A battle of the airwaves CAMPAIGN 1994

September 06, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

A hard-fought and often contentious campaign for the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial nominations sweeps into its final week today with the two front-runners trying to protect seemingly comfortable leads as their rivals frantically try to close the gap.

The sprint to the tape will feature a battle of the airwaves as six of the seven major candidates step up their television advertising campaigns or take their message to the tube for the first time.

Even the seventh aspirant, game but underfinanced Republican long shot William S. Shepard, said he might come up with enough money to make his own televised visit to voters' living rooms.

In addition to choosing each party's gubernatorial standard bearer, voters on Sept. 13 will decide on candidates for the U.S. Senate, state attorney general and state comptroller, the state Senate and House of Delegates, and numerous local offices, including county executive.

For months, candidates for governor who have trailed in the polls have tried to explain away their apparent lack of support by insisting that the voters had not focused on the campaign and would not until the final weeks of the campaign, perhaps not until after Labor Day.

Labor Day, with its parades, fairs and barbecues, has come and gone, and the candidates are now looking to capitalize on the presumed greater concentration of the electorate to zero in on the large undecided vote.

The latest Maryland Poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Political-Media Research of Columbia, found that 21 percent of likely Democratic primary voters had not decided on a candidate for governor by the weekend of Aug. 26-28. Among Republicans, the figure was 19 percent.

The poll, conducted for The Sun and other news organizations, had Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening leading his closest Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, 43 percent to 16 percent.

VTC Mr. Steinberg has questioned the reliability of the survey, claiming through his spokesman, M. Hirsh Goldberg, that voters supporting Mr. Glendening were "weakly aligned or not aligned at this point."

"Mickey is very optimistic," said Mr. Goldberg. "We've done our own polling, which shows it is still very much a race to be run and be won."

Mr. Steinberg, a millionaire, has dug deeply into his own pockets to keep his 28-year political career from crashing a week from today. As of Aug. 28, he had lent his campaign $320,000, much of it going for several weeks of TV advertising and a series of attack ads against Mr. Glendening.

"He's committed to doing what has to be done to win," Mr. Goldberg said when asked whether the lieutenant governor was willing to spendmore of his own money.

Mr. Glendening, meanwhile, is flush with cash, $763,000 in the bank as of Aug. 28 for the stretch run, which will feature whatever it takes in terms of television buys to keep the front-runner's name before the voters, said his campaign press secretary David Seldin.

"We've been running a fairly heavy level of television ads, and that will continue," he said. "We'll be on television at whatever level we need to ensure the message gets out."

The Glendening campaign, which has responded to past media attacks against its candidate with the speed and ferocity of a child playing Whack-a-Mole, is poised to react overnight with rebuttal ads if opponents air fresh charges.

"I think we'll see an intensification of the kind of negative attacks that we've already seen," said Mr. Seldin, "and we'll continue to respond in an effective and positive manner."

Among Republican gubernatorial hopefuls, U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley leads a three-person field, but Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the GOP leader of the Maryland House, has narrowed the gap significantly, from 44 percent to 27 percent in the most recent poll, and nearly doubled her standing over the previous month.

"I feel we're running neck and neck now," Mrs. Sauerbrey said yesterday. "It's just been incrementally building because of all the hard work we've done."

Mrs. Sauerbrey's campaign manager, Richard W. "Monti" Montalto, like Mr. Goldberg, the Steinberg spokesman, challenged the Maryland Poll, saying it exaggerated Mrs. Bentley's strength and asserting that the five-term congresswoman's political stock was "falling like a star."

"I think they kept her in the closet and the tall grass too long," he said, referring to charges by Mrs. Sauerbrey and Mr. Shepard, a retired diplomat, that Mrs. Bentley had avoided direct confrontations with her rivals by skipping, by their count,nearly 50 candidate forums.

Mrs. Bentley, meanwhile, went on television for the first time over the weekend in an effort to cement a primary victory and get a head start on the general election campaign in which she must buck a 2-1 Democratic advantage in voter registration.

"We have saved our resources and . . . we will employ Mrs. Bentley's paid media when we believe it to be most effective," said Gordon Hensley, a Bentley spokesman.

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