Ecker's odds Governor's race: Howard chief counts on fiscal skills, jobs record to overtake Sauerbrey.

October 30, 1997

LONG ODDS don't scare Charles I. Ecker. He proved that seven years ago when he surprised virtually everybody by winning the Howard County executive's race against a Democratic incumbent. Now the moderate Republican faces another uphill campaign, against Ellen R. Sauerbrey, for the GOP's gubernatorial nomination.

At the moment, Ms. Sauerbrey is entrenched as the heavy Republican favorite, having narrowly lost the governor's race in 1994. Already, some Republican moderates have drifted into her conservative camp, hoping to be with a winner in 1998.

But Mr. Ecker, having successful run Howard County for two terms, disagrees strongly with many of Ms. Sauerbrey's ideological views about government. He feels only a centrist Republican stands a chance at defeating incumbent Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the likely Democratic nominee. He also knows from experience that pragmatism works better in practice than a partisan, philosophically driven approach.

To win, Mr. Ecker must draw his party toward the center and he must greatly increase Republican registration among independents. His conservative fiscal record is a definite asset, as is his success at luring corporations, and jobs, to Howard County.

He also can take heart from the record of underdogs in Maryland gubernatorial elections. Harry R. Hughes was termed ''a lost ball in high grass'' in 1978, yet he rolled over better-known opponents to become governor. And Ms. Sauerbrey proved that decided underdogs can win Republican primaries, too: She played David to Rep. Helen D. Bentley's Goliath in 1994 and won a decisive victory, only to lose in the general election by just 6,000 votes.

Could it happen again? Mr. Ecker knows that in politics, there is no such thing as a sure bet.

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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