Gov. William Donald Schaefer can't figure it out: Why doesn't the Eastern Shore love him the way it should?
The way Schaefer sees it, he built bridges and schools and a new beach for Ocean City. He helped clean up after a fire in Crisfield and scouted the globe for new businesses to locate on the Shore.
But all they want to talk about on the Shore is the Governor's Mansion and Schaefer's lady friend, Hilda Mae Snoops. The fix-up of the mansion -- including the new 12-foot fountain, landscaping and redecorating, all of which Snoops oversaw -- is the biggest negative that campaign pollsters have found among voters on the other side of Chesapeake Bay, sources said.
And the Shore is the only place where Schaefer's lead over Republican challenger William S. Shepard is not gargantuan, according to a recent poll.
"The Eastern Shore is strange. The Eastern Shore is strange," Schaefer said the other day, shaking his head.
"Everything they wanted on the Shore we did," Schaefer said. "I'm hurt."
As the campaign for governor winds down to the Nov. 6 election, Schaefer doesn't have much else to be hurt about. He leads Shepard by a margin of almost 4-1, according to a recent Sun poll.
Even so, with 11 days left in the race, Schaefer has been campaigning hard, piling on endorsements and fund-raisers. He raised more than $2 million before the Sept. 11 primary and has continued his intensive fund-raising, despite his strong primary win and wide lead in the polls.
Disappointed and angry that he garnered only 78 percent of the Democratic vote Sept. 11, Schaefer refocused his re-election bid shortly after the primary. He dismantled his unusual volunteer program, known as "Campaign for Maryland," and returned instead to the kind of old-fashioned campaign he has run for three decades.
In the last month, Schaefer has been going out and meeting the people, making speeches and running traditional advertisements.
He recently launched a major television and radio blitz to trumpet his four years of accomplishments. One television commercial airing on Eastern Shore TV stations highlights Schaefer's long-time affection for the region that he feels has spurned him. Other ads emphasize his hard work, commitment and love for the state.
But sometimes, Schaefer has found, people remember only the negatives.
For instance, the people of Snow Hill on the lower Eastern Shore were miffed recently when Schaefer failed to show up for a ribbon-cutting for a housing project.
"I said, 'Who gave you the money?' " Schaefer said later.
One negative that keeps popping up, especially on the Shore, is the expensive fix-up of the Governor's Mansion.
The fallout from the mansion has been "very bad," Schaefer said.
"The mansion has become the predominant symbol of the administration's actions on the Shore," added one source. "It's become a symbol of big spending, if you will."
The campaign has also found that the mansion has become synonymous with Snoops, Schaefer's longtime companion.
Schaefer bristles at criticism of Snoops or the mansion.
"Mrs. Snoops works for free," he said. "She's been commended by many, many people on the beauty of the mansion."
The mansion, Schaefer added, was "rotting. The place was leaking. We went out and raised most of the money."
Schaefer said many people don't realize that much of the money for the mansion work was raised privately. The $169,000 fountain placed on the mansion lawn earlier this year was paid for entirely with private donations.
In the past two years, some $450,000 in public funds have been spent replanting grass, trees and shrubs on the mansion lawn. Another $60,000 was spent to install a lighting system on the grounds.
Schaefer, who will be 69 next Friday, has not shied away from the negatives in what may be his last run for public office. Indeed, at many campaign stops, he brings up the mansion himself. Meeting with a group of farmers in Queen Anne's County last week, Schaefer compared the mansion to a farm building and suggested that the farmers wouldn't let their property go to seed, either.
"Maybe they didn't like what he had to say about the mansion, but at least he hit it on the head," said House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore, who attended the breakfast.
Crisfield waterman Grant "Hon" Lawson is less diplomatic. He calls the new fountain outside the mansion the "the ugliest damn thing I've ever seen."
Lawson said Schaefer's rah-rah style doesn't play well at the lower end of the Shore.
"The projects he puts in here are like a flashbulb -- they look good, bang, for a few seconds," Lawson said. "I think he should put in a lot more 30-watt bulbs that will last for 20 years."
No critic goes unnoticed, it seems.
Wednesday night, Schaefer bolted from his car to talk with a group of eight young Republicans who were picketing a Republicans-for-Schaefer party in north Baltimore.