The shadow of referendum on the Reagan economic and social security policies was cast over Maryland's Fifth District congressional race. Democrat Steny Hoyer defeated Republican Audrey Scott in a runoff May 19 for Democratic Rep. Gladys Spellman's seat, located just outside the nation's capital. The seat had been declared vacant due to Congresswoman Spellman's illness.
"It was a good, solid win," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Robert Newman. "The administration raised the stakes on it last week, bringing in the vice-president and making calls on behalf of the President.In effect, they made social security and [the] Kemp-Roth [tax cut bill] issues in the race."
Republican candidate Scott sought to divorce her 55 percent to 43 percent loss from national implications. But the Republican National committee and Republican Congressional Campaign Committee had poured heavy resources into the race. National committee leaders had told the Monitor over the weekend they expected to win.Letters from President Reagan himself, and phone calls on his behalf, failed to make his popularity work for a weaker candidate in the fundamentally Democratic district.
The lesson, for both Democrats and Republicans, is that strong Democratic candidates and strong grass-roots organization can withstand the President's personal popularity and the superior Republican firepower at the national level.
The Democratic Maryland victory evens the score at one apiece in the odd-lot congressional sweepstakes. In March, the Republicans successfully held Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman's seat in western Michigan.
Democrat Hoyer, a 12-year veteran of the state Senate who served four years as its president, had a clear edge as the more experienced candidate. Republican Scott had been mayor of a small town.
Hoyer ran as a traditional Democrat, opposing the Reagan budget cuts, tax cuts, and social security proposals. He backed women's issues, and had prominent Democratic women working for him.
"I think we were better organized, too," said Hoyer's political strategist Earl Palmer Brown.
"We used local lawyers, local blacks. They were using all national people.The Republicans are better equipped at the top of the pa rty, but not at the county and precinct levels. . . ."