GOP executive primary generating record cash Schrader, Feaga total could reach $300,000

June 25, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

The two Republican candidates for county executive are topping off their cash tanks for what promises to be the most expensive primary race in county history.

In the last big primary fund-raisers, first-term Councilman Dennis R. Schrader hopes to raise more than $20,000 tonight at a function at Ellicott Mills Brewing Co., and 12-year council veteran Charles C. Feaga is looking for a similar amount at his July 11 event.

After the money has been counted, the candidates will have raised close to $300,000, far more than was spent by all candidates in the 1990 county executive campaign and about as much as the two main executive candidates in 1994 spent on their campaigns.

The campaign checks are big this time because the stakes are equally sizable: Unlike in 1990, when Republican Charles I. Ecker won his low-cost primary and then upset incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Bobo, the winner of the Republican primary could be considered the favorite in November.

"Past Republican primaries never generated this kind of money, because nobody ever took the Republicans seriously," said Columbia pollster Brad Coker, who is advising Schrader. Now, he says, "Being the Republican in the general election is drawing the inside position on the track. The primary could go a long way to determining the winner."

Much of the nearly $300,000 Schrader and Feaga are amassing will be spent in their battle to be the party's nominee this fall. With 15,000 to 20,000 Republican voters expected in the Sept. 15 primary, the two candidates' combined primary spending will likely range from $10 to $15 a vote.

The campaigns cost so much more because the county has grown so large -- the number of registered voters has more than doubled in two decades, to more than 125,000 -- that modern tactics such as polling, consulting and television advertising have virtually become necessities to win major countywide races.

Polls can help pinpoint what issues matter to voters, but they can cost anywhere from several thousand dollars to $15,000 each. Television ads cost several thousand dollars each to produce and hundreds of dollars a week to put on the air. The paid consultants who interpret the polls, make the television commercials and advise the candidates can cost thousands of dollars more.

The growth in population also escalates the cost of printings and mailings, which often are the most expensive parts of Howard campaigns, ranging from several thousand dollars for a highly targeted mailing to as much as $20,000 for a countywide mailing.

Schrader, a 45-year-old hospital executive who is expected to run the more sophisticated of the two campaigns, is making use of all this expensive help. He has conducted polls, and he launched his first television ad this month. He plans to spend $150,000 on the primary race alone, and another $150,000 on the general election, if he wins the nomination.

Schrader hopes to have the $150,000 he needs for the primary after tonight's fund-raiser, which is a $100-a-person affair, preceded by a $250-a-person VIP reception.

Feaga and his unpaid political advisers, meanwhile, are calling theirs the truly conservative, traditional campaign -- even though the 65-year-old farmer expects to have raised as much as $130,000 after his July 11 fund-raiser.

Feaga hired a media consultant recently who has begun work on the campaign's first television commercial, which is expected to air on cable by late July or August, but Feaga doesn't plan to do any paid polls. He sounds confident that he'll win the primary while spending less than $100,000 and using less sophisticated tactics.

"I've always done my own polls by the people I talk to and the people I see and what I hear, and I feel pretty good," Feaga said yesterday. "I'm a conservative, so I hope that I'm spending wisely, and I know that I have a lot of campaigning to do after the primary."

Meanwhile, the one announced Democratic candidate for executive, James N. Robey, has been keeping an eye on the Republicans' fund raising. Roughly $10,000 of the $40,000 he's raised will go to his first poll, to be conducted in about a month, and he is considering whether to do television advertising before the Republican primary race is over.

But the former police chief knows he must spend a lot more money to win in November. He figures he'll need $200,000.

"If my opponents are going to raise that kind of money, I've got to be competitive, and I've got to buy as much air time for name recognition, and mailings, all the other things that are required for this kind of campaign," Robey said.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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