Money becomes big issue in governor's race

October 23, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

Standing before about 2,000 partisans at the Baltimore Convention Center Thursday night, Parris N. Glendening expressed his thanks to a crowd that had plunked down as much as $500 each to swell his already overflowing campaign coffers by an estimated half million dollars.

On Friday night, the Democratic candidate for governor was at it again. This time the setting was more intimate: La Colline, a chic Washington restaurant favored by Capitol Hill lobbyists. Cocktails, dinner and face time with the candidate, $1,000 a person.

The take that night was about $20,000, a hefty sum but a drop in the bucket for Mr. Glendening, who has become Maryland's perpetual-motion money machine as he barrels to fund-raisers large and small on his way toward a new state fund-raising record.

By election day, Nov. 8, Mr. Glendening is expected to raise and spend an estimated $6 million, including about $2.5 million for the eight-week general election campaign. Until this year, William Donald Schaefer held the record, raising about $3.5 million for the 1986 governor's race.

Some perspective: Mr. Glendening is a piker compared with Republican senatorial candidates Michael Huffington in California and Oliver L. North in Virginia, both of whom may top $20 million in their campaigns this year.

But that's small solace for Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Mr. Glendening's Republican opponent. She chose to accept public campaign financing, which limits her spending to slightly less than $1 million during the general election campaign.

Mr. Glendening thus stands to outspend Mrs. Sauerbrey 2 1/2 -to-1, on the face of it an enormous edge, although the Sauerbrey campaign has been putting on a brave front.

The candidate with the most money enjoys several advantages over his or her opponent, and a few disadvantages. On the plus side, the campaign can spend more on staff, pollsters and other consultants as well as on get-out-the-vote efforts.

The biggest advantage, however, has to do with television. Because he has more money, Mr. Glendening stands to command the airwaves in the final two weeks of the campaign.

"There is a big difference between $1 million and $2.5 million," said Bruce E. Mentzer, of Mentzer Media Services. "Television is the monster in all of this. It has to do with consistency and repetition. The campaign with more money can be on longer and be seen more often."

Mr. Mentzer, whose Lutherville firm buys radio and TV time for political commercials, said viewers need to see an advertisement four or more times for it to make enough of an impression for them to act on it.

"The more you see and hear it, the more it becomes part of your reality," he said. "What it boils down to in the governor's race is that the money enables the Glendening campaign to have more messages and to have them be recalled than the Sauerbrey campaign."

An advantage, but not an insuperable one, according to Brad Coker, of Mason-Dixon Political Media Research, which conducts public opinion surveys for The Sun and other news organizations.

"If you don't have a message that's sellable or resonates it doesn't matter how much advertising you buy," he said. "The message is more important than the size of the buy."

Carol Hirschburg, Mrs. Sauerbrey's communications director, agreed, insisting that the money gap was not as daunting as it might seem because Mrs. Sauerbrey's pledge to cut personal income taxes by 24 percent over four years has become the focal point of the campaign.

"We don't see it as a terrible disadvantage because our campaign is so message-driven," she said. "People are interested in the message, and it's created a lot of what we call in the trade earned media," meaning standard press coverage by newspapers, radio and television.

But, she conceded, "In a perfect world, we would be doing a lot more advertising than we're doing now."

Too much cash, on the other hand, can create a backlash among voters.

"There is a fundamental need for a candidate to have sufficient financial resources to communicate with the public," said Deborah Povich, of Maryland Common Cause, the self-styled citizens lobby. But, she added, "There is a level where the public can become uncomfortable and question whether a candidate is attempting to buy an election."

The Sauerbrey campaign is only too pleased to foster that perception of Mr. Glendening.

"I think the fact that he is selling his soul to special interests by raising $6 million is not a plus," said Ms. Hirschburg. "That's what people want to get away from."

Mr. Glendening, in an effort to show broad-based financial support, has said that he is backed by seemingly competing interest groups -- for example, developers and environmentalists, businessmen and labor unions -- and boasted that his campaign has received contributions from more than 14,000 individuals.

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