats between the ages of 18 and 34 in the county, accounting for 21 percent of the party's registration. But there are 8,926 Republicans in that age group, or 31 percent of the overall GOP registration.

"The Republican Party is the party of the future," Shank said.

Mooney said the "failed liberal ideology of Bill Clinton" has led to young people's choosing the Republican Party and voting for conservative candidates like himself.

"I think young people are looking for what's right in life," he said.

Shank said he also sees a trend of people moving into the area, of all ages, who are tired of metropolitan areas and searching for a quiet life with less government.

"These are folks who are leaving for a reason," said Shank, who will face Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, in the Nov. 3 general election.

But Poole, 39, who was a political upstart himself when he was first elected to the General Assembly 12 years ago, said he sees less partisanship among the people in his district, who have larger concerns about good jobs, education and quality of life.

"I honestly believe that the district as a whole is a middle-of-the-road district," Poole said.

Also denying a conservative trend is Rick L. Hemphill, chairman of the county's Democratic Central Committee. While acknowledging "this new blood coming out of the Republican Party is certainly nothing to be taken lightly," he chalked up the phenomenon to the cyclical nature of politics.

In fact, Hemphill said the success of the young Republicans could lead to their own undoing, as voters start to perceive their agenda as being too far right of the mainstream.

"There might be a short-term gain (for Republicans), but eventually the pendulum swings back through," he said.

For now, though, the Republicans are enjoying the ride.

Mooney recalled one instance during his door-to-door campaigning this year when an older couple praised him for being so young and willing to run for office.

By the time he left the house, the couple volunteered to have a campaign sign planted in their yard and asked Mooney where they could mail a campaign contribution, he said.

"I got a $25 check in the mail two days later and all I did was say hello," he said.

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