JOHN G. GARY'S decision to accept the designation as co-chairman of Ellen R. Sauerbrey's gubernatorial campaign may not seem a big deal to casual observers, but it is an important political statement.
By supporting Ms. Sauerbrey's candidacy, the Anne Arundel County executive has signaled to his followers that the Republican Party's moderate wing should mobilize behind her candidacy and should not try to challenge her in next year's GOP primary.
As long as Mr. Gary was uncommitted, potential candidates from the party's center such as Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker and state Sen. Robert R. Neall could appeal to those voters and campaign workers who like Mr. Gary's pragmatic style of governance.
Running as a moderate in Maryland's Republican statewide primary is an uphill task. The party's conservative wing usually gets its candidate nominated. By endorsing Ms. Sauerbrey so early, Mr. Gary has made it tougher for a moderate to gather sufficient support to assemble a credible organization.
Appointing Mr. Gary to a prominent position in her campaign may not sit well with some of Ms. Sauerbrey's most ardent supporters, however.
Many have not forgiven his remarks last year that during his time in the state legislature he spent considerable time "keeping Ellen from going over the deep end." These true believers, who have stuck with Ms. Sauerbrey since her upset primary victory in 1994 over Helen Delich Bentley and through her subsequent court battle over disputed returns in the general election for governor, don't brook any criticism of their candidate, even from Mr. Gary.
The quote that got Mr. Gary in hot water was spoken in defense of Mr. Neall, who had been under a sustained attack from the most conservative faction of the party.
Mr. Gary's announced plans to build alliances with GOP moderates in Montgomery County, one of the three jurisdictions that Ms. Sauerbrey lost three years ago, has probably also salted old wounds. Because Mr. Neall, and, to a lesser degree, Mr. Gary are willing to forge political alliances with Democrats to pass legislation, they are suspect among Ms. Sauerbrey's most vociferous supporters. Dealing with these partisans will be Mr. Gary's challenge.
Pub Date: 1/28/97