Conservatives oppose Neall for state Senate vacancy Lobby effort attacks GOP 'liberal moderate'

November 22, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Conservative supporters of Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who narrowly lost a bid for governor two years ago, have begun an aggressive lobbying campaign to undermine Robert R. Neall's candidacy for the state Senate seat left vacant by John A. Cade's death last week.

"Do we really need a latter-day Ted Agnew with intimate ties to the 'movers and shakers'?" wrote Arthur W. Downs, a Severna Park Republican, in his open letter to party members. "Such a person could be assured of big money in his campaign. The well-connected would go to bed early and sleep easily on election night in 1998. But what good would come of it to the average citizen?"

Through phone calls and letters to prominent Anne Arundel County conservatives, Republican activists are casting Neall as a "liberal moderate," a "go-along, get-along" conciliator with State House Democrats, who is seeking the seat once held by his mentor as a foothold for the 1998 governor's race.

The Anne Arundel Republican Central Committee will select Cade's successor Dec. 7.

The anti-Neall campaign puts party conservatives, who favor a more confrontational approach in dealing with the state's Democratic leadership, at odds with Anne Arundel's most powerful elected Republicans, who value bipartisan pragmatism and fiscal expertise over social policy.

"I have no dog in this fight," Sauerbrey said yesterday. "I'm not trying to be the political boss of Maryland or dictating to central committees anywhere."

She added: "In politics, you always have people who develop very strong interests in any election. But because someone has supported me does not automatically link them to me or how I feel."

County Executive John G. Gary has lobbied vigorously for Neall, who has pledged in writing to run for re-election in two years if appointed to the state Senate seat. County Councilman William C. Mulford II, an Annapolis Republican, endorsed Neall's candidacy yesterday.

The lobbying also highlights what Republicans can expect in the 1998 primary: a minority party with potential to self-destruct over whether its central mission is to be a legislative roadblock or constructive partner.

"People around the state are looking at Anne Arundel Republicans to get an idea of the party's direction," Downs said. "This is kind of the first indication of where the party may be going."

Neall, 48, announced Tuesday that he would leave the private sector after a two-year hiatus from elected office to seek the 33rd District state Senate seat held by Cade for 21 years. Few local Republicans expected Neall, a former House Republican leader and one-term county executive, to sacrifice his lucrative Annapolis lobbying practice -- with a client list including the Maryland Chamber of Commerce -- to pursue a $29,700-a-year Senate post.

The move pleased many local party leaders, who say Neall is the only local Republican with the State House experience, political shrewdness and fiscal expertise to fill Cade's shoes.

"I'm going to go through this process, which I respect," Neall said yesterday. "People have First Amendment rights."

Said Allen Furth, a member of the Anne Arundel Young Republican Club who opposes Neall: "As far as the grass roots is concerned, they want someone who is conservative in that seat."

The anti-Neall activists favor first-term 33rd District Del. Robert C. Baldwin, a Crownsville Republican, to serve the final two year's of Cade's term. The conservatives' second choice is Robert C. Duckworth, clerk of the Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

"I'm probably more Republican" than Neall, Baldwin said.

Despite Neall's longtime friendship and political association with Cade, Baldwin says the late senator's cause is his to take up.

"I'm looking for support within the local party because these are the people who I'm serving, who Jack was serving," he said. "Bob left politics for financial reasons. I'm surprised he's coming back in at a senator's salary. I would expect he has higher ambitions."

But Mulford said Sauerbrey's supporters are jumping to conclusions.

"They've completely ignored the fact that the Central Committee has a letter, with Bob Neall's signature on it, that says he's going to run for Senate," he said. "I'll match Bob Neall's integrity any day of the week against anyone's."

Riccardo Paradiso, chairman of the Republican Central Committee of Greater Annapolis, calls Sauerbrey "the future of our party."

"We conservative Republicans have to make a concerted effort on this," Paradiso said. "In the past, we have sat on our hands and waited to see what happens. That's come to a screeching halt. We're going to be banging on doors over this."

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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