Dark horses dream of the big race

THE POLITICAL GAME

July 14, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Republican Ron Franks -- affable dentist and first-term member of the House of Delegates from Queen Anne's County -- thinks he can catch political lightning in a bottle.

He is almost the complete unknown in search of the ultimate upset.

He thinks he can beat three-term U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

In the continuing era of anti-incumbency, in the era of independent Ross Perot, every dark horse thinks he has chance to win the Derby. Those inner voices that persuade otherwise prudent men and women to run for public office against huge odds are bolstered now by a climate of frustration.

"Polls show there is enormous dissatisfaction with the public officials and the president," says Steve Raabe of Potomac Survey Research, a polling firm in Bethesda, "so there will be great temptation for new candidates to emerge."

A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee says "candidate recruitment is going very well right now." At the committee's recent meeting in Chicago, she said, Perot supporters showed up to display their unhappiness.

"People are just mad," she said.

So the 51-year-old Dr. Franks thinks he can use anger as a club to beat Mr. Sarbanes.

He is not the only Marylander with long-shot aspirations this year. Dr. Neil Solomon, a Democrat considering a run for governor, has been characterized as a Perot-style candidate -- though few have seen the doctor's political style.

And state Sen. Mary H. Boergers, a Montgomery County Democrat, speaks the language of the anti-incumbent standard bearer. She will run for governor, she insists, though some think she would be happy to run for lieutenant governor.

Given a hearing, Mrs. Boergers believes she can offer a critique of her own party's leadership "gridlock" in Annapolis that will vault her into contention for the top job.

And Ron Franks? Never heard of him? He "drills and fills" on the Eastern Shore but grew up in Prince George's County. He has roots on both sides of the bay, he says. He has two children and, as young as he looks, two grandchildren. Here's why he thinks he has a shot:

"It's important that I'm not part of the system. I bring a freshness," he says. The "mood of frustration" can carry him to victory, he says.

"People think Senator Sarbanes is a fairly nice guy. But they don't find him a good fighter for Maryland as Barbara Mikulski is," he says.

Dr. Franks says he is against the "tax and spend" policies supported by his would-be opponent. He thinks the nation ought to live on its income and stop borrowing. His candidacy will present the voters of Maryland with a clear choice.

He thinks he can penetrate Mr. Sarbanes' solid core of voting strength down the center of the state from Baltimore to the Maryland suburbs of Washington.

When he releases his list of financial backers, people will be surprised, he says. It will show that he can raise the $2 million he'll need.

But these are just the traditional nuts and bolts of the campaign. Candidates like Dr. Franks are sure they have more going for them this time.

Mr. Raabe says: "The question is whether there will be a coherent team of Perot-style candidates or just an army of unrelated, disaffected, anti-incumbency candidates," If a candidate is part of a team, he may feel he is and may actually be a part of something larger.

The problem is that it's not always easy to transfer dissatisfaction with one politician to another.

"I don't think Sarbanes is a receptacle for that discontent," Mr. Raabe says, "but it may stick to him more than it ever has in the past."

Dr. Franks knows that "the traditional wisdom says it can't be done."

But he adds, "I don't think we have traditional politics anymore. There is a mood for change. It's still here."

And he agrees that lightning in a bottle is an appropriate image.

"Big lightning," he says.

Endorsement game begins in Baltimore

The Rev. Frank Reid III, politically influential pastor of the 8,500-member Bethel AME Church on Druid Hill Ave. in Baltimore, is endorsing Democrat Eleanor M. Carey for attorney general in 1994. Mrs. Carey has worked with the church in its effort to develop a new outreach center for teen-age mothers and fathers in need of assistance.

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