Conspiracy theoreticians are having a field day. Both Republicans and Democrats are getting in on the act.
To hear them tell it, there are dark forces at work in Maryland.
The Republican demonology portrays Democrats as the source of all corruption and malevolence. The Democratic version pictures Republicans as the Dark Side of the political spectrum intent on gaining ascendancy by wrecking the existing power structure.
Let's begin with the Sauerbrey Theory of Election Fraud -- more commonly known as the ''We Wuz Robbed'' school of thought.
Ellen Sauerbrey refuses to admit she lost the gubernatorial election of 1994. She finds it odd that she was ahead until 11:30 election night -- before votes poured in from Democratic strongholds. Every glitch in the voting is viewed as part of a vast conspiratorial web.
Even the fact that some polling places in Baltimore didn't open on time because Republican election judges -- her own supporters -- failed to show up is proof positive that someone was conspiring against her.
Even the fact that a longtime Republican worker and Sauerbrey loyalist took home some documents from the ''Election Inquiry Fund'' office was deemed grounds to suspect him of being in cahoots with Mr. Glendening.
The police were called in. The Sauerbrey conspiracy theoreticians spread the word that a ''spy'' had been discovered.
Paranoia is running rampant.
The Sauerbrey lawsuit makes sweeping accusations -- with no facts to support her charges. Even her lawyers concede they couldn't find evidence of a Glendening ''plot.''
And yet her supporters are convinced there was a conspiracy. ''Fraud's everywhere,'' said one dedicated volunteer seeking out Democratic wrongdoing.
But if that's true, how was the fraud perpetrated? By whom?
No one in the Sauerbrey camp has come forth with proof. She risks being laughed out of court if she can't present a more plausible, documented case.
''This is not about politics,'' Mrs. Sauerbrey said at a made-for-TV campaign-style rally to celebrate the filing of her lawsuit. ''This is about the power of the people to seat their rightful governor.''
Not about politics?
Yeah, and Newt Gingrich and the Republican National Committee are bankrolling her challenge because they want the best candidate to win, regardless of affiliation.
This challenge is all about politics. To the marrow. There's not one aspect of this challege that isn't wrapped in political strategy and Republican ideology.
At best, the improbable could happen and a judge crowns Mrs. Sauerbrey governor. At worst, Parris Glendening is sworn in as governor and the Republicans start a four-year drive to unseat him under the slogan, ''We Wuz Robbed.''
A defeat in court is in line with the Sauerbrey conspiracy theory. Democrats appointed the state judges, who ruled against her. The judges are registered Democrats. Democrats appointed the local election-board members, who ruled in favor of the Democrat. Democrats defended the state in court against her allegations. And Democrats will do anything to retain power.
And if you lose in court? Then discredit everything Democratic, even the election process itself. Anything to persuade more Marylanders that Parris Glendening symbolizes corrupt politics.
The syllogism runs like this: If all elected officials are crooks, and all top elected officials in Maryland are Democrats, ergo, all corruption in government is caused by Democrats and Governor-elect Glendening.
But there's another conspiracy line in vogue. Let's call it the Glendening Theory of Pure Evil -- or the ''They're Out to Get Us'' hypothesis.
In this construct, the Sauerbrey protests amount to a public-relations ploy. Negative, dirt-throwing campaigning is the new Republican style, a la Newt Gingrich. The objective: Make Mr. Glendening and Democrats look like crooks -- even if there is no evidence.
Wage a public-relations campaign that portrays Mrs. Sauerbrey as the ever-outgunned underdog and Mr. Glendening as the fat-cat, corrupt pol trying to deny citizens their fundamental rights.
The Democrats expect Sauerbrey forces to drag out the court protest till the eve of the inauguration.
Then they believe Republicans will charge into state and federal courts for an injunction to stop the swearing-in ceremony. The idea is to seize the headlines and media attention, discredit the new governor's integrity and hammer home the point that the underdog was somehow denied justice.
It makes for great photo ops and pro-Sauerbrey news stories that put Mr. Glendening on the defensive, explaining why he isn't a crook.
And if the courts decline to intervene? Next stop: Capitol Hill, where a pliant Rep. Bob Ehrlich wants to hold hearings on the infamies of the Maryland election. What a Republican circus that would be: A TV extravaganza portraying the defeated Republican as a martyr to the cause.
What a great way to start the ''Sauerbrey for '98'' gubernatorial campaign!
Paranoia, it seems, is running rampant in both political camps.
Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun. His column appears here each Sunday.