State GOP: Time to Debate

June 19, 1994

If this is to be the year of opportunity for Maryland's long-suffering Republican Party, its candidates should look beyond tactical advantage in the Sept. 13 primary to position themselves for the Nov. 8 general election against the long-ruling Democrats. For this reason, state GOP chairman Joyce Lyons Terhes is on the mark in proposing two full-scale televised debates so voters can get to know the candidates and their views.

It is gratifying that the current front-runners -- Helen Delich Bentley for governor and Bill Brock for the Senate -- have accepted this challenge. Any refusal to debate would have opened them to criticism from citizens demanding more open and candid politics. Beyond that, Mr. Brock, a former senator from Tennessee, would be giving up a chance to become better known should he be chosen to challenge Maryland's entrenched senior senator, Democrat Paul Sarbanes.

As for Mr. Brock's chief rivals, Montgomery businesswoman Ruthann Aron and state Del. Ron Franks of the Eastern Shore, they too can use statewide debates to introduce themselves to the electorate and show what they are all about.

On the gubernatorial side, five-term Congresswoman Bentley enjoys far better name recognition than any other candidate in either party. But should she win in September, she would have to overcome a 2-to-1 Democratic advantage in voter registration. Her greatest liability at present is the suspicion that she is less knowledgeable about state affairs than federal affairs. If she shows she can hold her own on Annapolis issues in a primary debate with House of Delegates minority leader Ellen Sauerbrey and the very studious ex-diplomat, William Shepard, she will be better prepared to face a Democratic foe with undoubted expertise in state and local government.

Ms. Terhes' clarion call for a party-sponsored debate marks a departure for the state GOP that reflects a growing confidence that this could be the best GOP year of the decade. Not only is xTC the governor's seat open but Senator Sarbanes has been described as "vulnerable" by pollsters.

Ms. Terhes envisages two debates -- one in Baltimore and one in Montgomery County -- in late August. The governorship and senate debates would last an hour each. Candidates would be questioned by a panel of journalists and each would be given an equal number of tickets so the audience reaction would not be skewed.

The Sun supports full and fair debates in the Republican primary campaign as a matter of public interest. They would move Maryland closer to the ideal of being a two-party state offering the fullest range of choices to the electorate.

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