Glendening looks for a jump-start Democrats alarmed by GOP momentum

September 19, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Laura Lippman and William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

Ranking Maryland Democrats, worried that Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey has seized the momentum in the early days of the general election campaign, acknowledged yesterday that they must generate fresh enthusiasm for Gov. Parris N. Glendening or risk losing the party's 30-year grip on the State House.

Sources within the Glendening camp say they have been caught off guard by Sauerbrey's ability to dominate the debate and, in particular, push aside discussion of some of her conservative positions that Democrats contend are out of step with the majority of Marylanders.

"This party's got to be energized," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat.

And former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the Democratic nominee for comptroller, said he warned Glendening months ago that he must do more to publicize his State House record.

"I think his worst nightmare is if people don't come out" to vote, Schaefer said. "I told him, 'You've got a good record, but you never bothered to get it out.' "

In recent days, Glendening has fired his media adviser and has begun filming new, sharper campaign commercials to replace ones that many Democrats found to be fuzzy and ineffective.

In coming weeks, even stronger commercials will be aired, though they will stop short of full-blown attack ads, campaign sources said.

In addition, the campaign said yesterday that it has added some experienced operatives to the governor's paid campaign staff, and is planning a series of policy announcements beginning next week to try to recapture the political spotlight.

"The governor is going to be aggressive. We are going to control the debate," said Peter S. Hamm, the Glendening campaign spokesman.

"If Ellen Sauerbrey thought she was going to be the only person talking, she's in for an awakening."

Rally in Highlandtown

Last night, Glendening led a rally of top state Democrats in Highlandtown that was designed to develop political synergy by linking him to veteran Democratic vote-getters such as Schaefer and U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

Addressing the rally, which attracted about 200 political operatives and union members to a half-empty union hall in the heart of blue-collar Baltimore, Glendening made clear that he will stress ideological differences with Sauerbrey and the common goals he shares with Democrats such as Mikulski.

"This is going to be a real battle," Glendening told the crowd, with a commercial camera crew recording his every move. "This team is going to run on its record; other people are running against their record."

After the rally, Glendening said that the campaign is going "exceptionally well."

But, privately, other Democrats are worried that the governor has been on the defensive too often in recent weeks -- responding to Sauerbrey's tax cut plan for retirees, for example, or churning controversy in Democratic circles by distancing himself from President Clinton and his troubles.

This week, Glendening had to watch as Sauerbrey won the endorsement of Melvin A. "Mickey" Steinberg, the Democratic former lieutenant governor, and basked yesterday in the glow of fund-raising help by former President George Bush.

'Not out in front'

"The Glendening campaign is not out front on anything," said Donald F. Norris, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor who closely follows Maryland politics. "They're responding to her. She's controlling the campaign momentum."

Some Democratic officials have been urging Glendening to move aggressively to focus voters' attention on the record Sauerbrey had as a state legislator -- her stands on issues such as the environment, abortion, gun control and education funding.

"I think they're going to have to begin comparative advertising immediately," said Senate President Miller.

"Ellen Sauerbrey is going to call it negative advertising, but the truth has got to be made known about her 16-year voting record in the House of Delegates."

The Glendening campaign has declined to outline its strategy for advertising, but sources said "comparative" ads are planned.

The ads will contrast Glendening's four-year record with ZTC Sauerbrey's voting record in the Assembly.

But to avoid turning off voters, the commercials will not mount harsh attacks on her, said sources familiar with the strategy.

"Once we get her record out, there goes whatever momentum she has," said state Democratic Party Chairman Peter B. Krauser.

Meanwhile, Mikulski and others are urging party stalwarts to work harder to make sure Democratic voters go to the polls on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Complicating that effort is the fact that besides Glendening, no major Democratic official appears to face a major Republican challenge.

"What we need to do is make sure we get out the vote," Mikulski said last night.

"There is an increasing bloc of no-shows nationwide. It's up to the Democrats to focus on getting out the vote."

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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