Glendening proves money isn't everything

October 06, 1994|By Frank A. DeFilippo

PARRIS GLENDENING is an accident waiting to happen.

The Democratic nominee for governor has the numerical advantage, all right, but he's one political scientist who's ignoring the advice of the world's best-known political consultant, Nicolo Machiavelli. Mr. Glendening's getting sloppy.

Machiavelli counseled his sovereign to avoid abrupt changes in character lest the people become suspicious. So what does Mr. Glendening do? He goes on the airwaves declaiming himself a "mainstream moderate" after 12 years as the high-flying liberal executive of Prince George's County.

And here's a candidate who promised to invigorate the somnolent Democratic party. So, fellow Democrats, get ready for another out-of-body experience. Harry R. Hughes is back as party chairman to sleepwalk us through another few years. Mr. Hughes was party chairman in 1969-70.

But sloppy is as sloppy does. And Mr. Glendening didn't think this hat trick through. Mr. Hughes is still on a lot of hit lists because of the savings and loan debacle during his hard-time as governor. Combine this appointment with the selection of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for lieutenant governor and a picture begins to emerge of what a Glendening administration would look like.

And, if that's not sloppy enough, how about Mr. Glendening poking President Bill Clinton in the eye for no good reason. His nomenclators said that Mr. Clinton would be unwelcome to campaign for Mr. Glendening in Maryland -- a state that delivered 50 percent of its vote to Mr. Clinton in a three-way race for president in 1992.

So what's happened to Mr. Glendening's well-lubricated campaign? Well, for one thing, he was knocked off stride by the upstart primary victory of Republican Ellen Sauerbrey, and he's had to move quickly, perhaps too quickly, to adjust his strategy.

Mr. Glendening had banked on campaigning against Rep. Helen Delich Bentley's lack of knowledge of state government. But GOP voters saw Mrs. Bentley as a reluctant candidate running for the wrong office and they told her to take a hike.

Now Mr. Glendening's panicking. He's up against a true-blue conservative Republican whose lean and mean anti-government message resonates not only with a lot of Maryland voters but also plays into the national Republican "contract" with the American people to revive Reaganism. The "contract" may be nothing more than a gimmick but, then, isn't all politics?

Right or wrong, Mrs. Sauerbrey opposes abortion and gun control. She favors cutting the income tax by 24 percent and downsizing as well as privatizing many government functions.

So here's Mr. Glendening's problem: Mrs. Sauerbrey's no Ellen-come-lately. She's a true believer who's been preaching the same stern economic message for 16 years in the House of Delegates. Mr. Glendening's been a "mainstream moderate" for about two weeks.

He may be correct in labeling her a right-wing extremist by attacking her positions on abortion and gun control. But her plan calling for less government spending has an emotional appeal that can't be undermined with factoids or by explaining the budget process. Mrs. Sauerbrey's running against government and Mr. Glendening's viewed as the candidate who's running in defense of government and even expanding its role. Wrong message, wrong year.

So in a sense, Mr. Glendening's trying to redefine himself between now and Nov. 8 and there just may not be enough turn-around time.

At another level, Mr. Glendening's being victimized by the very Democratic Party he wants to rebuild. But the party of the people is parting company.

State Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski is toying with the idea of endorsing Mrs. Sauerbrey. Lt. Gov. Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg hasn't been heard from since primary election night. And Gov. William Donald Schaefer has been critical of both Mrs. Sauerbrey and Mr. Glendening who have attacked his spending policies.

Some of Mrs. Sauerbrey's ranking Democratic cohorts in the legislature are undercutting Mr. Glendening by quietly helping her campaign in an effort to strengthen their own positions if she wins.

Mr. Glendening's scrambling to raise $2.5 million to finance the remainder of his campaign, and that's on top of the $3.4 million he raised for the primary election.

Judging from the latest polls, he'll need it. As if any further proof were needed that Mrs. Sauerbrey's pitch-perfect message has caught the ear of the voters, she's only 7 points behind Mr. Glendening in a state that's 2-1 Democrat.

It's almost as if whom the gods would destroy they first make the Democratic nominee for governor.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes on Maryland politics from Owings Mills.

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