Sauerbrey's Stunning Upset

September 14, 1994

Maryland Republicans did it again yesterday: They rejected the candidate for governor favored by the GOP hierarchy -- just as they did 20 years ago when Louise Gore beat Larry Hogan -- and picked a loyal party worker with a decidedly conservative message. Ellen R. Sauerbrey's lopsided upset victory over Helen D. Bentley gives voters a stark choice in November between a staunch Reaganite and a traditional Democrat. She could give Democratic nominee Parris N. Glendening a fit.

That Mr. Glendening would be the Democrats' choice was decided early. The Prince George's county executive romped. His was a methodical effort that stressed the candidate's competence in office and his successful efforts to reach out to a broad spectrum of groups throughout Maryland.

Mrs. Sauerbrey, the House minority leader from northern Baltimore County, is a true believer in the conservative cause and in making Maryland a two-party state. She overcame enormous odds to trounce the party's best-known elected official. Her campaign strategy was brilliant: She jumped into the GOP primary when Mrs. Bentley hesitated last year, lined up support from party workers, proved a tireless campaigner, shepherded her slim treasury wisely and jabbed effectively against Mrs. Bentley for her no-shows at over 40 forums, her close ties to Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer and her "liberal" congressional voting record (for a Republican) on certain issues.

The turning point came when Mrs. Sauerbrey adopted the "Christie Whitman strategy." Like the New Jersey governor, the Maryland Republican called for a major tax cut (24 percent) and pledged to return her first year's salary if she doesn't reach her initial goal. That proved to have magnetic appeal for Republican voters.

But will that approach also find favor with Democrats? Fiscal analysts deride the Sauerbrey plan as unworkable. But it worked once, and Mrs. Sauerbrey has the advantage of being a conservative Republican espousing dramatic change at a time when voters apparently are dissatisfied with the liberal policies of the Democrats in power.

Still, this could be another uphill fight. Mrs. Bentley, with a more centrist outlook, had a splendid track record in past elections of attracting Democrats to her camp. Mrs. Sauerbrey's rigid conservativism may not prove as effective.

Mr. Glendening, meanwhile, is well positioned to pick up support from traditional party strongholds in both the Baltimore and Washington regions. That's a tough combination to beat. Can Mrs. Sauerbrey win over Reagan Democrats in suburbia? Can she persuade a skeptical Democratic majority that conservatism is best for Maryland? Having already slayed one dragon, she has her sights on dragon No. 2. She thinks this will be "a watershed in Maryland." But Mr. Glendening is no pushover. His surprisingly strong showing yesterday illustrates the difficulty of the battle that lies ahead for the state GOP's new standardbearer.

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