- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

The number of registered Republicans in Anne Arundel County, Md., has exploded in recent months, threatening the Democrats’ grip on the area.

Four times more new voters registered Republican than Democrat in the county since the November 2002 elections, according to the latest data from the State Board of Elections.

While Democrats registered 351 new voters from October 2002 to March 2003, Republicans registered about 1,633.

State Republican officials attribute their success to Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s becoming Maryland’s first Republican governor is 34 years, and voter frustration over the outgoing Democratic administration saddling residents with a $2 billion budget deficit.

“Governor Ehrlich brings a message of strong leadership to folks in the area,” said John Kane, the state Republican Party chairman. “People are responding to a strong message from a strong governor.”

Anne Arundel County voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Ehrlich, giving him a 2-to-1 win over his Democratic rival, then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

The increased number of registered voters is welcome news for county Republicans, who have lost several key positions over the past few years.

They lost the county executive post in 1998 when Democrat Janet S. Owens unseated Republican John Gary, and county Democrats hold an edge in the General Assembly delegation, with four senators and nine delegates to the Republicans’ one senator and seven delegates.

However, the report shows that Republicans over the past three years have attracted 11,352 more voters, compared with 7,117 for the Democrats. Nearly 40 percent of the county’s registered voters are Republicans, while 45 percent are Democrats.

Mr. Kane said voter confidence in Mr. Ehrlich also helped freshmen lawmakers such as Delegate Herbert H. McMillan unseat their Democrats rivals in the past election.

Mr. McMillan’s win over Richard C. D’Amato was important because that district includes Annapolis and is also home to House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Virginia P. Clagett — two Democratic stalwarts in the General Assembly.

Mr. McMillan said voters in the district have grown more conservative over the past few years because they feel overtaxed and because “people are beginning to see that government is not the answer to every question.”

He said voters were attracted to the Republican Party because of its focus on issues.

“The reason why Republicans will do well here is because our views are in the mainstream,” he said. “Maryland is now catching up to the rest of the United States.”

But despite Republican gains in Anne Arundel County, about 56 percent of Maryland voters are registered as Democrats, while just 30 percent are registered as Republicans.

Isiah Leggett, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said the Republican Party growth in Anne Arundel County is just another challenge and “not overly alarming from a political point of view.”

“We are going to have demographic changes over the next four or five years,” he said. “It is consistent with the transitory nature of the greater Washington-Baltimore area.”

Mr. Leggett also said the increases could be the result of the strong military presence in the county and because the growing number of military retirees moving into the county often are Republican.

The report also showed the number of unaffiliated voters in the county has increased by more than 2,000 in the past year alone.

The same shift has also occurred in Annapolis, a Democratic stronghold, according to RepublicanParty officials.

Mike Dye, chairman of the Annapolis Republican Central Committee, said more Annapolis voters in recent months are registering as independents.

He said voters are upset with Democrats about the budget shortfall.

“There is a feeling of: Where did the money go?” he said.

Mr. Kane said the Republican Party will continue to focus on Anne Arundel County and has a “great” candidate in mind to unseat Mr. Busch.

“We were trying to aggressively target the speaker,” he said. “And we believe we are going to have some good successes.”

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