In Sauerbrey commercials, it's morning in Maryland

October 08, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

REGULAR READERS OF this newspaper are faced with a choice in the current race for governor of Maryland: They can believe the latest poll showing Parris N. Glendening and Ellen R. Sauerbrey heading for a photo finish, or they can listen to an East Baltimore bookmaker, half a century in the business, who formally declared yesterday:

"Two-to-one, Sauerbrey."

He said this at a small lunch gathering that included a judge, a retired judge, a Baltimore County delegate, each of them lifelong Democrats, each of whom nodded soberly.

"Meaning," the bookmaker said, "on the street, you gotta put down $2 to win a dollar if you're betting Sauerbrey. That's how strong she is right now. The talk is all Sauerbrey, and right now she wins going away."

What we have here, aside from shades of thoroughbred racing parlance, is the powerful voice of instinct, culled not from computers translating numbers but from talk around street corners and neighborhood bars, and late-night conversations around kitchen tables and the bailing out of former political dependables, all of which combine in the movement of smart money. Glendening is beginning to exist mainly in the past tense, for reasons not entirely of his own doing.

There's a sense of mission in Sauerbrey's campaign lacking in the governor's, a notion that, four years after a single idea -- a 24 percent tax cut -- nearly brought her an enormous upset, her time seems to have arrived.

Some of this, Glendening understands. As he campaigned through the city over the weekend, traces of frustration etched his conversation.

"I know I've made mistakes," he said, walking along Little Italy's High Street. "And I've admitted them. But people have to look at this woman's record, too. I spoke at an African-American church this morning and talked about her record on civil rights. Can anyone imagine such a record in modern America?"

Included in Sauerbrey's history: She has voted against legislation barring discrimination in the workplace, against legislation barring race-based housing discrimination, against legislation to outlaw acts of violence based on sexual orientation.

Glendening said he listed all these things when he spoke in church that morning, and pointed out Sauerbrey's reaction -- she found it "troubling" -- when Glendening appointed Judge Robert Bell to head the state's highest court.

But Glendening, whose victory four years ago was sealed when he won a huge percentage of black voters, has heard the talk this time around: Many blacks might sit this one out. There's no specific issue moving them. Also, neither Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke nor Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry has energized local voters.

"I have to keep reminding people of her record," Glendening said. "And that's what I'm gonna do."

Four years ago, Glendening heavily outspent Sauerbrey. This year, she might outspend him. She's sinking big money into TV commercials, which brilliantly paint her in soft, gauzy tones, a sweet lady who remembers an adored father who was a "union" man.

The phrase is slipped into an ad to imply sympathy with working people. But it skips past Sauerbrey's legislative record on unions: She consistently voted against collective bargaining rights, including those for police, firefighters and state employees.

But those commercials are beautiful to see. There's Sauerbrey, surrounded by smiling children, talking about improving education. Wonderful. Is anybody BEGIN ITALS against END ITALS education? But here's a woman who once proposed cutting more than $300 million from school programs. Now, while talking of more money for the schools, she wants to cut taxes. Meaning, where's all this money coming from?

That's the beauty of television commercials. You make your case quickly, and the thing's over before anybody questions the details. Sauerbrey has voted consistently against gun control, against abortion rights, against fundamental bills on the environment. Glendening's ads hit her consistently on these; her ads say nothing in response. It's morning in Maryland.

Glendening has his vulnerabilities, which have been detailed during the last four years. While the state's in good shape, nobody connects him to the success. What's remembered are his financial lapses -- campaign money that was big and not always legal; the sweetheart pension deal; the mixed signals on slot machines at racetracks.

So we have two flawed candidates. Glendening, who knows he's not particularly trusted but keeps crying, "What about her?" And Sauerbrey, whose record should haunt her, only she has managed to keep the details out of voters' minds as we waltz into the final three weeks before election day.

Which is why, despite this newspaper's poll saying it's a dead heat, you can put down $2 on the street and get back only a buck if you bet on Sauerbrey and she wins.

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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