Bentley, with new look, ready to step back into spotlight GOP hopeful for State House plans series of fund-raisers

January 25, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Staff Writer

After stumbling from the starting gate, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley hopes to reassert her apparent front-runner status in the Republican gubernatorial field with a series of splashy fund-raising events in the next month.

Quietly and with less fanfare, Mrs. Bentley has also been going about the crucial behind-the-scenes chores necessary to mount and sustain her still-developing bid to lead her party into this year's general election.

Since declaring her candidacy in November, months after her two GOP rivals entered the race, she has been primarily occupied with raising money, expanding what was a congressional district-size campaign staff and other organizational matters.

As a result, the Baltimore County congresswoman -- the best known of the three GOP hopefuls -- has been less visible than usual on the political circuit, leading some Republican activists to wonder aloud what she's been up to.

"I've been working on organization and working at raising money," she explained in a brief interview yesterday in Annapolis.

"I'm still putting in 16 to 18 hours a day," she said. "These things have to be done. You cannot raise money running all over. You cannot get people on the phone running all over. You have to stay put and do it."

She has not, she insists, been invisible.

"If I really went through my schedule over these past few weeks, I've probably done publicly as much as most candidates do at any time," she said. "But I haven't been doing my 20 things a day like I usually do."

Normally a fixture at political gatherings, her spotty attendance record in recent weeks has spawned rumors that she was rethinking her decision to relinquish her 2nd District congressional seat and enter the governor's race.

Campaign aides and political associates flatly deny such stories.

"That is not an option," said Gordon Hensley, a campaign spokesman. Said David Blumberg, Baltimore City GOP chairman and longtime Bentley loyalist, "Once Helen made her decision, there has been no looking back."

As if to dispel any speculation about her commitment, Mrs. Bentley, 70, is about to resurface with three high-profile money -- raising events, including a major statewide fund-raiser Feb. 17.

"This is a big-league campaign, and big league campaigns need adequate resources," said Mr. Hensley, promising more major fund-raisers in the coming months.

Mrs. Bentley, for her part, has been doggedly working the phones selling $200 and $1,000 tickets to the February affair, to be held at the BWI Marriott.

The featured speaker is to be Tom Clancy, author of best-selling techno-thrillers and a minority stockholder in the Baltimore Orioles.

Mr. Hensley put the total raised so far between $100,000 and $500,000, declining to be more specific.

Two smaller fund-raisers are to precede the big money gala. This Friday there is to be a $100-a-ticket reception in Salisbury at which Rep. Newt Gingrich, Republican whip of the U.S. House and a conservative favorite, is to be the attraction.

Five days later, on Feb. 2, there is to be a $500-a-person gathering in the Montgomery County community of Potomac, headlined by Carroll A. Campbell Jr., governor of South Carolina and a prospective 1996 GOP presidential candidate.

In addition to fund-raising, Mr. Hensley said, Mrs. Bentley and her advisers are busy crafting position papers on issues on which she intends to focus -- economic development, crime, jobs, welfare and education reform.

Mrs. Bentley also is still putting together a campaign staff and political organization with statewide reach for what will be her first race ever outside the district that she has represented since 1985.

Staff recruitment and organization are being managed by Mr. Hensley, a well-traveled Washington political consultant who has supplanted Thomas K. O'Neill, who chaired Mrs. Bentley's 1992 TTC re-election effort, as campaign major domo.

Mr. O'Neill is now political director, responsible for assembling a network of campaign leaders and political operatives in Baltimore City and the 23 counties to undergird the Bentley effort.

Mr. Hensley, 34, has participated in presidential, congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns, primarily as press secretary and speech writer. In 1992, he directed state press operations for the Bush-Quayle re-election campaign, winning high marks for his media skills and political savvy.

Mrs. Bentley's two GOP opponents -- Ellen R. Sauerbrey, minority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, and retired foreign service officer William S. Shepard -- both said, in response to questions, that they have seen little of her on the campaign trail since she entered the race.

"Her campaign got off to a very bad start, and perhaps she was advised to cool it for a while," said Mrs. Sauerbrey, a reference to two Bentley gaffes immediately after her Nov. 10 declaration of candidacy.

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