Sauerbrey reintroduces herself in upbeat commercials Warm and fuzzy ads stress rowhouse origins

Campaign 1998

August 14, 1998|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's effort to remake her public image goes prime time today with a chipper new television ad showing her as a smiling, working-class candidate focused more on phonics than tax cuts.

These first Sauerbrey ads for the 1998 gubernatorial campaign start airing on two Salisbury stations today. They will soon appear in more expensive television markets, including Baltimore and Washington, said campaign officials, who declined to discuss the value of the air time purchased.

It's common for candidates to start with personal, upbeat ads. But the tone of Sauerbrey's reflects concern about her high negative poll ratings and the lingering uneasiness over her challenge of the 1994 election, a narrow loss to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"This is truth in advertising," said campaign spokesman Jim Dornan. "This is the real Ellen Sauerbrey."

To the strains of plucky piano music, Sauerbrey stands before the boarded-up Baltimore rowhouse where she grew up. "I'm Ellen Sauerbrey," she says. "Let me tell you a little about who I am and why I want to lead Maryland."

In the ad, she goes on to talk about crime, her "union steelworker" father and her experience as a high school biology teacher.

Sauerbrey is dressed in the same blue suit throughout -- and she smiles almost constantly. But the background images shift from the rowhouse, to the Bethlehem Steel plant to the Baltimore County high school where she taught.

"Thanks for listening," she says as the 60-second ad winds down. An announcer concludes, "From a working-class family, she became a schoolteacher, legislator, leader. Ellen Sauerbrey, the integrity and independence to put Maryland first."

The ad also notes the steep decline in jobs at Bethlehem Steel over the past several decades and suggests job growth in

Maryland is stagnant. "We need to cut taxes and reduce bureaucratic regulations," she says.

In the ad, Sauerbrey does not revive her call for a 24 percent tax cut, instead promising 1,000 new teachers, smaller classes and phonics-based curriculums in elementary schools.

Glendening spokesman Len Foxwell took issue with the suggestion that the governor has not done enough to create jobs. "The fact of the matter is that this administration has created a historic record of accomplishment in job creation," Foxwell said.

The tone of the Sauerbrey ad is warm and fuzzy, following the conventional wisdom that candidates should build up positive images early in a campaign. Attacks are generally saved until the final weeks before an election.

Sauerbrey has a commanding lead over her GOP primary opponent, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, and has turned her attention to Democrat Glendening, who painted her as a dangerous, wealthy, right-wing extremist in their 1994 battle.

Sauerbrey damaged her image by challenging her narrow loss. In a recent poll for The Sun and other news organizations, nearly half of likely voters said they were bothered by her handling of that defeat.

"She has to come out of the box and make herself a little more likable than last time," said GOP media consultant Bruce Mentzer, who has no client in the Maryland governor's race. "This time they have the time and money to do it."

Pub Date: 8/14/98

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