Tight race for governor seen in Nov. PRIMARY ELECTION RESULTS 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, Doug Birch, Peter Jensen, Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

As Democrats and Republicans chose their candidates for governor yesterday, Maryland braced itself for what could be the most competitive battle for the State House in nearly three decades.

The face-off will pit Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening -- who was headed for a convincing primary victory -- against one of two veteran women legislators from Baltimore County who were locked in an election night battle that drew close only in the final days of the campaign.

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the pre-election favorite, was struggling last night to beat back the 11th-hour charge of Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican leader of the Maryland House.

Mrs. Bentley, a 70-year-old former newspaperwoman and 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 over the years.

On the surface, the strongly conservative Mrs. Sauerbrey, 57, resembles earlier party stalwarts who have won GOP primaries but displayed little general election appeal.

But Mrs. Sauerbrey, if she were to win the nomination, would have demonstrated the ability to mount a strong, well-organized campaign against a better-known foe with greater financial resources, making predictions of her quick political demise risky and premature.

She 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.

Pre-election polls matching Mr. Glendening against Mrs. Bentley produced dead heats until the most recent, late last month, when the Prince George's County executive for the first time outpaced the five-term congresswoman, 43 percent to 37 percent.

Mrs. Sauerbrey seemed such a long shot until the last few weeks that no independent pollster matched her against any of the Democrats.

The Democratic advantage

Mr. Glendening begins the general election campaign with a 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 staggering victory also propels him into the general election race with enormous 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.

Mrs. Bentley is not any Republican. An enormously popular figure in her vote-rich Baltimore County political base, she seems as much at home at a Democratic bull roast in blue-collar Dundalk as at a GOP women's club lunch in tony Ruxton, perhaps even more so.

If nominated, she could benefit from her long friendship with the incumbent Democratic governor, William Donald Schaefer, with whom she shares strong pro-business sentiments and who despises Mr. Glendening, as he does most of the other candidates who had hoped to succeed him.

A double-edged sword

An overt show of support by Mr. Schaefer for Mrs. Bentley could be a double-edged sword. He remains popular in much of Baltimore City, where he reigned as mayor for 15 years, but in his second term he has generated great hostility in some parts of the state.

At the same time, because of his longtime relationship with the Baltimore business community, he retains the ability to raise substantial amounts of money for the candidate of his choice.

The governor refused to disclose his campaign plans yesterday, but hinted broadly that his heart belongs to Mrs. Bentley, as it did to the Republican incumbent president, George Bush, in 1992.

"I voted for a Republican in the last election and my vote's looking smarter and smarter, isn't it?" Mr. Schaefer told reporters as he cast an early morning vote at his West Baltimore precinct. "It's important to have someone you have faith in. . . . It's a tough job."

Mrs. Bentley or Mrs. Sauerbrey, like Mr. Glendening, would be the survivor of a fractious primary battle and would have to unite an even more polarized party. More importantly, the winner will have to extend her appeal to Democrats in the Washington suburbs, notably populous Montgomery County, where the race may well be decided on Election Day.

The state GOP, hoping to salve the wounds of months of intraparty strife, plans a unity brunch today in Annapolis for all statewide candidates, winners and losers.

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