Democrats wait to see if challenger emerges Rehrmann prepares run against Glendening from her Harford County post

Campaign 1998

September 03, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Now that Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin has completed his torturous journey to non-candidacy, Maryland Democrats must endure yet another period of waiting and watching to see if someone else dares to challenge Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"This guy hasn't gotten any better because Ben decided not to run," said one of those leading the search for an alternative.

First among the alternates is Eileen M. Rehrmann, the Harford County executive who announced in May that she would challenge Glendening. Yesterday, she sought to use Cardin's withdrawal as a foil.

"I've been known as a decision maker," she said, suggesting Cardin was not. She said Cardin's decision would have no effect on her own plans: "I said we'd put together a statewide campaign and we've been doing that all summer."

But does she have the voter base or the political alliances that would allow her to borrow someone else's base -- in Democratic Baltimore, for example, or Prince George's County where strong Democrats like her style?

Analyst Keith Haller said: "It's sort of unimaginable to me that Rehrmann will be able to run a serious statewide campaign in a Democratic primary. Her base is outside the area where Democratic votes reside. It would be very difficult to even write it on paper as to how she designs a winning campaign."

But Rehrmann is not taken lightly.

"There are many of us," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Glendening backer, "who have high hopes that Eileen Rehrmann will run for the vacant state Senate seat in Harford County." Miller's package would have Cardin back in the House, Rehrmann running for Senate and all right with the Democratic world.

Will someone else step forward with a base of his own, access to big campaign dollars and a willingness to risk a year's battle with the incumbent?

Party stalwarts such as Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland hope the answer is "no." They hope Cardin's departure will be the end of any serious talk of toppling the party's incumbent governor. Hoyer made no secret of his opposition to a race by Cardin, one of his long-time Democratic colleagues and a personal friend.

"I think it would have been a very difficult campaign," Hoyer said. "Many of Ben's advisers were counseling him that the only way to win was with a negative campaign. It's not in Ben Cardin. He's a very ethical and high-minded individual."

With Cardin out, though, many elected officials -- particularly those regarded as "marginal," or vulnerable to Republican opponents -- must work even harder to sell the party's accomplishments.

"I'm sure there are still some people who will have to come to terms with the top of the ticket," said Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat. "But a number of the marginal people no longer feel that way.

"The governor had a good legislative session this year, and Democrats have a very important record that we've established collectively: a personal income tax cut, a tax cut for manufacturers, a prepaid tuition plan, a Baltimore city school settlement and a record amount of money for school construction and repair in Baltimore County.

"We just have to move on, trying to point at who did this and say, 'We did it.' "

And hope that will be enough to offset Glendening's low approval rating in the polls.

Cardin said his pollsters were unable to pinpoint what it is that keeps Glendening down. The governor's partisans think speculation that he will be challenged by someone with Cardin's stature has made it more difficult for Glendening to "move his poll numbers up."

Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, of course, will do all she can to keep him down -- and Cardin's decision can only help her.

"As I looked at the possibility of Ben running, I realized that if he won a primary, he would potentially be a fairly clean slate for most people," Sauerbrey said. "He doesn't have the record that has people so turned off with the current governor."

Democrats continue to hope that Sauerbrey, who almost defeated Glendening in 1994, cannot possibly do better this time.

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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