- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) Political wisdom says that to become governor of Maryland, candidates must mobilize a solid foundation of faithful party voters.
But this year, it may be a growing number of independent voters in swing counties such as Howard who will determine the outcome of the close gubernatorial contest between Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Independents make both major parties nervous because their votes are difficult to predict. And then there's the question of whether they will vote at all.
"In '98, over and over again, independents told me they happened to be furious with the Republican Party," said Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, Columbia Democrat, recalling Gov. Parris N. Glendening's last victory. "How that's all going to play this time, I don't know."
About 13 percent of Maryland's 2.7 million voters aren't registered in either major party. In Howard, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties, the proportion of independent voters is higher. In Howard, roughly one in six registered voters is an independent.
In Montgomery, widely viewed as pivotal in the gubernatorial race and the scene of the close 8th Congressional District race, nearly one in five registered voters is independent.
"They're the key to a winning formula in a tight race," said Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Townsend campaign.
Paul Schurick, Mr. Ehrlich's spokesman, agreed, but predicted a Republican tilt Nov. 5 among the more than 360,000 Maryland independents.
He said the Ehrlich campaign has "some marketing plans unique to the nonaffiliated" voter, though he wouldn't elaborate.
Independents offer candidates a particularly difficult challenge because most of them are turned off by traditional party politics.
"I decided I didn't want to commit myself to Republicans or Democrats. I consider them the evil party and the dumb party," said Anthony James Roberts, 29, from east Columbia. Despite such misgivings, Mr. Roberts said he would vote for Mr. Ehrlich.
Independents tend to reflect Republicans more than Democrats in socioeconomic variables, said Herbert Smith, a political consultant and a professor at McDaniel College in Westminster.
"Yet at the same time, they're less political, less politically informed and less likely to participate," Mr. Smith said.
The number of independents in counties such as Howard gives underdogs hope in districts where their parties are outnumbered.
Howard voters favored Democrats in 1998 and 2000 elections, but Mr. Ehrlich is ahead there 52 percent to 35 percent, according to a recent poll conducted by the Baltimore Sun.

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