Sauerbrey, Glendening dial for more dollars Donations to finance flurry of TV ads in last days of campaigning

October 17, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith and William F. Zorzi Jr. | C. Fraser Smith and William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

With the race for governor of Maryland exceedingly close, Dick Hug has expanded his fund raising for Republican challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey -- by calling givers who have tended to back Democrats.

"How'd you like a little insurance?" Sauerbrey's finance chief begins.

"Insurance? What kind of insurance?" they ask.

"Election insurance," he says.

Potential contributors catch on quickly: If Sauerbrey wins, prudent businessmen may wish to say they backed her. Asked in jest, Hug's question usually draws laughter -- and sometimes a check. Often, though, it's just the prelude: Big givers want to hear from the candidate.

So with less than three weeks to go in the race -- amid all the other demands on them -- Sauerbrey and Democratic incumbent Gov. Parris N. Glendening are spending considerable time dialing for dollars, urging the wealthy to help finance a final-days blitz of television commercials.

Both candidates readily concede their role in this process, though Glendening hesitates to provide details. "We don't go through a discussion of our fund raising, never have," the governor said. "It's kind of an internal process."

But, say sources familiar with Glendening's operation, the governor's finance staff wants him on the phones at least 15 hours a week -- an average of three hours a day during the workweek -- calling potential contributors.

He works from a "call sheet" that includes the names of prospects' spouses, interests or affiliations -- something to personalize the call or motivate a gift.

"We're ahead of schedule in terms of money," Glendening said in interview this week, but he declined to say how much money he's raised. "We need just enough money to make sure that we have one more vote than our opponent."

Both candidates' telemarketing efforts will almost certainly result a Maryland record for fund raising in a gubernatorial contest. Given little hope of winning in recent decades, Republican candidates for governor of Maryland have raised relatively little money -- thus a new overall record won't be hard to create.

Glendening spent $5.3 million in 1994, exceeding the previous single-candidate record of $3.5 million set by William Donald Schaefer in 1986. Sauerbrey spent just $1.8 million, most of it public funds. In the two gubernatorial races before that, dating back to 1986, the GOP candidates raised virtually no money at all.

This year, it appears, the two candidates combined could raise and spend $10 million or more.

Both candidates claim they have found ways to remove the awkwardness from a chore that most politicians dislike: political panhandling. Sauerbrey tries to plan her calls around larger, formal fund-raisers planned for potential givers' communities. Glendening tries to find givers among groups who support his policies.

In a bit of a twist, Sauerbrey is finding her effort to put more commercials on TV is helped by the commercials she's already running. "Often," she says, "the first thing I hear is,'Your ads are great! I love your commercials!' That gives me an opportunity to say, 'Do you have any idea how much it costs to run these things? I really need your help.' "

Already, Sauerbrey has surpassed her financial goal for this campaign. She set a target of $4 million -- a figure she and her advisers hoped was not unrealistic. Privately, several of them shook their heads negatively when the $4 million figure was presented about a year ago.

As of this week, though, she said her campaign has exceeded the $4 million target by $700,000. Hug, her finance chairman, said he expects to pass the $5 million mark "easily."

The last set of campaign finance reports before the election -- due Friday at the state election board -- will show all contributions and expenditures from Aug. 31 through tomorrow. Because the flow of money can create images of success, both '' campaigns are working feverishly to boost their totals on these reports.

Unlike Glendening, Sauerbrey is relatively new to the task of calling prospective givers. In 1994, when she lost to Glendening by 5,993 out of 1.4 million votes cast, her general election campaign was financed with about $1 million in public funds. As a condition of accepting the money, she agreed to limit her spending to that amount.

Her disadvantage, political professionals say, was profound: The candidate who can repeatedly call attention to her opponent's vulnerabilities, or his own strengths, on TV is far ahead of the game. But Sauerbrey did well enough without much money in 1994, that, with sufficient financing, she might win this time.

Thus, she decided to test the private contributor market. Her calls are not entirely "cold," because Hug or someone else on her finance committee has usually spoken to the quarry first. Her job is to close the deal.

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