Ecker backs Feaga in race Schrader, GOP rival for county executive, begins TV campaign

June 05, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

County Executive Charles I. Ecker endorsed Council Chairman Charles C. Feaga last night for the Republican nomination for executive, giving Feaga a boost as his primary battle with Councilman Dennis R. Schrader kicks into higher gear.

The Republican-vs.-Republican campaign, unfamiliar in a county that was once a Democratic stronghold, started heating up this week when Schrader launched the first barrage of television advertising to improve the first-term councilman's name recognition.

Ecker's endorsement of Feaga, while not a surprise, is more kindling for the anticipated GOP firefight.

Ecker made the announcement at a fund-raiser for Feaga in Clarksville, where the West Friendship farmer more than tripled his campaign bank account by raising more than $75,000.

"He knows Howard County, he's been here forever," Ecker said last night, touting Feaga's experience on the council. "I'd be proud to leave the county to a guy like Charlie Feaga."

In an earlier interview, Ecker contrasted Feaga and Schrader, saying, "Dennis just does not have the experience that Charlie has."

Feaga, a three-term councilman who has endorsed Ecker's GOP bid for governor, said the endorsement gives his campaign "a shot of adrenalin."

"He is well-liked in the county, and I have worked with Chuck very, very well and like the way he operates with people," Feaga said. "It's an endorsement that I treasure." Schrader shrugged off the news, saying he expected it after he backed Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Ecker's Republican opponent in the governor's race.

Schrader suggested that backing from the two-term county executive could hurt Feaga.

"Chuck and Charlie are joined at the hip on growth, they're joined at the hip on the trash tax and they were joined at the hip on not giving the schools the money that they deserved," said Schrader, whose campaign is built in part on controlling growth and ending the residential trash collection fee. "Our campaign has got the issues right."

The winner of the Republican primary likely will face Democrat James N. Robey, the former county police chief, in the general election for county executive.

Focus on qualifications

Schrader does not delve into the issues in his first television advertisement, which is airing locally three times a day this week on CNN, ESPN and the Arts and Entertainment channel.

The ad also was shown during two Orioles games on Home Team Sports.

The 30-second spot highlights Schrader's experience as a hospital executive, his service in the Navy and his four years on the council, playing up what will be a cornerstone theme of his campaign: qualifications.

"This fall, Howard County will elect a new county executive, and no candidate is better-qualified than Dennis Schrader," the announcer says, with the same words lighting up the screen to begin the commercial.

"We're the underdog in this race and, you know, we need the name recognition," said Schrader, referring to Feaga's 12 years on the council.

Schrader said, though, that his polling suggests he is pretty much even with Feaga on name recognition: "The polls are actually optimistic, but Charlie's been around a while."

Schrader, who said he has raised $125,000 toward a goal of $150,000 for the primary race, plans to continue airing the ad for several weeks, said an adviser, Columbia pollster Brad Coker.

Schrader spent more than $700 on this week's advertising and likely spent a few thousand dollars to produce the ad, though the campaign wouldn't provide a figure.

Last night's fund-raiser put Feaga at roughly $110,000. He said he is not concerned that Schrader has started airing television spots. He plans to start airing his next month.

"I've always waited until the last two, 2 1/2 months for campaigning," Feaga said. "We're counting on the fact that we think we have good name recognition."

Pub Date: 6/05/98

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