A virtual dead heat

November 10, 1994

For most candidates, the suspense ended many hours ago. But for Maryland's two contenders for the governorship, that relief doesn't come until today, when absentee ballots will either boost Democrat Parris Glendening's slim lead over Republican Ellen Sauerbrey or erase it altogether and hand her the victory.

Either way, Maryland voters have put both political parties on notice. This is no longer a reliably Democratic state. Give the electorate candidates with a clear message and an appreciation of the public's frustration with more-of-the-same government and voters will respond. It's safe to say that, whatever the outcome of this campaign, Mrs. Sauerbrey has put her stamp on Maryland politics.

She has also put her stamp on the Maryland Republican Party, which enters the next General Assembly still a minority, but with six more seats in the Senate and 15 more in the House. The Democratic victims included two legislative leaders, Sen. Laurence Levitan, the 16-year chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, and House Majority Leader Kenneth Masters.

The GOP's new strength in Annapolis also brings its share of challenges. Not least of these is whether it can refrain from re-igniting divisive, hot-button social issues like abortion, which have caused such grief for the national GOP. Too often, state Republicans have preferred to let ideology and intraparty squabbles squeeze out pragmatism. But if Republicans are to make the most of their election gains, they will have to speak with a reasonable measure of unity. That may be difficult for some of the more conservative candidates who were victorious on Tuesday.

As candidates and voters await the verdict in the governor's race, they can also ponder the challenges that lie ahead regardless of who ends up in the governor's office. Whether the next governor invests millions of dollars in infrastructure, education or other worthy causes, as Mr. Glendening promises to do, or whether state funds are earmarked instead for return to taxpayers, as Mrs. Sauerbrey intends to do, there will be huge pressures on the budget's bottom line. With voters in a virtual dead heat as to which alternative they prefer, the next governor will be treading carefully, whatever the final election result.

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