Shepard battles odds with wit and resolve CAMPAIGN 1994

September 03, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Four years ago, Republican William S. Shepard won 40 percent of the vote for governor of Maryland.

But last weekend, more than half the registered voters surveyed in an independent public opinion poll said they never heard of him.

Polls, pundits and prognosticators all agree: The 59-year-old retired diplomat from Montgomery County is the longest of long shots among the seven major candidates running to succeed Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

They say that when he beat Mr. Schaefer in 12 of 24 jurisdictions in 1990, Marylanders were voting against the governor, not for Bill Shepard. Back then, without a Republican candidate to face the powerful incumbent, GOP leaders begged Mr. Shepard to run. This time around, with the seat up for grabs, two better-known Republicans have whizzed past him, leaving him on the side of the campaign trail with barely enough money or support to keep his sputtering caravan moving.

Yet, Mr. Shepard has pressed on with determination and unflagging good humor, seemingly oblivious to the odds against him. He is confident, he says, that if Marylanders could learn what he stands for before the Sept. 13 primary, they would vote for him.

"I think our chances are fine, depending on who comes out and who is interested," he said this week.

He ignores his distant third-place standing against U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley and state Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, both of Baltimore County. He chalks it up to the name recognition enjoyed by incumbents, although he cannot afford the advertising counterpunch it would take to make his own name better known.

He says his work as a lawyer and businessman, as a foreign service officer overseas and in Washington, and as head of congressional affairs for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, has given him the executive experience a governor needs. He has cast himself as the moderate in an otherwise conservative Republican field, as someone who could work with Democrats and Republicans alike, and as the only one of the three from the Washington suburbs.

Unlike his rivals, Mr. Shepard has not tried to appeal to crime-weary voters with plans to incarcerate violent offenders for life and build multimillion-dollar prisons to house them. Rather, he emphasizes the need for crime-prevention programs, alternatives to incarceration, and the hiring of more parole officers to supervise ex-cons once they are released. "I don't see the answer solely in building a bunch of Alcatrazes around the state," he says.

Rather than pledging to hack away at state programs and the bureaucrats who run them, Mr. Shepard says he would try to restore the morale of civil servants by treating them more humanely.

"My concern is we won't attract good people. I want to make it a good and decent place to work again," says Mr. Shepard, whose only major endorsement has come from the Maryland Classified Employees Association, a state employee union.

Comparing himself with his Republican and Democratic opponents, Mr. Shepard says he is the only one who is not a career politician, the only one not beholden to big contributors, and -- he says with a laugh -- the only one with a sense of humor.

With his forbidding eyebrows and serious, deep-set eyes, Mr. Shepard does not look like a fun kind of guy.

Yet, his quick dry wit has elicited more laughter at forums than any of the candidates, perhaps because -- trailing as he is in the polls -- he is the least worried about making some public blunder.

"They are so dull," he says of his rivals in a haughty tone he seems to have perfected during a career hobnobbing with government officials from Saigon to Singapore and Budapest to Bordeaux.

He is, after all, a multi-lingual, Harvard-educated lawyer who lists on his resume the editions of "Who's Who In America" in which his name appears, as well as his membership "in various patriotic and wine societies."

In many ways, Mr. Shepard's campaign is a throwback to a simpler time. It is run completely by unpaid volunteers.

He has no press secretary, no pollsters, no consultants, no carefully constructed focus groups. His major fund-raiser, held just this week, was a sit-down dinner for 150 people featuring a 14-piece orchestra playing Big Band music.

He writes his own press releases and position papers, usually drives himself to appearances, and often shares with his wife, Lois (who was his controversial running mate in 1990), the task of answering the phone at campaign headquarters.

Mr. Shepard has been the only candidate to publicly praise opponents when he thinks they have done something worthwhile, and says he wants to make Maryland "a fairer place to live."

He often talks of how state government must be fairer to the counties and towns.

In choosing his running mate this time, Mr. Shepard says, he intentionally sought a local elected official, picking Carroll County Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, the current president of the Maryland Association of Counties.

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