Republicans train sights on Sarbanes CAMPAIGN 1994

March 07, 1994|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- This year was supposed to be different for Maryland Republicans. But once again their hopes for winning a U.S. Senate seat could be riding on a candidate who is vulnerable to "carpetbagger" charges.

Former Tennessee Sen. William E. Brock, who will formally announce his candidacy today, is the early front-runner in the GOP fight to unseat Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

A fixture of the Washington political establishment for the past 30 years, Mr. Brock goes into the campaign subject to the same charges that have dogged other Republicans who took up Maryland residence after coming to the nation's capital to work -- most recently Linda Chavez, who lost to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in 1986, and Alan L. Keyes, who lost to Mr. Sarbanes in 1988 and to Ms. Mikulski in 1992.

"I chose this state," says Mr. Brock. "I live in it. I've got family here."

For more than a year, Maryland and national Republicans have relished the prospect of defeating Mr. Sarbanes, who has been on Capitol Hill since 1971.

A recent poll shows that his standing with voters has worsened in the last six months, notes David Carney, deputy executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, adding that he is "much more upbeat" about a GOP victory in Maryland than he was last summer.

But after their most promising prospects, Reps. Constance A. Morella and Helen Delich Bentley, passed up the Senate race, Republicans were left with a string of unknowns and the former Tennessee legislator who says he lived in Montgomery County from 1966 to 1971 and in Annapolis since 1985.

Despite his Washington background, Mr. Brock seems to be running as an outsider.

"There is a sense in this country," he said in an interview last week, "that government is off on the wrong track. People in Washington have lost touch with the world the rest of us live in.

"If we are going to change things, we've got to elect people who have different approaches."

Responds Ruthann Aron, one of his opponents, "If what we need is another career politician who has spent his life in government, why aren't we doing better? We need the antithesis of career politicians."

Ms. Aron, a 51-year-old Montgomery County planning board member making her first run at elective office, is considered by many Republicans and political analysts to have the best shot at derailing Mr. Brock in the primary. She says she will officially announce her candidacy later this month.

Adds C. Ronald Franks, an Eastern Shore delegate to the General Assembly who has been running for months, "The entry of Bill Brock is good for the primary. It gives everybody an opportunity to see a preview of the general election -- a career politician vs. a citizen legislator."

Appearing sensitive to such charges, Mr. Brock makes it clear that he would like to keep attention focused on Mr. Sarbanes. Speaking at a candidates' forum in Howard County last month, he cited former President Reagan's "Eleventh Commandment." It "Speak no ill of another Republican."

"I believe that," said Mr. Brock. "I'm not running against Ron or Ruthann. I'm running against Paul Sarbanes."

In her campaign, Ms. Aron is lumping Mr. Sarbanes and Mr. Brock together, characterizing both as "career politicians" who should be retired.

Sarbanes' preference

While many analysts and Republicans make Mr. Brock the favorite because of his fund-raising ability, substantial personal fortune and political experience, they say Ms. Aron could deny him the nomination if she could raise enough money to mount a credible campaign.

There are indications that Mr. Sarbanes would rather run against Mr. Brock, whose conservative congressional voting record and Washington consulting work since 1988 open him to criticism, rather than face Ms. Aron, who has no political record to defend.

Mr. Sarbanes has generally refrained from commenting on the Republicans running for his seat. But last month, asked about Mr. Brock, he smiled and said of Mr. Brock's record, "There's a lot there."

Mr. Brock, 63, has been running an unannounced campaign for months. On Jan. 1, he left his Washington consulting firm, The Brock Group, which has worked for a number of foreign governments, including Mexico, from which it collected nearly $1 million for advising it on the congressional battle over the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mr. Brock has opened a headquarters in Annapolis, hired a staff of some 15 employees and is promising to raise a lot of money -- "as much as it takes," according to David R. Blumberg, chairman of the Baltimore City Republican party.

The millionaire heir to a candy fortune, Mr. Brock is also considered capable of putting a considerable amount of personal money into the race.

He talks of $3.2 million for the primary and general elections -- the amount Ms. Mikulski spent in her 1992 re-election bid -- and says he will raise what is required to make him a credible candidate. Other Republicans say he is talking of millions more.

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