Discreet Applause, Please, for the Losers

September 25, 1994|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Before the memory of September 13 vanishes, let us honor those who also ran.

Here's to the vanquished, those who lost in the Maryland primary and must relinquish their hopes for high public office. Helen Bentley. Ruthann Aron. American Joe Miedusiewski. Mickey Steinberg. Mary Boergers. Ellie Carey. Jim Moorhead. Connie DeJuliis.

They tried, and failed. But at least they made the effort. They provided the competition that is so crucial to American democracy. What would voters do without them?

Mrs. Bentley's defeat was the biggest shocker. Yet it had become evident a few weeks earlier that Ellen R. Sauerbrey had her campaign clicking on all cylinders while Mrs. Bentley's campaign vehicle resembled an Edsel in need of a valve job.

Those who register Republican in this state are truly committed voters. Why else would they give up the chance to participate in the Democratic primary, where the overwhelming majority of Maryland races are decided? They believe in Republican principles and in candidates who are true to their cause.

To them, Mrs. Sauerbrey was a hero, and Mrs. Bentley -- despite two decades of relentless service to the state and national GOP -- was a turncoat who dared to collaborate with the enemy.

Outside her congressional district (primarily Baltimore and Harford counties), Mrs. Bentley's dogged constituent service and determination to help build the Republican Party was largely unknown. When she said, ''Elect me because of my record,'' these voters were puzzled.

Even more troubling was her lack of knowledge of state problems. She spent the entire campaign in the dark, adopting a ''Rose Garden strategy'' by spending most of her time on Capitol Hill. By the time she realized that strategy was failing, it was too late.

The Bentley defeat marks a generational change in Republican politics. It also marks the end of the liberal-moderate wing's dominance in the Maryland GOP -- the party of Mac Mathias, Glenn Beall Jr., Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, Gilbert Gude. All that's left of this wing are Reps. Connie Morella and Wayne Gilchrest. Sauerbrey conservatives are poised to recapture the state GOP.

Ms. Aron is a different story. She was in the GOP Senate race strictly to seek revenge on incumbent Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who had dared to ignore her requests for a meeting when she and her developer friends had a problem they wanted to discuss with him.

She was new to politics and it showed. She tried to win the GOP nomination by making ex-Sen. Bill Brock a proxy for Mr. Sarbanes. Then she threw mud at him. She never bothered to tell voters why they should vote for her, only why they shouldn't vote for Bill Brock. That's not good enough.

Jim Moorhead had the same problem. He thought he could buy the comptroller's office by shouting ''corruption'' in his ads. But incumbent Comptroller Louie Goldstein hasn't been corrupt. Mr. Moorhead dredged up old, discredited stories. It was a pathetic campaign with the challenger trying to sully the reputation of an 81-year-old legend. Voters are smarter than that.

Messrs. Steinberg and Miedusiewski and Ms. Boergers deserved lose the Democratic race for governor. Their campaigns fell short.

Mr. Steinberg's effort was chaotic and disorganized; he micromanaged everything to death. His good qualities were never well displayed.

Mr. Miedusiewski's novelty wore off too soon. He had a conservative, thoughtful message but he never made an impact in suburban Washington. If you're going to win statewide, you'd better have a message that curries favor statewide.

The same problem did in Ms. Boergers. She was a regional candidate, who never made the transformation from a Montgomery County pol to a statewide pol.

She had hoped for a feminist tidal wave of support as the only woman in the Democratic race (and with the only all-female ticket) but so many females have been elected in Maryland for so long (Holt, Byron, Mikulski, Bentley, Spellman) that voters gave her pitch little notice.

Ms. Carey waged a valiant fight but was defeated by the same thing that cost her victory in 1986 -- a three-way race instead of a two-way race. She also never mounted a campaign that was visible enough to overcome the advantages enjoyed by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran. The big question now: Will Ms. Carey adopt her own ''two strikes and you're out'' policy?

Ms. DeJuliis at the outset seemed to have a good shot at upsetting favored Gerry Brewster for the Democratic nomination the 2nd Congressional District. But she never mastered the national issues. She ran as a blue-collar mom who understood family concerns. That wasn't nearly enough. Mr. Brewster at least knew the issues. He squeaked by with 1,800 votes to spare.

Some of these folks may resurrect their political careers. Others will not. The individual with the most immediate shot at a comeback is Mr. Miedusiewski. He ran so well in Baltimore in this race that he could easily become a popular candidate in next year's city races. As a running mate with Mayor Schmoke? Stranger things have happened.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun. His column appears here each Sunday.

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