Get serious, GOP

June 07, 1993

If Maryland's Republican Party wants to be taken seriously by voters next year, it had better give its leader a lesson in manners.

There was no excuse for the gutter language and below-the-belt insults state party leader Joyce Lyons Terhes heaped on President and Mrs. Clinton at the GOP's recent spring convention in Ocean City. Sure, the titular head of the opposition party is fair game -- but vulgar, personal slurs are beyond the pale.

Surely other Republican leaders recognize that what Mrs. Terhes did crossed the bounds of political propriety. Had such personal invective been hurled by Democrats against Ronald Reagan or George Bush, state GOP officials would be apoplectic. Yet no one had the courage to publicly disavow her mean-spirited remarks about the president and his wife. This behavior hurts the party's credibility with the voting public.

That's unfortunate because the state GOP could have a banner year in 1994. Redistricting and public discontent with Democratic incumbents offer fertile opportunities. A straw poll among party officials indicates strong support for Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall as the GOP nominee for governor and for Richard D. Bennett for attorney general. However, it also shows disarray among Republicans over a Senate nominee.

Rep. Constance A. Morella is regarded by many party professionals as the best Senate hopeful. But she doesn't want to run against Democratic Senate incumbent Paul Sarbanes because it would mean giving up her safe seat in Montgomery County.

Still, Mrs. Morella is being pressed by national GOP leaders to reconsider. She would give the GOP a strong ticket in 1994, regardless of whether Mr. Neall or Rep. Helen Delich Bentley winds up as the gubernatorial candidate. And given Mrs. Morella's reputation as a "Mac" Mathias-style moderate, she might appeal to a broader constituency than the liberal Mr. Sarbanes.

The Maryland Republican Party has two assignments to complete over the summer. First, clean up its act and learn how to critique the opposition without lowering itself into the gutter. And second, come up with a potent statewide ticket that includes Mrs. Morella as the GOP Senate nominee.

That's a tall order. State Republicans will have to take their obligations seriously if they hope to rebuild the party next year.

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