Neall panel to gauge election chances Republican weighing gubernatorial bid

September 19, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall named a 26-member committee of business and political leaders from across the state yesterday to explore a possible gubernatorial bid that supporters believe is now a virtual certainty.

At a $35-a-head fund-raising picnic outside Annapolis, Mr. Neall charged his committee with the eight-week assignment of demonstrating whether he can put together a winning campaign for governor.

"Make no mistake, I want to do it," the 45-year-old Republican told the gathering of about 500 people under tents pitched at Reds Dove, a sand and gravel company. "I just need to find out whether it's doable or not."

The committee includes former U.S. Sen. J. Glenn Beall; Dr. Robert M. Heyssel, the former Johns Hopkins Hospital president; George McGowan, the former chief of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.; Hugh Mohler, the president of Peninsula Bank in Salisbury; Joseph M. Coale, director of corporate communications for Crown Central Petroleum; H. Furlong Baldwin, chairman of Mercantile Bankshares Corp.; George F. Cormeny Jr., a senior vice president with First National Bank; Annapolis Alderman John Hammond; and Steve Abrams, a member of the Montgomery County school board.

But supporters, including some committee members, left little doubt yesterday that Mr. Neall plans to run for governor.

They pointed to a date for the official announcement -- a planned fund-raiser for the candidate Nov. 18 at the Marriott Hotel at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

"It's a tease," Timothy Murnane, a Glen Burnie lawyer and Mr. Neall's brother-in-law, said of the committee. "I don't think anyone expects an exploratory committee to tell him not to do it."

"He's got this campaign all thought out up here," said Anne Arundel Del. John G. Gary, tapping on his forehead. "He knows exactly what he's going to do and how he's going to do it."

Mr. Neall is widely viewed as the strongest candidate the Maryland Republican party can field for governor in 1994 and possibly the party's best chance to recapture the post since Spiro Agnew left office a quarter-century ago.

He would join Baltimore County Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the minority leader of the House of Delegates, and retired foreign service officer William S. Shepard, the 1990 Republican standard bearer, as the GOP candidates for governor.

Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley has also talked of running for governor, but has yet to commit herself.

Yesterday's announcement by Mr. Neall appeared to be, in part, an attempt to demonstrate to Mrs. Bentley that he has people lined up who can raise the money he needs to run.

"When have we had a candidate for governor who could put together that kind of exploratory committee?" asked Joyce Lyons Terhes, the GOP's state party chairwoman. "The opportunity's there, and it may not be like this for another 10 years. We have to do it in '94 or the drought continues."

Munching on roast beef sandwiches, hot dogs and potato salad, Neall supporters also were enjoying recent headlines such as the Money magazine article that criticized Gov. William Donald Schaefer as the "pampered prince of perks."

Supporters say public disgust with the lavish spending practices of government plays right into the hands of Mr. Neall, who has turned the preaching of economic austerity into a career as a state delegate and most recently as a county executive.

"Republican candidates can win in this state in peculiar times and peculiar situations," said Mr. Cormeny, a member of the exploratory committee. "My sense is that we're in that situation."

As a political fund-raiser, the Neall bash was small potatoes.

Organizers said they expected to raise only about $35,000 from the affair, augmenting Mr. Neall's $200,000 political campaign treasury.

At last count, the probable Democratic field for governor was holding at four: Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg of Baltimore County, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore.

Candidates do not have to declare their official intentions until July.

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