See Chuck run Howard County: Ecker running cable commercials early to build name recognition.

January 27, 1998

HOWARD COUNTY Executive Charles I. Ecker has swapped his tortoise shell for rabbit's feet. His opponent in the Republican race for governor, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, left the starting blocks four years ago, and has not slowed since, criss-crossing the state to build on the name recognition that would satisfy most incumbents.

If Mr. Ecker hopes to catch Mrs. Sauerbrey, who narrowly lost the 1994 general election for governor, he needs to energize a campaign that has mirrored his low-key personality to date. He is stepping up the pace by launching cable television commercials long before most voters think seriously about the race.

A 30-second spot that began airing last weekon CNN and other cable channels displays sheep running across a field. It cautions Republicans against following the flock, a reference to GOP voters lining up behind Mrs. Sauerbrey.

The executive, who casts himself as a candidate who wants to bring together divided communities, is shown with children and adults, blacks and whites. All seem fascinated by whatever he is saying. The voice-over touts his "proven record of success" and promises that he will create "a better Maryland." Tailored to the GOP, the campaign ad warns, "For Republicans, knowing which way to go is important."

Mr. Ecker's ads might seem premature. The primary is eight months off, and the two-term executive is spending more than one-third of his campaign's treasury, or $40,000, on eight weeks of ads to run spots on cable TV in Baltimore and Washington suburbs.

But such an early campaign is not unprecedented. In the race for a U. S. Senate seat in New York, Democratic Rep. Charles Schumer has already began running television commercials attacking Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, although he first will face a tough primary.

It is true that Mr. Schumer's well-funded campaign can afford to run commercials from now until Election Day while Mr. Ecker is in dire need of campaign money, but the executive's effort needs a spark.

Though Mr. Ecker has a whole campaign season ahead of him, he has to narrow the gap between himself and Mrs. Sauerbrey to catch her at the finish line. This cannot happen without Republican voters getting a good look at him.

Pub Date: 1/27/98

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