Will a 'sore loser' image haunt Sauerbrey in '98? Effort to overturn '94 result bothers many voters, poll shows

July 27, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

It was a grab bag of sensational claims: Dead people voted. Inmates cast ballots. Across the state, tens of thousands of votes were illegal, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey charged after her narrow loss in the 1994 election.

But in court, Sauerbrey's effort to overturn the election of Gov. Parris N. Glendening fizzled. Investigations by state and federal authorities uncovered no conspiracy or significant voter fraud, although there was evidence of sloppiness.

Today, her questioning of the integrity of the 1994 election and aggressive assault on the results pose a potential problem for Sauerbrey, who is making a second run for the State House.

A recent poll found that nearly half of likely voters are still bothered by her actions, and Sauerbrey acknowledged that the matter may be the single biggest concern about her candidacy this year.

But according to people who have discussed the matter with Sauerbrey, she is still convinced that the 1994 election was seriously flawed.

In an interview, Sauerbrey took a long pause when asked if she believes that Glendening won a fair election.

"I don't I'm not going to answer the question," she said. "You're trying to put me in the box again."

Continuing, Sauerbrey said: "Parris Glendening was the winner. He was elected. The issue now is what kind of job has he done over the four years."

During a weeklong trial in January 1995, Sauerbrey sought to overturn the gubernatorial election she lost by a mere 5,993 votes.

In court, her headline-grabbing assertions were never substantiated. There was, it turned out, no reliable evidence that votes had been cast in the names of dead people or of inmates.

In the end, Sauerbrey's strongest evidence was that 1,800 people in Baltimore had voted who should not have been eligible -- because of a foul-up by the city elections board.

But even after a judge ruled against her, she remained defiant.

"This election was stolen and the ballots were stuffed," she declared at trial's end.

Many Marylanders seemed to have had enough, and Sauerbrey was tagged with an unfortunate nickname: "Ellen Sourgrapes."

At the same time, many ardent Sauerbrey supporters clung to the belief that the election had somehow been stolen by a Democratic political machine.

Suspicions persist

That feeling persists among many.

"The little guy out in the hinterlands believes she was wronged," said Daniel J. Earnshaw, a Sauerbrey backer who was heavily involved in the effort to prove voter fraud.

A group in Cambridge presented Sauerbrey with a stuffed ballot box last year, Earnshaw noted. And "Re-elect Sauerbrey" bumper stickers pop up routinely at Republican Party events.

The sentiment has even spread outside Maryland.

Syndicated radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate notoriety has said on the air that the 1994 election was stolen. And some out-of-state political figures, including 1996 GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes, make barbed references to the 1994 results when they come into the state to stump for Sauerbrey.

Earnshaw and others said they are certain that she still believes the election was tainted.

But Sauerbrey has urged her backers over the past three years not to raise the matter this time around. On the campaign trail, she has tried to ignore the issue.

Asked about the matter, Sauerbrey acknowledged that she made "mistakes" after the last election, but would not be more specific.

"I never had been in that kind of situation before and it was a learning experience for me," she said last week. Sauerbrey said she probably would not have pursued the court case had she known how hard it would be to put her voting fraud evidence before a judge.

But with polls indicating that her actions then may still be hurting her chances, Sauerbrey said she will have to consider dealing with the issue again as the campaign progresses.

"I know obviously that it continues to bother people," Sauerbrey said. "I think it is the single largest concern that people feel about me. Obviously, that troubles me."

Democrats like issue

Democrats would love to have her election challenge emerge as an issue.

"The American people have traditionally rejected sore losers," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat backing Glendening. "These charges were so outrageous. People who make such outrageous claims shouldn't be in the governor's chair."

Sauerbrey's case was "a complete fabrication," said Bruce L. Marcus, the attorney for Glendening during the election challenge. "She has never apologized to the courts or to the citizens for her action."

But Earnshaw, who practices law in Harford County, said Sauerbrey would make a mistake by apologizing or declaring that she no longer believes the results were tainted.

"She's being pulled by her political advisers saying: 'You've got to run as far away from it as possible,' " Earnshaw said. "I think if she believes she was wronged, she should say she was wronged."

Pub Date: 7/27/98

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