Republican governor in waiting Sauerbrey's dilemma: Will she move toward center of conservative movement?

June 23, 1996

IN 1994, Ellen R. Sauerbrey lost the closest race for governor in recent Maryland history. Now she is getting ready for another try. There was lingering bitterness in the Republican camp after Ms. Sauerbrey lost her challenge in court shortly before Parris N. Glendening took the oath of office, but she seems to have finally left that behind.

A second Sauerbrey-for-governor campaign, though, would be markedly different. She will be running against an incumbent, which is never easy. Public ire toward the Democratic Party has subsided. Republicans remain the minority party here by a 2-to-1 margin. While a promise to give voters a 24 percent income-tax cut nearly got her elected in 1994, this may not be the burning issue of 1998.

Some Republicans worry Ms. Sauerbrey may still be regarded by undecided voters as too far-right. The candidate scoffs at this notion. Still, Democrats tagged her with that label in 1994, and it worked.

The best way to overcome this is for Mrs. Sauerbrey to enunciate policy positions that clearly place her in the mainstream of the conservative movement. That may anger some of the highly vocal enthusiasts who have rallied around Ms. Sauerbrey. But if she is serious about broadening her appeal, a centrist conservative stance would have its advantages.

What happened in Virginia can't be ignored, either. The far right, led by Oliver North and the Christian Coalition, rose up in righteous fury against Sen. John Warner in the Republican primary recently. But GOP voters decisively favored a mainstream conservative and re-nominated Senator Warner.

Maryland isn't nearly as conservative as Virginia. Its state GOP organization still has a pragmatic chairman in Joyce L. Terhes. Besides, Ms. Sauerbrey doesn't need to prove her conservative credentials; she has to establish her bona fides as a flexible, practical thinker on government issues.

It is encouraging that state Republicans have a well-known candidate for governor willing to campaign for the job over the next 29 months. While winning the nomination is no certainty, Ms. Sauerbrey is far ahead of any potential challenger, both in fund-raising and in committed supporters. But to be fully competitive, Republican candidates for statewide office must contest the political center. That is Ms. Sauerbrey's challenge.

Pub Date: 06/23/96

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