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September 15, 2006

A Curious, Curious Tuesday

Roy Meachum

After election results were in, supporters of losers offered all sorts of explanations. High on their list was "the fact" that turnout had been so low on the GOP side.

They cited the percentage of registered Republicans voting and not the number, which was way beyond four years ago. At 24 percent overall the primaries actually rated on the high side.

In the sheriff's race, I heard Chuck Jenkins won because he had been after the county's top star for the past four years. That may be perfectly true. But largely irrelevant.

In fact, until Jim Hagy's official announcement in the spring nobody - especially members of his department - could make a move on his job. As it was, his timing seemed to some as calculated to give Harold Domer an advantage.

What did not make a whole lot of sense from the sidelines was why retiring State's Attorney Scott Rolle stuck his neck out so far in the sheriff's race. As the GOP candidate for Maryland attorney general this year, he must have known lavishing praise on Mr. Domer had the potential of blowing up in his face. He did it anyway.

Among the most concerned was his anointed successor, Charlie Smith; he feared fallout on his parade. In fact the man who served faithfully as his deputy actually received less public support from his boss than former city cop Domer. Go figure.

Of course in his Letter to the Editor, in The Frederick News-Post, the state's attorney lambasted Mr. Smith's rival; nothing else could be expected, after all Dino Flores had the temerity to challenge Mr. Rolle four years back. And that might have played a major factor in Tuesday's outcome.

Going into a contested Republican primary, Mr. Flores was seen by many as little more than a turncoat Democrat. That impression was strengthened by memory of his non-GOP status when he attempted to tilt Mr. Rolle in the county's last general election.

On the other hand, as much as the letter may have been appreciated by Mr. Smith's supporters, as in the Domer case, the GOP attorney general candidate took the risk of alienating more voters. And that he can't afford to do.

Even a state tidal wave fomented by the incumbent governor seems unlikely to sweep Frederick's state's attorney into the job held for 20 years by Joe Curran. Given the disparity in party registrations, his likely successor will be fellow Democrat Doug Gansler, from next-door Montgomery County.

Speculation along Frederick's streets centers on what Gov. Robert Ehrlich offered Mr. Rolle for him to give up what looked like a "safe" re-election. But maybe not. There are more than a few local voters who still resent the newly re-elected state's attorney trying to upset Rep. Roscoe Bartlett two years ago.

With the congressman's backers spread out among all parties and factions, including independents, Scott Rolle could have faced a Donnybrook in November. As it is, Charlie Smith cannot count on waltzing through.

Democrat Bill Poffenbarger promises to make the general elections interesting, to say the least. Hundreds of citizens, charged with lesser crimes and transgressions, have sought his legal services. He has a reputation for rendering respect to most comers.

Moreover, Mr. Poffenbarger appears very capable of financing his own campaign, which might not be at all necessary. Many community "names" have indicated he has their support.

Interestingly, his distinctive thatch of white hair was the first thing I saw upon reaching Republican Chuck Jenkins' election night gathering. Bill Poffenbarger has appeal on both sides of the political spectrum.

Getting by Dino Flores might prove an easier hurdle than November's race, for Charlie Smith; although he ranks as one of the brightest candidates I've seen in either party, for a long time.

While Republicans chose their selected five for the county board, nobody expects them all to survive the general elections. The four Democrats had no competition.

Former commissioner David Gray and Charles Jenkins look most vulnerable because they finished fourth and fifth on the GOP slate. But Mr. Gray has always enjoyed Democratic support.

With incumbents Lennie Thompson and Jan Gardner rated shoo-ins, and primary leaders Mike Cady and John Lovell enjoying a strong Republican base, the real battle for commissioner figures to be between Mr. Gray and newcomer Kai Hagen.

Whatever his expectations, Jim Grimes trailed well behind Orphans Court incumbents and Republican colleagues Tim May and John Tregoning. Both Democrats in the contest received more votes than Frederick's former mayor. But that might not be fair because Fern Hines and John Norman had no competition.

At any rate, nobody has successfully explained why Mr. Grimes wants the post that's less than full time and exercises little authority in the community. The puzzlement, combined with the enemies he created in City Hall, might send him home November 7. He's been defeated before, turned out as alderman in 1981, only to return to the board in 1989. He captured Frederick's top political prize in 1993. If anybody's keeping score.

And, of course, we all are; this is, after all, an election season. Tally ho!

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