Candidates silent on gambling Campaign: Opponents in governor's race aren't talking about their formerly stern stances against slots and casinos.

The Political Game

October 13, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

IN THE DAYS and months leading to the general election campaign of 1998, Gov. Parris N. Glendening's favorite words seemed to be "No slots. No casinos. No exceptions."

He said them over and over at every opportunity. His mantra of opposition to gambling had been adopted at a time when he was criticized for waffling on various issues. His "No, No, No" seemed likely to become a staple of the fall.

But, suddenly, there is near silence on that issue from both sides.

Glendening's opponent, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, opposes casinos with equal ferocity, though she leaves the door open slightly to slots at racetracks.

"Slots would be a tremendously hard sell for her," said her spokeswoman, Carol L. Hirschburg. "But there is so much information about the state of the racing industry that's not going to be available to us until Ellen is governor she refuses to rule it out completely."

Said Glendening's spokesman, Peter S. Hamm: "She's tried to have it both ways. She ought to just say no, but she's looking for financial contribution from the gambling interests."

Sauerbrey told The Sun recently that she has received no contributions from gamblers that she is aware of. But that could change: Bill Paterakis, son of John Paterakis -- who is widely believed to covet gambling privileges for his Inner Harbor hotel -- will soon hold a fund-raiser for her at his home.

If anyone is vulnerable to criticism on the gambling issue, Hirschburg said, it's Glendening.

"Parris during the past couple of years took a stand against gambling because he wanted an issue upon which he could seem principled," she said. "But his credibility is suspect because he's the person who turned Prince George's County into Las Vegas East."

When Glendening was county executive, Prince George's had a full complement of civic and charitable gambling venues, many of which were run by volunteer fire departments, hoping to pay for firetrucks and the like.

As governor, Glendening refused to approve legislation that vTC would have extended his home county's gambling license. Having had the advantage of the gambling revenue, his critics said, Glendening then cut it off to make his point against gambling.

Aside from the rhetoric, both campaigns might have underlying strategic reasons for playing down the issue in the general election campaign.

Voters in Glendening's base, and even in the electorate at large, might not be as opposed to slots at the tracks as he says he is.

A poll taken this summer for The Sun and other news organizations found that a majority of registered voters oppose slots. But when they are informed that slot machine proceeds could be earmarked for education, support widens.

A poll taken this year for the racing industry found that the link between education money and slots is especially appealing among black voters, Glendening's core constituency, the folks he most needs to energize.

Sauerbrey, too, might be muting the discussion, in her case in deference to her supporters in the Christian Coalition, who fervently disapprove of gambling. Leaving even the slightest opening for slots might not be the best way to keep these Republicans loyal.

Hamm says Glendening still raises objections to slots, particularly when he's campaigning in black churches.

Yesterday, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, headed by the Rev. Douglas I. Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church, put up a radio ad alleging that Sauerbrey would let the casino/slots industry have its way if she were elected -- an allegation her camp shoots down.

"Outrageous," said Hirschburg.

Voters more sophisticated than pundits on ads

A new poll conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania finds that voters are more sophisticated than political observers when dissecting what is "negative" and "bad" about political advertising.

Pundits, reporters and academics tend to lump all political ads that attack an opponent's position under the universal term "negative," but the poll finds voters are making finer distinctions: They prefer two-sided contrast ads to the one-sided attack version, the survey of 2,000 Americans found. That is, they like ads that show differences between candidates on policy issues vs. those that merely attack.

They particularly dislike attacks that use inflammatory language, preferring civil, evenhanded language. They also dislike attacks on an opponent's personal life, preferring policy-based criticism.

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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