Maryland GOP Has a Chance for a 'Dream Team'

BARRY RASCOVAR

August 02, 1992|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Unless you've been visiting relatives on Mars, you know about this country's Olympic "Dream Team," that agglomeration of pro basketball stars making mincemeat of opponents in Spain.

But did you known about the local "Dream Team" that might be formed in the not-so distant future? It would consist of all-stars that look so good on the hardwood court of political Maryland that they stand a chance of clobbering opposing Democrats in 1994.

It could be the chance of a lifetime for the Maryland Republican Party. The end result might well be a pickup of a U.S. Senate seat, the governorship, the attorney general's office and a strong showing in state and local legislative races.

Marylanders are fed up with politics as usual. And in this state, that means fed up with Democrats. A Mason-Dixon poll in June found Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer with a 74 percent unfavorable rating. The Democratic General Assembly wasn't far behind, with a 71 percent disapproval rating. State residents aren't happy with goings-on in Annapolis.

And just as clearly, there is widespread unhappiness with the mess on the Democratic Capitol Hill. If ever there was a mandate for change, this is it.

Enter the Republicans. They've got problems in Maryland this year, with a feeble Senate candidate and an incumbent president dogged by recession. But if the mood of the electorate stays sour -- the likelihood is that it will -- the GOP could be riding into the 1994 statewide elections with an awesome "Dream Team" and a public eager to turn Democrats out of office.

With the Democratic gubernatorial picture in flux and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes -- dubbed by some the "stealth senator" -- vulnerable, Republicans could succeed in winning across the board.

The key, surprisingly, is not the likely GOP candidate for governor, Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall.

Yes, he's the strongest nominee the party could field: He's got a solid reputation as a whiz at balancing budgets and lowering costs; he's been a success as a state legislator and as an executive; he's from the populous suburban Baltimore region; and he's a Republican moderate who can appeal to most Maryland voters.

But Mr. Neall by himself isn't enough to propel the GOP to a big sweep in 1994. He needs a crackerjack ticket mate for the U.S. Senate. Ideally, that candidate should be a skilled and highly popular political moderate from the Washington suburbs. And female. That's the kind of ticket-balancing Democrats would be hard-pressed to match.

This description just happens to fit one Republican officeholder: Rep. Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County. Were she to run for the Senate, Republicans would have the Magic Johnson-Michael Jordan focal points of their "Dream Team."

Mrs. Morella is so personable you have trouble finding anyone who dislikes her. Virtually everyone calls her Connie. Her voting record -- among the most liberal of any Republican in Congress -- has been a big hit with constituents. She won 53 percent of the vote in 1986 against a savvy millionaire opponent, 63 percent in 1988 and 74 percent in 1990. In politics, you can't get much more popular.

An accomplished woman at the top of the ticket is just what Republicans need. The geographic balance would be ideal, too. To further buttress this ticket, the GOP would be smart to add an attorney general candidate from the northern Baltimore suburbs, and there's a perfect one available: Richard D. Bennett, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland.

He, too, is highly personable. He's also a polished campaigner, an experienced public prosecutor and one of the forces behind the resurgence of Republicanism in Baltimore County. A Morella-Neall-Bennett trio would be tough to beat.

But there's one more spot on this ticket to be filled (that's assuming Comptroller-for-Life Louis L. Goldstein runs again, making a GOP bid for that seat irrelevant and a waste of time and money). Who should be Mr. Neall's running mate for lieutenant governor?

Once more, there may be an ideal candidate: state party leader Joyce L. Terhes. She's an outsider not connected with the mess in Annapolis; she's done a first-rate job of putting the fractured state GOP back together; she's a pragmatic moderate; she's a proven vote-getter in Calvert County; she's got government experience as a two-term county commissioner; and she's a forceful politician who would give rural Maryland -- and women -- a big voice in the new administration.

So there's the GOP "Dream Team" for '94. Morella-Neall-Terhes-Bennett. The ticket is experienced, capable and moderate enough to win in liberal-leaning Maryland. It is also clearly a ticket of change, but one you can trust. It looks like a victorious combination. Too bad the GOP doesn't have a ticket which can fit that mold this year.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun. His column on Maryland politics appears here each week.

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