Republicans bereft again?

March 04, 1993

We have a feeling of deja vu all over again. Strong Republican candidates for statewide offices are starting to fall by the wayside. Will the GOP ticket next year again be headed by an also-ran or an outsider with little prospect of winning in November? It begins to look more likely.

Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, probably the strongest candidate the Republicans could nominate for governor next year, now appears reluctant to make the race. Although he has made no final decision, the customary "sources close to" have told political reporter C. Fraser Smith there are several reasons, personal and political, for his hesitation. He faces tuition bills for children about to enter college. He fails to see much money forthcoming to finance a campaign, perhaps because one of his past benefactors is more attentive this time to a potential Democratic opponent. He says he has a "full plate" in his present job, even while sounding like he might give that one up too.

A decision by Mr. Neall to stay out of the race would be unfortunate both for the Republican Party and the larger electorate, which deserves a true two-party system. Mr. Neall has credentials many voters seek in a candidate for governor: business experience, service as a county executive and an enviable record as a member of the state legislature. For all the strengths some other potential Republican candidates could bring to a campaign, few could match Mr. Neall.

With Rep. Constance Morella all but out of the race for U.S. Senate, what might have been a dream ticket of highly qualified Republican candidates, attractive to Democrats as well, has gone the way of other Republican dreams of the past. This is not to denigrate some Republicans who are talking of a contest for governor, several of whom are credible candidates. But it would be a stronger with Mr. Neall in the race.

Somehow the state Republican Party must manage to put forth its strongest potential candidates if it is ever to mount a real threat to Democratic dominance of state politics. The Republicans can't depend on those occasions, every decade or two, when the Democrats manage to carve each other up in a primary contest and permit a GOP candidate to slip through.

That means not only the development of home-grown talent -- something the party is getting better at -- but also the fund-raising and other infrastructure necessary in contemporary American politics. But most important of all, the party needs to find something to ignite the fire in the bellies of candidates who could be winners.

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