Sauerbrey attacks opponent Bentley's voting record, surprising Republicans

May 15, 1994|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey startled convening state Republicans yesterday by unexpectedly assailing Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, charging that the congresswoman repeatedly has voted against the party's priorities.

In a speech before GOP activists at the Maryland Republican party's biannual convention -- conducted Friday and yesterday in Towson -- Mrs. Sauerbrey changed the focus of her campaign by directly confronting Mrs. Bentley, the front-runner in the gubernatorial primary.

"My major opponent has voted time after time after time against Republican efforts to cut spending in Congress," said Mrs. Sauerbrey, the conservative minority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates from Baltimore County.

"You have to choose who you trust to implement the Republican vision that will free us from big government and the free-spending cronyism of the Schaefer years," she said, referring to the past eight years under Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who helped persuade Mrs. Bentley to run.

Mrs. Bentley, clearly angered by her opponent's remarks, complained to friends and supporters on the way out of the convention. But the 2nd District congresswoman waved away a reporter when questioned about the Sauerbrey speech, directing queries instead to her campaign consultant, Gordon Hensley.

"It's unfortunate that Mrs. Sauerbrey has opted at this point in the campaign to resort to lies and distortion," Mr. Hensley said, calling the charges "specious allegations" and "sloppy and amateurish."

Mrs. Sauerbrey said she was prepared to produce the congressional roll call and other public records to support her assertions.

Mr. Hensley said Mrs. Sauerbrey's speech was prompted by the release -- minutes before her remarks -- of poll results by the Bentley campaign that showed Mrs. Bentley with a commanding early lead in the race.

"Mrs. Sauerbrey is on a treadmill and moving nowhere fast," Mr. Hensley said, attempting to tie the charges to the latest poll.

That poll shows that Mrs. Bentley continues to maintain a 4-1 lead over each of her GOP opponents -- Mrs. Sauerbrey and William S. Shepard, a retired foreign service officer and the 1990 Republican standard bearer -- and would win the general election over her Democratic competition.

Mrs. Bentley's poll, conducted last week by The Tarrance Group, showed little difference in candidates' standings than a February poll by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research Inc.

Mrs. Sauerbrey's speech marked a tactical change for her campaign and caused a little squirming among the party regulars, a relatively staid and well-mannered group, unaccustomed to contested primaries.

"To hear . . . and see negative campaigning, particularly when it's two women, . . . could hurt and backfire," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland GOP.

Ms. Terhes said she believed contested primaries "were

healthy," but also expressed some reservations.

"I'm concerned that we still have roughly four months till the primary, and if it's getting this intense now, I only see the intensity magnifying, unless I can remind them that the opposition is the Democratic Party, not the Republican Party," she said.

Mrs. Sauerbrey said Mrs. Bentley voted against efforts to cut spending -- including the GOP's answer to President Clinton's budget bill -- to shrink the size of congressional staff and to reduce "franking privileges," free congressional mailings.

Mrs. Sauerbrey also said that Mrs. Bentley was a favorite of organized labor, taking in more money from labor's political action committees in the 1992 election than any other Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

She also said Mrs. Bentley's record of "fiscal responsibility" was ranked recently by the bipartisan Concord Coalition, a group working for a balanced federal budget. Mrs. Bentley, she said, was "worse than" two Baltimore congressmen, Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, and Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, and "tied" with Rep. Albert R. Wynn, D-4th.

Mrs. Bentley, who spoke just before Mrs. Sauerbrey took the podium, struck a decidedly conservative tone, launching an ironic attack on a state government run by her friend, Mr. Schaefer.

"1994 is the way that we can break the one-party Democratic stranglehold that has paralyzed the state's economy, has allowed the Free State to become the tax-and-spend state with an anti-business reputation and has allowed violent crime to skyrocket out of control," Mrs. Bentley said.

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