Schaefer, upset over 78% win, changes strategy

September 19, 1990|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- "On a rampage" over his mere 78 percent victory in last week's Democratic primary, and unhappy with a campaign organization he views as lethargic and bland, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has scrapped the strategy of a re-election campaign wrapped in good deeds and volunteerism.

Beginning this week, and in the weeks leading up to his Nov. 6 face-off with Republican challenger William S. Shepard, the 68-year-old Mr. Schaefer intends to phase out his much ballyhooed volunteer "Campaign for Maryland" and, in its place, wage a more aggressive, traditional political campaign centered on his own personal appearances, his aides say.

Mr. Schaefer won nearly four out of every five votes cast in the Democratic primary race against little known Glen Burnie real estate agent and gun advocate Frederick M. Griisser Jr. But the seldom satisfied chief executive apparently views his 78 percent-22 percent victory as an unflattering reflection on his own performance, say those familiar with the governor's dark mood.

The day after the primary, Mr. Schaefer fled to his house trailer near Ocean City for a few days to consider changes in his 4-year-old administration, to decide what to say publicly about the unwinnable issue of abortion and to assimilate what the voters were saying on primary night.

When he re-emerged this week, he was not happy. In a closed door meeting at his Baltimore campaign headquarters Monday morning, Mr. Schaefer reportedly read the riot act to about a dozen of his closest campaign and State House staff, trying to shake up a campaign organization that has been criticized from both inside and out.

"It's Vince Lombardi after a decisive Packer victory, where they won by 42 points, but he saw people basically dogging it," explained one longtime Schaefer supporter familiar with the meeting. "He closed the damned door and said, 'You're not going to dog it anymore.' "

Not only was the governor displeased that Mr. Griisser's shoestring campaign attracted nearly 100,000 votes. He was especially annoyed by his relatively poor showing on the Eastern Shore.

"The governor is a man who believes you run as though you're losing. An awful lot of people [in the campaign] were running as if it was a lock," one adviser said.

Mr. Schaefer's supporters and opponents alike seem to agree that the decision by many Marylanders not to vote at all could be interpreted as a protest against government in general or the governor in particular.

"If I had spent $1.2 million and if the net result had been my re-election numbers were going down some 15 to 20 points, I'd be more than unhappy," said Mr. Shepard, the Republican nominee. "That's quite a signal. Those were not pro-Griisser votes. . . . I think they were anti-Schaefer votes."

Jim Smith, Mr. Schaefer's campaign manager, acknowledged that the Campaign for Maryland -- in which groups of volunteers cleaned up playgrounds, painted curbs or promoted literacy at events staged around the state -- "is going to wind down, and [be replaced by] a much heavier emphasis on strict campaigning." But he said, "I think we always expected that."

Many Campaign for Maryland events were staged without Mr. Schaefer or even a high-ranking surrogate present. The governor was so detached from his own re-election bid that he spent part of the campaign season on state economic development missions abroad. Even so, Mr. Smith noted that the governor won by lopsided margins in both the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas, and he downplayed Mr. Griisser's showing, saying it could have been worse.

"I don't think anybody is really surprised about that. I actually thought Griisser would get a higher percentage than that," he said. "The incumbent governor has taken a strong leadership role on a number of issues -- gun control, non-tidal wetlands, and so on -- and there is a certain price of leadership he pays."

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