Dark Horses

BARRY RASCOVAR

October 10, 1993|By BARRY RASCOVAR

They are the dark horses of 1994, the lesser-known hopefulsanxious for recognition as front-line contenders for statewide office. Some might just accomplish that difficult feat, but most will remain out of contention.

Those judged as dark horses generally suffer from lack of name recognition, lack of previous experience at that level of service and lack of campaign money.

Being taken seriously is a major hurdle. State Sen. Mary Boergers of Montgomery County is running as a Democrat for governor. Yet every time her name is mentioned, it is usually followed by an aside that she is probably trying to position herself for a spot on someone else's ticket as lieutenant governor.

State Del. Ellen Sauerbrey of Baltimore County is running as a Republican for governor. Yet all she hears is that the GOP's choice actually boils down to whether Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall or U.S. Rep. Helen Bentley -- or both -- decides to get in the race.

William S. Shepard is also a GOP gubernatorial hopeful. He's been campaigning all over the state for three years after picking up 40 percent of the vote in 1990 as the Republican nominee against William Donald Schaefer, but he's written off as "not a factor this time."

The formula for overcoming such obscurity is perseverance and hustle. The dark horses try to out-campaign the opposition. They seem to be everywhere, working 15-hour days to erase the fact that they are unknowns and lack the prestige of office or the

money to be considered a front-line candidate.

At least one of them -- Mrs. Sauerbrey -- has a realistic chance to emerge as a viable contender. She has a clear but rigidly conservative fiscal program that is at odds with Mr. Neall's pragmatic conservatism. Should Mrs. Bentley and/or Mr. Neall falter, Mrs. Sauerbrey could step into the picture.

Mr. Shepard, on the other hand, has made slow headway shaking his image as someone who lacks experience in elective office. He has pockets of support, but they pale next to GOP backing for his opponents. His one hope: a strong vote in his home county of Montgomery, which casts 20 percent of the GOP ballots.

Support among Montgomery voters is also critical for Ms. Boergers in the Democratic primary. She is popular in her Kensington district. But outside Montgomery, not many voters have any idea who she is -- and voters don't back candidates unless they know something about them and feel comfortable with their positions.

With far less money than others in the race and a name-recognitiondeficit, Ms. Boergers first must figure out a way to make her face familiar to Maryland voters. Only then can she try to lay out her campaign themes effectively.

Dark horses will have a few advantages in 1994, though. Voters are angry at incumbents. These dark horses are the outsiders, they haven't been part of the power elite.

These are fresh faces, too. Though Mrs. Sauerbrey has been in the legislature since 1978, she has never run outside her rural district. Ms. Boergers' energy could surprise many in the Baltimore area. Mr. Shepard's long years of service overseas give him a different kind of government expertise.

All three display an acceptable level of competence: Ms. Boergers has 12 years in Annapolis, Mrs. Sauerbrey has been House minority leader for seven years and Mr. Shepard was a career diplomat for 20 years.

And two of the three dark horses have an added advantage: They are women. That could prove politically popular with voters who feel women candidates bring a new and improved perspective.

In the race for attorney general, there is another long shot: Patrick J.Smith, a Rockville lawyer who chaired Paul Tsongas' successful presidential primary race in Maryland last year. His name recognition is exceedingly low, and he is up against two well-known faces -- Attorney General J. Joseph Curran and former Deputy Attorney General Eleanor Carey.

Attorney general is a low-visibility office. That makes it doubly difficult to break out of the anonymity box. Mr. Smith is a Washington-area candidate, counting on strong support from his home county of Montgomery. That's a plus, but in the rest of Maryland it is a distinct negative.

The fact that Mr. Smith is a lawyer who has never run for elective office could prove a liability: People don't cast votes for inexperienced candidates, especially for statewide office. It's not easy trying to start your elective career at the top.

There is an even longer long shot still open. In fact, the odds apparently are so miserable that no respectable candidate has even entered the race against U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes. Republicans seem willing to cede the election to the Democrat.

What national Republicans once considered an extremely vulnerable Senate seat might turn out to be the safest of safe Democratic seats.

Not even a decent dark horse has appeared to fill what looks like an enormous black hole in Maryland's political galaxy.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun.

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