With Bennett, Sauerbrey broadens her base and looks good doing it CAMPAIGN 1998

June 21, 1998|By Barry Rascovar

INTRODUCING the new, improved Ellen Sauerbrey!

She's undergone a makeover. She's trying to expose her softer side. And she has picked a running mate who is a pragmatic, middle-of-the-road Republican.

This hardly resembles the "extremist with a far-right agenda" denounced by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, her likely foe in November, at his kickoff rallies last week.

Indeed, just as Mr. Glendening tries to resurrect his campaign rallying cry from four years ago -- that Ms. Sauerbrey is a dangerous, unyielding, conservative zealot -- the Republican front-runner undercuts these assertions by choosing moderate attorney Richard D. Bennett as her running mate.

Ms. Sauerbrey appeared positively gubernatorial in inching toward the political center. She didn't resemble a rigid fanatic at all. In picking Mr. Bennett, she is clearly sending a message to centrists and independents that she understands the need to include their viewpoints.

What a dramatic turn for Ms. Sauerbrey. The Bennett selection is playing well in key suburbs such as Montgomery and Baltimore counties -- and in Baltimore City, where Mr. Bennett once lived and ran for state Senate.

These are crucial battlegrounds. If Ms. Sauerbrey faces Mr. Glendening in a November rematch, she has to improve her vote totals in the city and Montgomery and maintain her 1994 primacy in Baltimore County.

Mr. Bennett helps her in all three subdivisions. Indeed, when he was the GOP's candidate for attorney general four years ago, he proved more popular than Ms. Sauerbrey in Montgomery, running 2.4 percentage points ahead of her. He's a Montgomery-style candidate, after all: Liberal on many social issues but a law-and-order conservative.

Mr. Bennett helps Ms. Sauerbrey within the party, too. She has reached out to the moderate arm of the GOP, which had been alienated since the bitter 1994 primary. A unified GOP, with its growing voter registration base, could prove formidable if Democratic divisions persist.

Still, Ms. Sauerbrey has a long way to go to convince centrist voters and undecided Reagan Democrats that she's no zealot.

Her most fanatical supporters want a Governor Sauerbrey to fire all Democratic officeholders, smash social programs to smithereens and slash state taxes.

To overcome the notion that she shares those views, Ms. Sauerbrey must get specific on what her administration would look like:

* Will she spend new money to support education or will she

simply push to privatize as much schooling as possible?

* Will she pursue jobs for Maryland through attractive tax incentives and grants, or will she view such programs as "corporate welfare" and eliminate them?

* Will she create drug treatment programs or end state funding of health-care programs because they are a "local matter"?

* Will she see her primary role as shrinking the size of government, regardless of the social and human costs?

She'll have to come up with detailed answers.

Meanwhile, Governor Glendening has had little success stifling dissent within his party. Two long shots, Terry McGuire and Raymond F. Schoenke Jr., have been cheerfully bashing the governor for alleged deceptions, dishonesty and dumb decisions.

Mr. Schoenke could prove nettlesome: He intends to spend $2 million of his own money, much of it on last-minute advertising.

Moreover, the governor's major opponent, Eileen M. Rehrmann, seems eager to attack the governor's policies while her running mate, former Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer, hits Glendening's veracity.

Hovering over this Democratic race is the criminal probe of ex-Sen. Larry Young and possible tie-ins to higher-ups in the Glendening administration. If the grand jury acts before September, the question of integrity -- not competence -- could bTC prove decisive.

And beyond the primary, there's no guarantee Democrats will unite behind the governor. A major concern is Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. If the mayor sits out the general election or gives the governor lukewarm backing, it helps Ms. Sauerbrey.

Given the mayor's recent harsh comments, it might prove

difficult to patch things up. The mayor might find it easier to begin talks with Ms. Sauerbrey through Mr. Bennett, whom he has worked well with in the past.

Neither front-runner has an easy road. Each faces difficult obstacles. Mr. Bennett's inclusion on the Sauerbrey ticket could change the dynamics for both camps.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial page editor for The Sun.

Pub Date: 6/21/98

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