Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, regarded by many as the Republican Party's best hope for winning the Maryland governorship in 1994, has developed serious reservations about making the race.
Friends and political associates say Mr. Neall's ardor has faded as his party appears headed for a divisive gubernatorial primary -- and by personal financial concerns.
Party sources say Mr. Neall has said he probably will not run, but has left himself room to reconsider.
Mr. Neall said yesterday that he has made no decision. "All of these people are interpreting partial information," he said. "That goes for the people who say I'm definitely in and those who say I'm definitely out."
He did confirm that he has reservations.
"The biggest obstacle for me to overcome is that I have a full plate here as county executive," he said. "I would think less of myself if I started to rob the time I feel I owe the people of this county."
Mr. Neall also is worried about the party's ability to help finance a campaign. His own fund-raising has not accelerated to the level required to support a statewide effort. The "Bob Neall in '94" campaign fund has a cash balance of $136,000 -- all raised since the 1990 election and suggesting no objective beyond county executive.
Mr. Neall suggested personal financial issues may be more important, however, in his decision.
As the father of four, three of whom are about to enter college, he wonders whether he ought to be looking for a higher-paying job in the private sector.
"I am a 45-ish, middle-class male who is considering a major career change with all that entails," he said.
As county executive he makes $75,000 a year -- well below what he made as a high-level administrator at Johns Hopkins Hospital before his election in 1990.
Until recent weeks, Mr. Neall had looked very much like a candidate, making himself visible as a speaker or guest at the usual midwinter slew of Lincoln Day dinners. Then, suddenly, he seemed to sour on the prospect of running.
During that period, several other candidates have indicated they might get in the race -- notably Bill Brock, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee, national Republican Party chairman and resident of Annapolis for the past seven years.
U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, says she might run. State Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey of Baltimore County, the House minority leader, is also a potential candidate. William S. Shepard, the 1990 candidate, says he is in.
But Mr. Neall is being told by party leaders that his fully committed entry into the contest would clear away many of the challengers.
"If he gets out front in this race a consensus will form behind him and he will be the nominee regardless of who else is in there," says Kevin Igoe, the party's former executive director. "He's a problem solver. He's what people are looking for today."
Joyce L. Terhes, the party's state chairman, said she still believes Mr. Neall ultimately will run. But she conceded he has concerns about the party's ability to put together a unified ticket and to avoid a costly, divisive primary -- concerns she is sympathetic to, she said.
Mr. Neall is urged to declare soon by contributors who want a winner and are attracted to his experience: 12 years in the General Assembly where he was regarded as an expert on state finances, several years in the banking industry, and his current term as county executive.