Like it or not, '94 all over again? Rehrmann: With her withdrawal, rematch of Glendening-Sauerbrey seems all but assured.

August 11, 1998

EILEEN M. Rehrmann has clarified the election for Democratic voters by ending her primary campaign for governor.

Party faithful can now try to heal their self-inflicted wounds and support the incumbent, Parris N. Glendening, against likely Republican challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey -- or not. There is no third way.

For four years, some voters in both parties had hoped to avoid a rerun of the close 1994 contest. That one left a bitter aftertaste, with Ms. Sauerbrey graceless in defeat and Mr. Glendening bumptious upon taking office.

Some attentive voters believed that Ms. Rehrmann could become a better governor than Mr. Glendening, based on her impressive performances in eight years in the House of Delegates and eight years as Harford County executive. The two remaining primary challengers to Mr. Glendening have little appeal to any substantial group of Democratic voters.

On the Republican side, some believe that Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker is capable of appealing to a broader electorate than Ms. Sauerbrey and would govern better. His chance of winning the nomination, however, is not robust.

It is no secret that Mr. Glendening alienated some important and self-important people, the sort who expect to deal face-to-face with the governor. They are a small group, in numbers, but presumably influential.

Historically, Republicans win the governor's mansion in Maryland when Democrats are bitterly divided and put their worst foot forward. The September primary in nonpresidential years comes too late for healing before the general election in November.

A serious primary campaign against an incumbent is inevitably negative, and Ms. Rehrmann's certainly was. Too little-known to win herself, she might have made it impossible for Mr. Glendening to survive the subsequent onslaught of Ms. Sauerbrey, whom he currently leads in the polls.

Ms. Rehrmann ascribes her surrender to an inability to attract funds needed to make her message known statewide. Some insiders attribute this to the surprise entry of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer into the comptroller's race. Mr. Schaefer's contributions from longtime supporters reportedly dried up sources that might have been available for major candidates for governor.

This outcome is also a setback for Ms. Rehrmann's campaign manager, Larry S. Gibson, and the two proteges he brought into her fold, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore and County Executive Wayne K. Curry of Prince George's County. There is new tarnish on Mr. Gibson's image as a political magician, and on Mr. Schmoke's and Mr. Curry's sway over their constituents.

Ms. Sauerbrey is a formidable challenger who nearly won before and spent four years preparing to do better. She has lost the edge on the tax cut issue but compensated with a less strident and more inclusive appeal to the full spectrum of voters.

Democrats now know that if they want to head off Ms. Sauerbrey, they must do it with Mr. Glendening. If they are adamant that he must be replaced, it will be with her.

If significant numbers of Democrats harbored illusions of a third way, Ms. Rehrmann has disabused them.

Pub Date: 8/11/98

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