Ecker's campaign manager quits Departure seen raising speculation GOP run for governor is ailing

Campaign 1998

June 30, 1998|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

The campaign manager for Charles I. Ecker has quit, leaving the Republican gubernatorial hopeful with a critical void at a time when some party leaders are growing skeptical of his chances in the race.

Geyer Wise, 28, said she plans to pursue job offers with campaigns nearer her home in the New York City area. "I've had a great time in Maryland," she said. "Chuck Ecker is one of the finest people I've ever met."

Wise's departure -- coming the week before Monday's state filing deadline -- is certain to increase speculation that Ecker's campaign is ailing, though he said yesterday that he plans to stay in the race.

"I think I'm the best candidate, and I think it's a doable race," Ecker said. "People tell me they don't want the same choice they had the last time."

The nominees in Maryland's 1994 gubernatorial election -- Democrat Parris N. Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey -- are their parties' front-runners again this year.

Monday's filing deadline -- when candidates must submit official papers to get on state ballots -- is a time when weaker candidates typically decide whether to push on to the election.

Ecker, the Howard County executive, is trailing badly in fund-raising, in support from party activists and in several recent polls taken in Maryland. Even in Howard, few top Republicans are backing Ecker. Some that are say they are disappointed in his campaign.

"I'm discouraged that the campaign does not seem to be gaining momentum," said former Howard GOP Chairwoman Joan Athen, a longtime Ecker ally.

Staff shake-ups are common in politics. Glendening fired his campaign manager in May. "It's not unusual for campaigns to go through some changes," said GOP consultant Kevin Igoe, who is not working for either Republican candidate.

Ecker hired Wise, who had worked in Texas politics, in January to handle the day-to-day operations of the campaign. Yesterday, he praised Wise and said he plans to hire a new manager -- possibly from within the campaign.

He has built his challenge to Sauerbrey on his credentials as a two-term county executive and longtime school administrator in Howard.

He also has portrayed himself as a more moderate, electable Republican than the conservative Sauerbrey. He has the support of two of the party's moderate leaders -- state Sen. Robert R. Neall of Anne Arundel County and former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley.

But Ecker's support in his home base of Howard County is slim. In a county where a majority of elected officials are Republican, only two County Council members and the state's attorney are backing Ecker's bid for governor.

The weakness extends to the party activists on the county's Republican Central Committee. Not one of the nine members has publicly endorsed Ecker, said Howard GOP Chairman Louis Pope. "At this point, he has not shown enough strength across the state to show he's electable."

Ecker also has struggled to recruit a running mate -- something he needs to get on state ballots. "It's sort of tough," he said. "I think everybody has trouble getting a lieutenant governor."

Because of his moderate credentials, Sauerbrey seriously considered selecting Ecker as her running mate, say campaign sources. But he showed no interest in the job, and she selected another moderate, former U.S. attorney Richard D. Bennett.

Lesser-known candidates such as Ecker have particular trouble raising money. He said yesterday that he wasn't sure his campaign would qualify for public funding. A candidate must raise at least $150,000 in private contributions of $250 or less to qualify.

Public funding can offer up to $750,000 in matching funds -- enough to bankroll some of a television ad campaign.

Supporters are hoping something changes Ecker's fortunes soon.

Pub Date: 6/30/98

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