GOP gives campaign directive Personal attacks to be avoided in primary races

November 20, 1993|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Staff Writer

Trying to keep their first seriously contested primary campaign in years from turning into a bloody brawl, Maryland Republican leaders are urging rival candidates to avoid personal attacks that could leave survivors crippled for their battle against the Democrats.

"Outnumbered 2-to-1, we will be far more vulnerable to loss if the campaign gets 'ugly,' and the party will be far less likely to come together under the umbrella of the winner when the dust has settled," the state party said in a "code of ethics" distributed to all candidates this week.

The ethics directive was issued by Joyce L. Terhes, state party chair, and the party's campaign strategy committee, headed by Baltimore attorney Christopher R. West.

It was occasioned by what, for Republicans, is an abundance of riches -- contested primaries at every level. The top spots on the ticket, governor and U.S. senator, both have at least three declared GOP candidates.

Party leaders have publicly cheered the prospect of primary battles, particularly for statewide offices, insisting that such contests -- if conducted in a vigorous but gentlemanly manner -- will attract the attention of the public and the press to their candidates.

But they are also aware that such campaigns can be a mixed blessing.

"Personal attacks almost certainly provoke retaliation and, therefore, escalation," the directive says. "The campaign could descend pretty quickly, and the race wouldn't be worth winning when it was over. The attacks would simply be recycled by the Democrats in the general election."

The party leaders also warned in the directive that personal attacks during the primary season could make it difficult, if not impossible, for winning candidates to gain the support of their opponents' volunteers and financial backers for the general election campaign.

"We really have to keep people focused on the end, which is to be successful in November," Ms. Terhes said. "If you play dirty in September, it comes back to haunt you in November."

Ms. Terhes said the directive is essentially an elaboration on what has come to be known as Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment, that is, never speak ill of other Republicans.

But she said the guidelines set forth by the party are not meant to stifle legitimate, even heated, debate among candidates. "As long as it's not name-calling and mudslinging," she said.

Ms. Terhes said it was not out of line for rival gubernatorial hopefuls to try to exploit Rep. Helen Delich Bentley's ties to the incumbent Democratic governor, William Donald Schaefer, whose popularity has plunged in his second and final term.

"That's a fact" and thus fair game, Ms. Terhes said of the Schaefer-Bentley relationship. "It's the personal, the vindictive, the finger-pointing" that the party hopes to curtail, she said.

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