Why in the World Do They Do It?

September 04, 1994|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Figuring out how politicians think is a job for an astute psychoanalyst.

Why do people of limited achievement suddenly decide they can be elected to statewide office?

Why do they give up promising lower-level offices to take a stab at governor, when their chances of winning are about as great as the Orioles' chances of winning the pennant this year?

It's a puzzle.

Look at the Republican primary for governor.

We know why Ellen Sauerbrey got into the race: The GOP's top candidates were doing a hesitation waltz so Mrs. Sauerbrey, the House minority leader, stepped into the void. But then Rep. Helen Bentley, the GOP's 800-pound gorilla, finally made up her mind and filed for governor. Now Mrs. Sauerbrey is stuck in a race where she's got an outside shot, at best.

But that's not the half of it. Look at Bill Shepard's plight. He served as the GOP's sacrificial lamb in 1990 and was the beneficiary of the ABS (Anybody But Schaefer) movement. He wound up with 40 percent of the vote. This, he assumed, assured him elevated status in the party. That never happened.

Instead, he's been shoved aside by Mrs. Bentley and Mrs. Sauerbrey. He stands at 10 percent in the latest poll. Four years of arduous campaigning is producing very little.

On the Democratic side, two mediocre legislators suddenly decided they were gubernatorial material. They gave up safe seats in the state Senate, perhaps because they were tired of the grinding work schedule and constant constituent demands.

Or did they do it because they had developed an inflated image of themselves in the egocentric world of Annapolis politics?

American Joe Miedusiewski had been in the State House 20 years, and barely had been noticed. Now he's portraying his nearly invisible role as perfect experience for a would-be governor. (He's also portraying his time managing the family tavern as the kind of management expertise a governor needs.)

Mary Boergers has been in Annapolis 13 years. She's never risen a leadership role and she rarely has ventured beyond issues dealing with women's rights.

Now's she's portraying this modest role as a plus, making her an ''outsider'' on the inside. She's also trying to paper over her strident anti-Baltimore stands during recent legislative sessions. That's hardly the way to become a legitimate statewide candidate.

Neither individual is doing well in the polls. Mr. Miedusiewski is at 10 percent, Mrs. Boergers at 8 percent. Not much to show for the time and energy expended.

But they are hardly alone in taking these quixotic plunges. Look at Ellie Carey, Pat Smith and Jim Moorhead. It will take a miracle for any of them to win.

Mrs. Carey is running for attorney general as a Democrat. She's been out of politics for eight years, since barely losing to incumbent J. Joseph Curran. She has made little headway in shaking Mr. Curran's statewide support. Upsetting an incumbent never easy, especially one who is still personally popular and well liked.

She had jumped into the a.g.'s race when Mr. Curran appeared headed for a run for governor. That never happened. Now she's a longshot, at best. She rejected overtures to join a gubernatorial ticket as lieutenant governor. Apparently she concluded it would be attorney general or nothing.

Pat Smith is also a candidate for attorney general. His chances are even slimmer. At least Ellie Carey collected 163,670 votes in 1986. Mr. Smith's only claim to fame is having run Paul Tsongas' successful presidential primary bid in Maryland. That's a thin reed on which to base a campaign for statewide office.

Mr. Moorhead's credentials are weaker still. He's a Rockville lawyer with Capitol Hill connections -- his father was a congressman from Pittsburgh for 22 years. He's raised lots of money (two-thirds from outside the state), but he's got such a paltry resume in finance and accounting that it raises questions why in the world he decided to run for comptroller. He's never run for public office before, either.

Even more puzzling is why he thinks he can knock off the legendary Louis L. Goldstein, comptroller for 36 years. Mr. Goldstein is still the most popular statewide figure. He may have slowed down, but he still runs his office well enough that many fiscal experts consider it a national model.

And when Mr. Goldstein finally retires in 1998, there will be a long line of heavyweight politicians to replace him. Jim Moorhead's 1994 race against the comptroller will be quickly forgotten.

For these candidates, the Harry Hughes scenario never unfolded. No ''lost ball in tall grass'' has been discovered by voters. Perhaps on election day -- just nine days away -- we'll all be surprised and a major upset will occur. That's the hope, anyway. These candidates are eternal optimists. They have to be. It's been uphill all the way for them.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun. His column appears here each Sunday.

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