A new ad for Democrat Parris N. Glendening linking opponent Ellen R. Sauerbrey to evangelist Pat Robertson drew a blistering response yesterday from Mrs. Sauerbrey, who called it a "despicable" assault on conservative Christian voters.
In some of the harshest rhetoric of the gubernatorial campaign, the Republican said the commercial -- which says she is backed by "Pat Robertson's radical right" -- amounts to religious "bigotry."
"What's the message? That there's something wrong with someone with faith supporting a person in the political process?" Mrs. Sauerbrey said during an afternoon news conference in Silver Spring. "I think it's a contemptible ad."
The Glendening campaign defended the ad's message, saying voters need to be reminded that Mrs. Sauerbrey shares many of Mr. Robertson's political views, including opposition to abortion and gun control and support for government-funded vouchers to send students to private schools.
"Pat Robertson is an ultra-conservative who opposes in the strongest terms possible what Marylanders believe," said Eric Andrus, a Glendening spokesman. "Pat Robertson and Ellen Sauerbrey are to the far right of Marylanders."
Mr. Andrus said the ad was directed not at conservative Christians, but at positions both they and Mrs. Sauerbrey hold that are out of step with "most Marylanders of all religious persuasions."
Neither campaign disputes that Mrs. Sauerbrey, a Baltimore County delegate, appears to enjoy strong support from conservative Christians in Maryland. And the state branch of Mr. Robertson's Christian Coalition has put out literature showing she shares its views on important issues.
Although the fliers make no formal endorsement, they spell out the positions of the two candidates on six of the coalition's key issues, including abortion and gun control. The two candidates disagree on all six issues, with Mrs. Sauerbrey supporting the coalition's position in each case.
The Christian Coalition, founded by Mr. Robertson in 1989, is now seen as the major conservative religious movement. By energizing the fundamentalist Christian vote, it hopes to play a pivotal role in races for governor, the House and Senate on
Tomorrow, the coalition -- which claims 450,000 dues-paying members -- intends to distribute about 33 million of its "voter guides" through thousands of churches. Although the organization does not formally endorse candidates, Democrats say the guides are slanted to favor one candidate -- almost always the Republican.
Religion has been an issue in the race off and on all week, beginning with Mr. Glendening's comment to a mostly Jewish audience that Mrs. Sauerbrey's proposed cuts would hurt Jews and other Marylanders. That prompted a biting response from Paul H. Rappaport, Mrs. Sauerbrey's Jewish running mate, who called the comment "deplorable."
Campaigning later in the week, Mr. Glendening said his opponent's anti-Baltimore rhetoric would "pit African-American against Jew."
The two camps also traded salvos yesterday over Mrs. Sauerbrey's proposed 24 percent cut in the personal income tax cut.
In Mr. Glendening's corner was a group of 28 economists who asserted the cut would lead inevitably to slashed services or higher local property taxes.
"We should be under no illusion that we can continue the same level of services we've had in this state," warned Mahlon Straszheim, an economics professor at University of Maryland College Park and an adviser to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Later in the day, Mrs. Sauerbrey rounded up a handful of Montgomery County supporters in Silver Spring, including a young family, a retired couple and a self-employed insurance man, who said they relish the idea of a tax cut.
"If we could have some kind of tax relief, we could easily make ends meet," said Joseph Benedetto, a 35-year-old federal employee.