Become a Marylander till I was 36, so I should...

I DIDN'T

September 22, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

I DIDN'T become a Marylander till I was 36, so I should know better than to get into an argument over state politics with (1) Barry Rascovar and (2) Peter Jay, who are a native (1), and a resident since he was five (2). They might do to me what Paul Sarbanes is about to do to Bill Brock.

But I must say I found their columns on the page opposite last Sunday sort of dreamy.

Barry admitted that Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey faced a real challenge in running as a promoter of "hard-core conservatism," but then predicted that she "could ignite the first big conservative trend in statewide politics since the days of John Marshall Butler."

Peter, after reminding readers that he is a "Reagan Democrat" (i.e., hard-core conservative), said, "the road to November looks like it's still bending to the right."

It's going to take a lot of bending. John Marshall Butler last won election in 1956. And that was for the Senate. The last conservative Republican to win the governorship was, depending on how you define conservatism, Harry Nice (1934) or Phillips Lee Goldsborough (1911).

Spiro T. Agnew was the last Republican governor elected (1966). Some people think of him as a conservative, but he was, in fact, the liberal -- or at least the progressive -- in that race. (You could look it up: "Spiro Agnew's America" by Theo Lippman Jr., W.W. Norton, 1972.)

The other Republican governor of Maryland this century was Theodore McKeldin (elected 1950, 1954). He was no conservative, either. "I'm really a Democrat," then-Mayor McKeldin explained to me my first day on the job at The Sun in 1965.

That was then, this is now? Sauerbrey can take no comfort in that assessment. This state is still pretty liberal, and when it comes to governors, Marylanders still don't care for Republicans. In the six elections since Agnew, the Republican candidates have averaged 32.3 percent of the vote in November.

Not only that. Jimmy Carter won here twice (1976, 1980). Ronald Reagan only broke even, winning in 1984, losing in 1980. Bill Clinton won in 1992, getting a higher percentage of the vote here than in any other state except Arkansas.

Furthermore, the Democratic ticket that Sauerbrey is running against includes Senator Sarbanes, who got 62 and 63 percent of the vote in his last two outings.

Furtherermore, she will have only a half or a third the $$$ her opponent, Parris Glendening, has to spend in the next six weeks. That means he will define her for most voters. Probably as Mrs. Attila the Hun. (Or should that be "Hon"?)

Furtherestmore, she is counter the trend on two of the hottest-button issues in state politics: guns and abortion. Sauerbrey voted against handgun and abortion bills that, after passing the General Assembly, were petitioned to referendum -- and were endorsed by the public at large by landslide margins.

Is she wins, it won't be a bend in the road. It'll be a hairpin curve.

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