Ideological opposites to vie in Nov. race for governor PRIMARY 1994

September 14, 1994|By Robert Timberg and John W. Frece | Robert Timberg and John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writers Rafael Alvarez, Douglas Birch, Peter Jensen, Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

Last night's nomination of Democrat Parris N. Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey sets the stage for what could be Maryland's most competitive campaign for governor in nearly three decades.

The face-off will pit the Prince George's County executive -- who was headed for a primary victory of breathtaking proportions -- against a veteran Baltimore County legislator who seized the GOP nomination in a stunning come-from-behind victory.

Voters will be offered a clear choice between ideological opposites. Mr. Glendening believes government can play an important role in the lives of its citizens. Mrs. Sauerbrey favors less spending, lower taxes and smaller government.

Mrs. Sauerbrey, 57, mounted a charge in the final days that swept aside the pre-election favorite, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a 70-year-old former newspaperwoman who gave up the safe congressional seat she has held for the past decade to run for governor.

On the surface, the strongly conservative Mrs. Sauerbrey resembles earlier party stalwarts who have won GOP primaries over better-known rivals but displayed little appeal in the general election.

By contrast, Mrs. Bentley, the choice of most party leaders, more closely fits the moderate profile of the few Republicans who have been successful in statewide races in heavily Democratic Maryland in recent decades.

The immediate historical comparison dates back to 1974, when conservative GOP national committeewoman Louise Gore bested then-Rep. Larry Hogan Sr., the hand-picked candidate of party elders, only to go down to defeat at the hands of the incumbent Democratic governor, Marvin Mandel.

Earlier that year, however, Mr. Hogan voted in the House Judiciary Committee to impeach the Watergate-besieged president, Richard M. Nixon, earning plaudits nationally, but anger and disdain from Maryland Republicans.

There are differences between 1974 and now. Mrs. Sauerbrey did not run against a political outcast, but against a popular, better-known Republican with greater financial resources. As a result, her victory yesterday makes comparisons shaky and predictions of a quick political demise premature.

Mrs. Sauerbrey, moreover, has modeled herself after the successful Republican gubernatorial candidates of the 1990s, especially New Jersey's Christine Todd Whitman, who lowered taxes to stimulate the economy, as Mrs. Sauerbrey has said that she would do.

The Democratic advantage

Mr. Glendening begins the general election campaign with an enormous built-in advantage -- Maryland's 2-to-1 Democratic edge in voter registration, a margin that has narrowed over the past decade but remains an imposing obstacle for any GOP candidate seeking statewide office.

The Democratic nominee's sweeping victory propels him into the general election race with great political momentum, another major advantage in the brief, 56-day sprint to the wire that ends on Election Day, Nov. 8.

However, Mr. Glendening faces the daunting task of bringing together a party that has gone through a hard-fought and often mean-spirited primary campaign punctuated by negative radio and television ads that have ranged in content from ridicule to rhetorical knee-capping.

In addition, he must defuse fears in the still-potent Baltimore area that his election would mean a radical shift of power away from this region to the rapidly growing suburban Washington counties, which have not elected a governor since Oden Bowie of Prince George's more than a century ago.

While other candidates in this campaign often seemed to be espousing the positions fed to them by political consultants, there was never any question about Mrs. Sauerbrey's views: For years she has complained that state government is too big and Maryland taxes too high.

Throughout the campaign, as Mrs. Bentley ducked numerous candidate forums, Mrs. Sauerbrey hammered away on budget issues, vowing to reduce the size of government and use some of the proceeds for a 24 percent tax cut over the next four years.

In a gimmick designed to dissuade skeptics, she pledged to give up her $120,000 governor's salary her first year in office if she were unable to make the budget cuts needed to pay for the first 6 percent installment of the proposed tax cut.

Mrs. Bentley banked on support from Republicans who believed that she would be the toughest opponent against the Democrats in the general election, but the Sauerbrey camp said all along that conservative Republicans who are the most likely to vote in primaries would come out on her behalf.

One voter, Lois Halle, an employee of the Baltimore County library system, said she would not have bothered to go to the polls except for Ellen Sauerbrey.

"I wasn't going to vote," Ms. Halle said. "I think she's a dynamite woman. I think she represents the only choice of getting the old boy network out."

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