The Guv finds a philosophical soul-mate

February 25, 1996|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE de GRACE -- The gubernatorial benediction recently bestowed on Connie Galazzo DeJuliis' congressional candidacy in Maryland's Second District has been described as routine. It wasn't. It was an early shot fired in a high-stakes political war.

Without even waiting for the Democratic primary, in which Mrs. DeJuliis has an opponent, Gov. Parris Glendening has put the squeeze on his herd of contributor-cows for $1,000 donations to her campaign. He is weighing in early on her behalf, he explains, because they share a political philosophy.

Whatever that philosophy is, beyond a common compulsion to get elected, the governor must have just discovered his affinity for it. It didn't occur to him to give Mrs. DeJuliis special help in the congressional primary two years ago when she was running against Del. Gerry Brewster, who beat her but lost to Robert Ehrlich in the general election.

Now, though, Mrs. DeJuliis has suddenly become much more important to the governor. The reasons are more down-to-earth than political philosophy, or a shared distaste for Newt Gingrich. They show that in this rescue operation, it's hard to say who's throwing the life-preserver to whom.

Mrs. DeJuliis is the candidate of organized labor, to which the governor has pledged about everything but his socks and T-shirt. She's from Baltimore County, which voted against him in 1994 and where he desperately needs help. And most important of all, she's his last hope for somehow derailing Congressman Ehrlich, the strongest of all the potential Republican challengers to his candidacy for re-election in 1998.

If Mrs. DeJuliis could defeat Mr. Ehrlich this year and knock him out of the 1998 picture entirely, her victory would obviously be worth many times whatever it costs the governor. But such a victory is unlikely; Mr. Ehrlich handily defeated Mr. Brewster in 1994, and he's much stronger now than he was then.

Realistically, what Mr. Glendening hopes to get for his investment in Mrs. DeJuliis is a more modest return. He wants her to do well enough to keep the vote close, forestalling the kind of Ehrlich re-election landslide that could fuel a gubernatorial candidacy two years later.

A decorous silence

Right now, of course, Mr. Ehrlich is decorously saying nothing about any such candidacy. He's only a freshman congressman, and he's enjoying life -- and his growing influence -- in the new Republican majority in the House. It would seem precipitous, and pushy, to be talking about running for governor before he's even won a second term.

But he like everyone else can see that Mr. Glendening -- elected while losing every county outside the Washington beltway -- is politically the weakest first-term Maryland Democratic governor of modern times. Like Bill Clinton he's an accident of history, a '70s politician holding office in the '90s.

That's one reason Mr. Ehrlich, even as he runs for re-election, is making plenty of speeches around the state, far from his district. He knows there will be an opportunity for some aggressive Maryland Republican to return Professor Glendening to his university classroom in two more years. He's not predicting he'll be the one, but the governor certainly thinks he will be.

This time around, the Republican nominee probably won't come from the legislature.

Though the GOP minority in the General Assembly has grown larger and stronger, there is no Republican in Annapolis today with the energy and stature of former minority leader Ellen Sauerbrey, against whom the dead Democrats of Baltimore helped Mr. Glendening gasp to the narrowest of victories in 1994.

Mrs. Sauerbrey would no doubt like to run for governor again herself, but there's a sense in Republican circles that her moment for that has passed. As her own political instincts are as sharp as anyone's, she's likely to recognize that, too.

Other options

She does have other 1998 options, however, which might make a decision not to run again for governor a little easier for her. She lives in the Second District and could run for Mr. Ehrlich's seat, if he were to seek another office. Or she could run for the U.S. Senate against Barbara Mikulski.

There are three other Republican members of Congress from Maryland, of course, all senior to Mr. Ehrlich and all with established strength in their own districts. Each should be re-elected this year. But none appears likely to venture into a statewide contest. The 1998 nomination is Mr. Ehrlich's, if he wants it.

Unless, of course, he's sufficiently damaged by Mrs. DeJuliis -- which explains Mr. Glendening's new-found fascination with this rather conventional Democratic politician's hazy philosophical beliefs.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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