Each candidate's camp claims victory in debate Campaign: Glendening, Sauerbrey supporters differ on which politician came out ahead in Friday night's televised showdown.

The Political Game

October 27, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

THE PARTISANS HAVE declared their candidate a winner in Friday night's gubernatorial debate at the University of Maryland, College Park, and perhaps both sides are right. They might also declare the debate itself a winner. The format worked well. The questions were focused and contextual. And the responses, if not responsive, were illuminating.

In case you missed it, Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey faced each other in the 1998 gubernatorial campaign's first and only debate.

"Both candidates were very credible," said Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College. Both were ready for the scrap: "They were throwing bombs at each other," he said.

Smith thought Glendening had much tougher questions to answer, most of them dealing with his character and integrity. His responses appeared as on-camera stonewalling, his expression changing hardly at all as he seemed to suggest that the criticisms must surely be meant for someone else.

"If there had been a least-responsive prize, he [would have] won it," Smith said.

Sauerbrey may have won a point by observing that her opponent had not answered a question. She drew a laugh when criticizing his analyses of certain tax and spending issues. He had earlier identified himself as a former political science professor at College Park. "Obviously, he didn't teach math," she said.

Glendening, in turn, nicked his opponent at the end of the evening when he read from a speech in which she said taxes were paid to support "the immoral and the lazy." Sauerbrey spent precious moments responding to this thrust when she might have been making her own case. Smith called this a "tactical victory" for Glendening, suggesting it might not have much lasting value.

Similarly, the governor's move toward his opponent -- stepping from behind the lectern to hand her an allegedly damning piece of correspondence -- seemed contrived, and the moderator directed him to resume his debate posture. He did seem good-natured and engaging when he observed that, as one reporter has written, he blushes a lot while he's campaigning.

Both candidates took lumps on the stadium issue. Did Sauerbrey think Baltimore would be better off without Camden Yards, a project she voted against? Well, no, of course, but millionaire owners shouldn't be gifted with public money, she said. True enough, but political leaders sometimes need to make difficult decisions with the greater good in mind, and this may have been one of those times.

Hit on the same issue from another direction, Glendening observed that the stadiums were not built with tax money. Technically true, perhaps. But by the time it was spent, the money came from Maryland's general fund and might have been used for some other purpose if the legislature and the governor so decided.

Not discussed in all of this was the source of the money: gambling dollars from a special state lottery. Glendening, an opponent of gambling, did not offer that information.

What did the debate amount to, then? Both candidates had an opportunity to restate the basic themes of their campaigns: his call for another term to promote a healthier bay, to defend a woman's right to choose, to further nurture the state's economy -- and to protect the citizens from Sauerbrey; and her call for better efforts at education, a more focused attempt to realize Maryland's business potential, safer streets -- and the need for integrity in high office.

63,000 Md. households tuned in to watch debate

Slightly more than 63,000 households tuned to public television Friday night to watch the debate, about 52,000 in Baltimore and about 11,000 in the suburbs of Washington, according to ratings supplied by Maryland Public Television.

Another 114,000 households watched the debate on WJLA, Channel 7, in Washington, although it was impossible to say how many of those viewers live in Maryland.

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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