Candidate Ruppersberger happy in Towson for now

March 12, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Anybody want to be governor of Maryland? Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger says he's not ready - not this week anyway - but he nevertheless gazed upon the happy throng that strengthened his political campaign war chest by maybe $250,000 Tuesday night at Martin's West and declared:

"I've decided to announce tonight I oops, wrong speech."

Ha, and ha. It's an open joke that Maryland Democrats are getting nervous about Parris Glendening, and a lot of them have begun mentioning Ruppersberger's name with a certain inevitability in a Democratic primary for governor - even though Ruppersberger's officially raising money merely for a Baltimore County re-election shot.

Many don't think Glendening, with his low popularity and his well-charted lapses of integrity, can hold off Republican Ellen Sauerbrey this time around. Plus, they're nervous about some of the other potential Democratic candidates.

They're not taking Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann seriously, even though she's got the mad plotter Larry Gibson working for her. They're not certain if House Speaker Casper Taylor's been hurt by that Western Maryland land deal. They've lost the possibility of Rep. Benjamin Cardin, who decided he didn't have the stomach to run. And they refer to Ray Schoenke as Ray Who?

Schoenke, the former pro football player who's declared he wants to be governor, strolled around Ruppersberger's big fund-raiser the other night, mainly unnoticed. But as more than a dozen big-time pols from around the state (conspicuously not including Glendening) gathered on stage, Schoenke pointed to Cardin and said, "This was a lay-down for him. A lay-down. Against this governor? Cardin lays down and still gets elected."

But Cardin's withdrawal grants all kinds of possibilities to other candidates. Months ago, when he was pondering a gubernatorial run, Cardin asked several county executives for public endorsement. The timing was wrong. They all liked Cardin, but they had to face this legislative session in Annapolis, when the governor decides which way to spread large amounts of money.

Wait until after the session, they told Cardin. Let me get money for my county, they told him, and then I can endorse you. But Cardin decided he couldn't wait.

So those like Ruppersberger reap the political benefits. Glendening's ready to make nice to Baltimore County, bestowing lots of state money there in hopes of not only winning votes but persuading Ruppersberger to stay where he is. But when the session's over next month, Ruppersberger's still got ,, time to think about challenging the governor.

Is there enough time? Not many voters outside the Baltimore metro area know Ruppersberger, but it's an age of instant communication. Does he have enough money? He's already got far more than Ellen Sauerbrey had three years ago, plus a lot more deep pockets waiting for a signal that he's ready to run. Does he have enough base support?

"Everybody talks about 'voter-rich Montgomery County,'" one Ruppersberger backer said over the din at Martin's West. "What about 'voter-rich Baltimore County?' Montgomery County's got about 250,000 voters, but Baltimore County's got about 235,000. And Montgomery County ain't exactly in love with this governor."

Ruppersberger's consistently maintained he's happy being Baltimore County executive. But he's also approached every day by people urging him to take on Glendening. That's very intoxicating. He also knows this governor has serious image problems that could worsen now that federal investigators have subpoenaed his financial papers.

Three years ago, Ellen Sauerbrey nearly took Glendening's head off. She had no money, little name recognition and a lengthy legislative career so sparkling that there still aren't three people in the state who could tell you what she ever did. She almost became governor anyway.

This time around, she hasn't got quite the same hot-button issue as three years ago - a huge tax cut - because Glendening's made cuts of his own. But she's been campaigning nonstop for three years, and most people know her and imagine they know what she stands for.

This, too, is a little ironic. Many in her party worry that Sauerbrey's too conservative for Maryland voters. That's what drew Howard County's Charles Ecker into the Republican race.

So Sauerbrey's spent months trying to soften her image, trying to edge toward the political mainstream. But it's troubled some moderate Republicans that she's invited Ollie North, the poster boy for right-wing bad behavior, to speak for her at a fund-raiser this spring.

All of which opens the large middle of the road for those such as Ruppersberger, who has the best of all worlds. A nervous Parris Glendening is getting ready to send big money to Baltimore County. And, when that's done, there's time for Ruppersberger to ponder a State House run of his own.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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