Armed with a poll and backed by a thriller writer, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley broke bread last night with about 1,000 supporters and fed an estimated $200,000 into her campaign war chest.
Even before the crowd arrived for her first statewide fund-raiser, aides were boasting about the favorable results of the poll and its impact on Mrs. Bentley's ability to raise money for her Republican campaign for gov ernor.
"The day after the Mason-Dixon poll came out, there was a run on tables," said campaign spokesman Gordon Hensley, referring to a recent independent survey that showed Mrs. Bentley far outdistancing her GOP rivals and leading the Democratic hopefuls as well.
"A poll of that nature is an obvious inducement to folks either sitting on the fence or, quite frankly, looking to hedge their bets," said Mr. Hensley. "It says Helen Bentley is the first Republican candidate in quite some time who may indeed be the next governor of Maryland."
As for the receipts from last night's affair at the BWI Airport Marriott, Mr. Hensley said the campaign would be at least $200,000 richer.
If accurate, Mrs. Bentley will have raised nearly as much at one event as her closest GOP rival in the money sweepstakes -- Baltimore County Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey -- has raised in more than a year of effort, according to a campaign finance report filed by Mrs. Sauerbrey in November.
But Mrs. Bentley, a late entrant into the race, still lags well behind two Democratic candidates -- Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening -- both of whom reported receipts in excess of $1 million in their November filings.
Mrs. Bentley was joined at last night's affair by Tom Clancy, author of "The Hunt for Red October" and other techno-thrillers. Tickets for the sit-down dinner went for $200. For $1,000 contributors, there was a private reception with the candidate and Mr. Clancy.
The dinner crowd included a number of prominent Democrats, including several with close ties to Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Among them were Charles L. Benton Jr., the state budget secretary, and William A. Fogle Jr., the secretary of licensing and regulation.
Mrs. Bentley hinted at a business tax cut to revitalize the state's manufacturing base and promised a Harry Truman-like "give 'em hell" campaign focusing on jobs, economic development, crime, education and welfare reform.
She also took a swipe at "the entrenched Democrat politicians in Annapolis who have been in charge for decades," even though Democratic Governor Schaefer is a friend and helped persuade her to enter the race.
The poll, conducted between Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research of Columbia, showed Mrs. Bentley far ahead of her two announced GOP rivals -- Mrs. Sauerbrey and William S. Shepard, the party's unsuccessful 1990 candidate for governor.
The telephone survey of 262 registered Republican voters gave the Baltimore County-based congresswoman 46 percent, Mr. Shepard 9 percent and Mrs. Sauerbrey 7 percent, with 38 percent undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 6.5 percentage points.
In head-to-head match-ups, the poll showed Mrs. Bentley leading the Democrats -- Mr. Steinberg, Mr. Glendening and state Senators Mary H. Boergers and American Joe Miedusiewski -- by varying margins.
Since the poll, a fifth Democrat, former Baltimore Del. Frank A. Conaway, has joined the primary field.
Mr. Shepard and Mrs. Sauerbrey have discounted the poll, saying it merely demonstrated that Mrs. Bentley is better known at this point.