Bentley chooses Denis as her running mate CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

June 21, 1994|By Robert Timberg and John W. Frece | Robert Timberg and John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writers

Republican gubernatorial candidate Helen Delich Bentley will announce today that she has selected state Sen. Howard A. Denis, one of the most popular GOP office-holders in vote-rich Montgomery County, as her lieutenant governor running mate.

Mrs. Bentley will make the announcement at press conferences in Bethesda, the senator's home turf, and at the Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore, according to campaign sources.

In tapping Mr. Denis, the Baltimore County congresswoman balances her ticket geographically while linking Maryland's two heaviest voting regions -- the Baltimore metropolitan area and the suburban Washington counties of Montgomery and Prince George's. Mrs. Bentley, the apparent GOP front-runner, also gains a respected Annapolis veteran who has served in the Senate since 1977, a factor that may help offset her lack of experience in state government.

Mr. Denis brings to the team a moderate-to-liberal image that contrasts with Mrs. Bentley's conservative political coloration, an element that Bentley supporters are promoting as a positive, but which her opponents may well move to exploit.

Mr. Denis, at 54, is a tireless campaigner who can be expected to impart a youthful vigor to the ticket. Mrs. Bentley, who has held her congressional seat since 1985, is 70.

"If you put down on a piece of paper what she seems to be lacking in terms of appeal, it comes up Howie Denis," said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Political Media Research, which conducts polls for news organizations.

Said Keith Haller of Potomac Survey Research in Bethesda, another polling organization, "He's probably the best choice Bentley could have made vis-a-vis Montgomery County. Denis does maintain a pretty high political profile and has a moderate voting record."

The perceived Democratic front-runner, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, also is expected to present his running mate today -- Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Mr. Denis had said a month ago in very strong terms that he had no interest in running for lieutenant governor. Yesterday, without conceding that he had changed his mind, he hinted that he had satisfied himself that he would have important responsibilities in a Bentley administration. "Anyone who would take this step would have to have assurances that there would be a real partnership," he said. "It can't be window dressing." He declined to comment further pending the official announcement today.

Retired foreign service officer William S. Shepard, one of Mrs. Bentley's two rivals for the GOP nomination, quickly labeled the ticket "the odd couple" because of its contrasts in political philosophy.

Mr. Shepard, the party's unsuccessful 1990 standard-bearer and another Montgomery County resident, also pronounced the selection "the beginning of the end" for the third Republican aspirant, state Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey of Baltimore County. He predicted that Mrs. Sauerbrey would find little support in Montgomery, which accounts for more than 20 percent of the Republican primary vote.

Mrs. Sauerbrey, the Republican leader of the Maryland House, responded, "I don't think Bill Shepard gets it. This is a two-person race, this is Ellen-Helen. Bill is a nominal blip on the radar screen."

Regarding Mr. Denis, Mrs. Sauerbrey said the ticket unites Gov. William Donald Schaefer's GOP gubernatorial favorite, Mrs. Bentley, with one of the few Republican lawmakers to vote for the Democratic chief executive's proposed 1992 tax boost.

On the floor of the Maryland Senate, Mr. Denis has championed an eclectic assortment of legislation, from gun control to bills protecting freedom of the press to a measure to allow people to sue if their pets are maimed or killed by vicious dogs or other animals.

This year, he co-sponsored a package of anti-smoking bills with Mr. Schaefer. With Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. of Prince George's County, he co-sponsored measures to expand the rights of crime victims. On his own, Mr. Denis pushed legislation to allow press to use cameras in Maryland courtrooms.

He has opposed the senatorial perquisite of handing out legislative scholarships and was one of the most determined opponents of the use of taxpayers' money to pay for the Camden Yards stadium.

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