If Cheryl McAfee and a whole lot of people like her wake up mad on Election Day, William S. Shepard may have a glimmer of a chance.
Shepard, the Republican running a long-shot race against Gov. William Donald Schaefer, this week delivered his well-worn message to McAfee in her Ellicott City gift shop: Schaefer is fiscally irresponsible.
McAfee was sympathetic.
"I'm a really staunch Democrat and I've been fed up with the way things are going in this state," McAfee told Shepard. "I think there are a lot of people who are fed up with Schaefer."
Shepard is hearing a lot of comments like that as he winds up a campaign he began almost a year ago. With the election next Tuesday, Shepard says he can feel his campaign's momentum building.
Shepard said he was buoyed by a statewide poll released yesterday that showed Schaefer leading by a margin of 59-30 percent, with 11 percent undecided. Schaefer had 69 percent of the vote in another poll done two weeks ago.
Brad Coker, the head of Mason-Dixon Opinion Research, which conducted the poll for WMAR-TV that was released yesterday, predicted that most of the undecided voters will pick Shepard on Election Day and that Schaefer's final victory margin might be as low as 10 points.
"It's going to be going our way increasingly as we go out," Shepard said. "I think we could see a Schaefer free fall coming."
Jim Smith, Schaefer's campaign manager, says the poll, if it proves accurate next Tuesday, "suggests possibly the reality of some anti-incumbent sentiment." Smith, though, predicted Schaefer would pick up about 62 or 63 percent of the vote, a total comparable to those won by former governors Marvin Mandel and Harry R. Hughes in their re-election bids in 1974 and 1982, respectively.
If Shepard is picking up momentum, it is against all odds. Refusing to give Shepard credibility, Schaefer has declined to debate. At the same time, Schaefer has raised more than $2.3 million for his re-election effort. Shepard has raised about $106,000 and has rung up at least $28,000 in debts, according to campaign reports filed in Annapolis. A direct-mail company that is owed money dragged Shepard's lawyer into court this week in an unsuccessful effort to freeze both Shepard's and the campaign's bank accounts.
Schaefer has launched a massive radio and television advertising campaign in the final weeks of the campaign. Plus, he has picked up high-profile endorsements from law enforcement and environmental groups.
While television ads will be beyond his reach, Shepard said he hopes to begin radio ads in the next few days on stations across the state. The ads, he said, will focus on "the budgetary mess that we're all in."
Hit by a fading economy, the state is projecting a budget shortfall of at least $180 million during the current budget year.
Shepard's ads include a tweak to Schaefer for the $125 opera tickets bought for state officials and others in Vienna on a trade mission earlier this year.
Shepard has repeatedly criticized Schaefer for his overseas trade "junkets," saying they are generally unnecessary or badly planned.
"It hits people personally because something like a junket, that's really offensive to people. That's overkill," Shepard said. "That's a financial abuse of office."
Portraying himself as a fiscal conservative who would "reprioritize" state spending, Shepard has also tapped into the vocal anti-tax, anti-incumbent fervor around the state.
Shepard, 55, is a retired foreign service officer. A resident of Potomac in Montgomery County, he lost his only other political race -- for the 8th District Congressional seat in 1986.
Shepard astonished politicians around the state last July when he picked his wife, Lois, as his running mate for lieutenant governor after other potential Republican candidates turned him down. The husband-wife team, perhaps the first in American politics, has attracted a lot of attention but a palpable amount of skepticism.
Shepard routinely mentions his wife to women he meets on the campaign trail, pointing out that she is the only woman running statewide this year.
Some people are not impressed. Cheryl McAfee, the Ellicott City Democrat who is unhappy with Schaefer, is also turned off by the husband-wife pairing.
"I've never seen anything like this before," McAfee said. "This is really different. It's really kind of a joke."