Sauerbrey pins hope on the GOP hard line

November 28, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

For one brief, shining month this fall, Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey seemed the front-runner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 1994.

Mrs. Sauerbrey emerged from the shadow of Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall in mid-October, when the much-touted darling of moderate Republicans announced that he was calling it quits in politics and walking away from a bid for the governorship.

At that point, her only competition was retired foreign service officer William S. Shepard, a dark horse whose gubernatorial campaign she had co-chaired in 1990.

But two weeks ago, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the irascible 2nd District congresswoman, ended months of indecision and announced she would run for governor.

Again, Mrs. Sauerbrey's chances for the nomination were diminished by a stronger candidate -- one with higher name recognition, a greater capacity for raising big money and a seemingly broader base of support.

Undeterred, Mrs. Sauerbrey, a conservative Republican ideologue and former teacher from Towson, swears that she is in it for good, although it means giving up her four-term seat in the House of Delegates and position as minority leader.

"It was a calculated risk, and I think it's doable," she said. "I'm not a Johnny-come-lately, giving lip service and political rhetoric to issues for the sake of an election. I've always been there."

Despite an uphill fight, Mrs. Sauerbrey, 56, is pressing on in the race with the same determination that made her a persistent thorn in the sides of Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- whom she calls the "tax-and-spend" executive -- and her Democratic colleagues in the House.

"I'm tired of nibbling around the edges and making a minor adjustment here and a minor adjustment there without making a real change in the ship of state," she said. "The only place you can do that is from the governor's seat."

Reagan Republican

One of the reasons Mrs. Sauerbrey has been able to make only "minor adjustments" through her legislative post is that she has refused to play political ball with the House's entrenched Democratic leadership -- a sharp contrast to her predecessor as minority leader, Mr. Neall.

"She ran with the goal of making the caucus more partisan and has done so," said Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican now running for Mrs. Bentley's congressional seat.

A true believer in the doctrine of former President Ronald Reagan, Mrs. Sauerbrey sacrificed the GOP caucus' limited power in the House, choosing instead a harder line.

Her strategy, abhorrent to many moderate Republicans, is to distance GOP candidates from Democratic incumbents, in the hopes of riding the throw-the-rascals-out tide to higher office.

With 10 months until the primary, Mrs. Sauerbrey is trying to expand her narrow constituency, promoting her themes of cutting taxes and shrinking government to GOP political clubs and student groups, anti-crime rallies, church organizations -- and, like any other candidate, to anyone who will listen.

She seems to be meeting with some success.

Though she has nowhere near the $1 million-plus that two of the three declared Democratic candidates have raised, as of Nov. 1, Mrs. Sauerbrey had collected $213,000, a respectable sum of seed money.

By contrast, Mr. Shepard of Montgomery County has raised just more than $88,000. Mrs. Bentley declared her candidacy after the most recent state campaign finance filing deadline; money in her federal campaign account cannot be used in the governor's race.

Mrs. Sauerbrey now draws support from Republicans rooted in the once-New Right, the loyal foot soldiers of the "Reagan Revolution." That includes conservative upper- and middle-class suburbanites, small-business owners, crime victims groups, taxpayer activists and anti-abortion forces.

She has always been pro-business -- so much so, in fact, that she and a Baltimore County Republican colleague, Del. Martha S. Klima, were known among legislators as "the Chamber maids" because of their support of the Chamber of Commerce's legislative agenda.

Not counted out

In an apparent effort to attract the moderates she will need to win, Mrs. Sauerbrey, who is opposed to abortion, has tempered her stand on the issue, saying she would not work to make Maryland's laws more restrictive. Neither would she approve more liberal laws, she said.

Referring to voter approval last November of Maryland's abortion rights law -- a measure she opposed -- Mrs. Sauerbrey said, "The people have spoken. I'm not happy about what they said, but I respect the democratic process."

Mrs. Sauerbrey delivers her political message dryly, as if she were still lecturing her science classes at Towsontown or Ridgely-Dulaney junior-senior high schools in Baltimore County.

She is more apt to focus on an arcane budget issue than resort to political grandstanding -- an earnestness that is appealing to many supporters.

Tapping the 'trust factor'

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