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National campaigns skip area

May 04, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County is not even a blip on the radar screen for strategists with the two major national presidential campaigns.

But that isn't stopping local supporters of President Bush and rival John Kerry from running less expensive grass-roots campaigns in Western Maryland.

During Monday morning rush hour, John Kerry volunteers stood along U.S. 340 in Frederick County, Md., carrying signs and waving at people driving over the bridge from West Virginia, said Dan Rupli, who is coordinating Kerry's campaign in Western Maryland.

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Rupli said he's reaching out to Democrats in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and southcentral Pennsylvania, which are expected to be battleground states.

"I've never seen Democrats this united, absolutely determined we're not going to have four more years of this nonsense," said Rupli, a Frederick, Md., lawyer and former congressional candidate for the 6th District.

The Kerry campaign isn't spending much money in Western Maryland, figuring that the state is a given for their win column.

"It's 10 electoral votes and it's going to the Democrats. As a result I don't expect to see a very active presidential campaign locally," said Rick Hemphill, who chairs the Washington County Democratic Central Committee.

Rupli said it's important for Democrats to build the party this year in anticipation of the 2006 state elections.

"I don't think you take anything for granted. I do expect Maryland will go for Kerry but you can't assume it," he said.

Maryland Republicans are dealing with a similar bias, with state leaders assuming there's little hope that Bush will win the Democrat-controlled state, said Mark Boyer, a Hagerstown lawyer who is organizing the Bush campaign in Washington County.

But Boyer said he believes that the state is not as firmly in the Democratic camp as it has been in the past.

Proof of that came in 2002, when the state elected GOP Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in many jurisdictions in the state, although the population centers of Baltimore and Montgomery County are still unshakably Democrat.

In Washington County, there are about 32,680 registered Republicans to 28,460 Democrats.

Because of new campaign finance regulations, Boyer had to step down as chairman of the Washington County Republican Central Committee in order to run the local Bush campaign.

Bush carried Washington County in 2000 with 58 percent of the vote, but Boyer wants to see even higher numbers in the Nov. 2 general election.

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