There are only four months to go until Maryland’s February presidential election primary, and the stakes are high. In the 2008 elections for the first time since 1928 no sitting president or vice-president is seeking re-election. The void is attracting a huge flock of presidential wannabes: eight Democrats and eight Republicans. Closer to home, the first Congressional District is just as contentious, with Rep. Wayne Gilchrest well challenged in his own party and by Democrats.
Ordinary citizens can break into the political realm at the grassroots level at local political clubs.
At the Almost 7:30 Friday Democratic Club, Bill Wohlfeld, Edie Segree, Gail Smith, guest speaker Linnell Bowen and Melinda Hamilton.
To help you navigate through Anne Arundel’s dozen each Republican and Democratic clubs, and Calvert’s three Democratic and four Republican clubs, I’ve scouted out the territory. Here are the top 10 reasons to visit a political club:
10. Rally the Grassroots
Local political clubs can help you get a volunteer stint with party candidates at all levels in the forthcoming primary and general election battles. Clubs canvass door-to-door, write letters to newspaper editors, work in political offices, help voters get to the polls and arrange socials.
The mainstay of political clubs, though, is the weekly gatherings. You’ll get the scoop from elected officials, hear the spin from the wannabes hoping to unseat them and swap ideas and rumors.
9. Rub Elbow with VIPS
Being located in or near the state capital helps local clubs draw on political leaders and high-level government officials. Club leaders are frequently well connected.
Breakfast at the Almost 7:30 Friday Morning Democratic Club is led by Edie Segree, legislative aide to House Speaker Michael Busch, and Melinda Hamilton, aide to State Sen. George Della.
Likewise, Dr. Bob Emmet of the Wednesday Republican Breakfast Club enlists such luminaries as Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold and former Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
These clubs are also popular for drop-ins by elected officials. Michael Busch likes to have a cup of coffee while chatting it up with fellow Dems at the Almost 7:30 Club, and Anne Arundel County Councilman Joshua Cohen likes to stop by en route to his office “to keep in touch and get a first-hand sense of constituent concerns.”
8. Enjoy the Food
Hungry political wonks can snack as they chat at most clubs. Breakfast with the Elephant Club in Severna Park or dine with the Calvert County Democrats at Rod ’n’ Reel. Food costs money, so if you partake, expect to pony up.
7. Make Like-Minded Friends
Clubs are so abundant locally that you can get beyond people who share your political philosophy. There are general clubs, women’s clubs, young partisan clubs and even old folks clubs. “We attract women by meeting on Saturday mornings for light refreshments and have special brunches twice a year,” says Linda Smith, co-chair of Anne Arundel’s Republican Women’s Club.
6. Party with a Political Party
Anne Arundel Democrats lead Republicans by about 17,000 votes, while in Calvert County the two parties are neck-to-neck. The big gorilla in the voting booth next year may well be unaffiliated voters. Here and across the nation, independents could decide the outcome of the 2008 elections. If you’re aligned, you can work with your party to find and persuade independents. If you’re independent, you can club-hop to hear both sides.
5. Branch out from Politics
Clubs often invite guest speakers to talk on non-political subjects. Proximity to the University of Maryland, St. Johns College, the Naval Academy and area community colleges offers a deep pool of experts knowledgeable on an ocean of subjects, from AIDS to Turkey, for example.
4. Meet Across the Aisle
Clubs are open to all, Republicans and Democrats alike. Frank Bradley, a dedicated Republican and treasurer of the Wednesday Republican Breakfast Club, attends the Almost 7:30 Democrats on Fridays because, he says, “education is a two-way street, and I’m always open to different viewpoints.”
Interchange between the two clubs even extends to their meeting place: The Eastport Yacht Club. There’s an ongoing debate as to which group is getting the other’s leftover donuts.
3. Get Freebies
Collectors of campaign memorabilia have special reason to appreciate political party hospitality. Candidates and supporters load clubs up with buttons and bumper stickers, all for free.
2. Stay in the Know
With the 2008 general election approaching, political clubs will be hotbeds for candidates. You’ll learn their platforms, views and nuances before you vote in February and November.
1. Do it Again Next Week
Clubs hold regular meetings. If you liked or didn’t like this week’s talk, try again next week or next month.
Find out where political clubs meet, what they feature and how you can get involved in Bay Weekly’s 8 Days a Week calendar, or from
• Maryland Republican Party: 15 West Street, Annapolis; 410-263-2125; www.mdgop.org.
• Maryland Democratic Party: 1188 Main Street, Suite 1, Annapolis; 410-269-8818; www.mddems.org
Bay Weekly contributor and political junkie Bill Wohlfeld is a political club regular.