Sauerbrey hones appeal to women Some female voters take second look at retooled GOP hopeful

October 01, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Seeking to overcome distinct skepticism among women voters, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey is making her second run for governor of Maryland on issues of proven concern to women -- and poll numbers suggest they may be taking a second look at a candidate they spurned four years ago.

"The issues that I care about appeal to women," she said, "particularly the issue of education and making sure that children have the ability to attend schools that are safe and effective.

"These are not just a woman's issue, but issues that every woman is very concerned about."

Four years ago, her Democratic opponent, Parris N. Glendening, had all the best of the contest for the hearts and minds of women, taking a clear majority of their votes.

His success mirrored a tendency of women to support Democrats over Republicans nationally, a dynamic referred to as the "gender gap."

Sauerbrey has worked diligently to reverse the flow, speaking constantly about failures in the state's classrooms and raising questions about crime -- issues that repeatedly register as being of deep concern to women.

While Sauerbrey's 1998 campaign has been based on the contention that she can lead Maryland more forcefully than Glendening, she recently has taken steps to emphasize her role as this campaign's woman candidate.

When Glendening hired a new media consultant, for example, Sauerbrey quickly went on the radio with ads saying the new man specializes in "vicious attacks against female candidates."

In recent days, she has addressed the problems of working women and spoken admiringly of well-known Maryland figures such as Bea Gaddy, Baltimore's advocate for the poor and homeless; state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick; Mitzi Perdue, a journalist and wife of poultry magnate Frank Perdue; and Mary Beth Grempler, a highly successful area Realtor.

Yesterday she introduced American Red Cross President Elizabeth Hanford Dole to a banquet room full of predominantly female Realtors gathered for a conference called "Women in Leadership."

"As you might imagine," Sauerbrey said to her audience of several hundred, "this is an issue I have a great deal of interest in."

Though she has not sought to exploit a "first woman" advantage, Sauerbrey would be Maryland's first woman chief executive if she is elected.

Glendening camp responds

The Glendening campaign predicts, not surprisingly, that her pursuit of support among women will fail.

"This is a governor," said his spokesman Peter S. Hamm, "who has made a commitment as governor and throughout his public life to be inclusive of women; who supports a woman's right to choose fully; who talks about his No. 1 vision for how government should treat people as just, fair, inclusive and compassionate; who worked hard with the legislature to pass health insurance for 60,000 children and thousands of pregnant women; and who supports responsible gun control, which women voters overwhelmingly agree with."

Still, evidence is growing that Sauerbrey's efforts have at least been effective enough to get many women voters to reconsider the Baltimore County Republican seriously.

"If you look at 1994," said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research, which has conducted polls for The Sun and other news organizations, "women were the cornerstone constituency for Glendening to build upon.

"These were the upper-educated, working-full-time, African-American women who were the group solidly with him."

But the polls show Glendening has lost much of that advantage -- and Haller thinks he could lose more of it.

In polls conducted by Potomac for The Sun over the past several months, Sauerbrey's support among women increased from 34 percent of a sample in July to 42 percent in September.

At the same time, Glendening's support among women -- critical to his election in 1994 -- appeared to be falling: from 53 percent in July to 46 percent in September.

Impressive survival

Among women voters who say they may take another look at Sauerbrey was Carol Weiskittel of Chase, who said Sauerbrey's survival and growth have impressed her.

"I'm very anxious to hear what she has to say," Weiskittel said at yesterday's luncheon for Dole, the wife of former U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate Bob Dole.

"I think her campaign is very different from the last one, and I'm glad to see that. She's trying to stay focused on the issues. I'm glad to see her in this light."

"I think she'll be a great leader," said Diane Marsiglia, whose realty firm is based in Lutherville. "I have a lot of respect for her. I was disappointed at what she did after the last campaign. But I think she's grown a lot."

The abortion question

Some have wondered whether Sauerbrey's opposition to abortion has depressed her support among women, but not Haller: "There is a fundamental miscalculation that somehow women are either monolithic or without differences in viewpoint or that they are an automatic progressive Democratic vote that can be counted upon by the Glendening forces."

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