Executive candidates gird for race CAMPAIGN 1994 -- HOWARD COUNTY

June 27, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Democratic challenger Sue-Ellen Hantman plan to get off their political tiptoes soon with radically different campaign plans.

Mr. Ecker will air two commercials on cable television beginning July 5.

The commercials will run 168 times a week -- once every two hours on the Cable News Network channel and once every two hours on a channel yet to be announced, Mr. Ecker said.

Mr. Ecker said he plans to air the commercials on a variety of cable channels, but is "not so sure" about running them on the teen-oriented Music Television channel.

He is wary of describing the 30-second spots -- "You'll have to watch and find out" -- and would say only that they are "spots that promote Chuck Ecker. It is something to show my concern for the populace, for the citizens of Howard County."

Ms. Hantman, meanwhile, plans to break out a pair of walking shoes and start spending her weeknights going door to door.

"I haven't set a schedule yet," she said. "I am trying to see as many people as possible, attending as many events, forums, coffees and small get-togethers as I can."

The difficulty now, not only for her but all candidates, she said, is that voters are preoccupied with summer and not as interested in the campaign as she hopes they will be in the fall.

Some Democratic candidates for other offices fear Mr. Ecker will not take Ms. Hantman seriously, and will use his growing campaign fund of more than $70,000 to help their Republican opponents.

Conversely, some Republicans worry that Ms. Hantman's entrance into the race will prevent Mr. Ecker from helping them.

Mr. Ecker is noncommittal.

"Will I be able to help other candidates? Who knows? Money is hard to come by." he said. "I hope to have enough money to advertise" in local newspapers around Labor Day.

He is likely to get it. His campaign balance does not include money raised at a popular seafood restaurant and he has two more fund-raisers scheduled for this month.

One is set for tonight at a posh Ellicott City restaurant and the other -- "a big picnic" -- will occur July 22 in western Howard County.

"I've lost too many ball games [as a basketball coach] by taking opponents lightly," Mr. Ecker said. "You can't take anything lightly. The only way to get better is to have stiff competition. The only way to improve is by playing good teams. Sue-Ellen is a very strong candidate."

Ms. Hantman said that although she has does not have any fund-raising events planned at this point, people are nonetheless contributing to her campaign.

"I'm getting calls from people I've never heard of," she said. "You expect to hear from people you know, but this was very surprising. Peopleare volunteering for all kinds of things, asking what they can do."

Ms. Hantman finds herself in circumstances very similar to those Mr. Ecker when he upset incumbent M. Elizabeth Bobo in 1990, which, if for no other reason, would cause Mr. Ecker to fret a little.

Although he had been a popular deputy superintendent of schools, Mr. Ecker discovered in 1990 that he had very little name recognition countywide. Conversely, "They knew the name Bobo, but they didn't know about the job of county executive," he said.

To help people become familiar with his name, he would rise early each morning and wave at passing cars while holding a sign with his name on it.

That will be unnecessary this time around, his pollsters tell him. "My name recognition is tremendous, close to 100 percent, but if you asked them about the job I do, they would not be so sure, I imagine," he said.

Ms. Hantman, who also used the method during a 1986 run for the House of Delegates, doubts she will do it this time. "It's getting harder with less intersections" controlled by traffic lights, she said, "and having done it and having watched it, I do think it endangers people. Name recognition does not tell the whole story."

She can accomplish the same thing better, she believes, in forums and at coffees.

"Forums are a really good way of finding out what people are concerned about," Ms. Hantman said. "They learn about you, and you learn about them."

A practicing attorney, Ms. Hantman hopes future forums will be held at night, however. She said she will be unable to attend a candidates' forum scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow at Florence Bain Senior Center because of a prior commitment.

LTC Mr. Ecker said he will attend the forum, the site of his first public address after his election four years ago.

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