Governor wins with new tactics, old allies Early Sauerbrey edge melted under scrutiny of her voting record

Election 1998 : Maryland

November 04, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Jay Apperson, Michael Dresser, Laura Lippman and Candus Thomson contributed to this article.

Virtually every segment of Maryland's old Democratic coalition, the president of the United States and some newly developed allies helped Gov. Parris N. Glendening to a second term.

Glendening's victory over Republican challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey was more decisive than expected and seems to have benefited from widespread unhappiness with the Republican Congress and its pursuit of President Clinton.

Exit polling showed Glendening with nearly a 2-to-1 lead among voters who disapproved of Congress' performance. A visit by Clinton on Sunday helped Democratic partisans capture the unhappiness and translate it into votes.

Glendening's campaign included a highly disciplined get-out-the-vote effort among religious and civic organizations in Baltimore and the singular backing of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who worked unstintingly for the governor -- even as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and other Democratic leaders held back.

Polls showed 90 percent of African-Americans, the most reliable of Democratic loyalists, going for Glendening. Unions, women and urban voters appeared to be solidly in his camp as well.

And in Montgomery Sauerbrey had hopes of improving her 1994 showing, but instead the push from Duncan and others gave Glendening a bigger margin of the votes there -- 62 percent vs. 59 percent in 1994.

Sauerbrey's early success at attracting Marylanders to her second try for the State House melted in the latter third of the race as Glendening focused sharply on her record of votes against civil rights bills when she was a state legislator.

Sauerbrey accused Glendening of inciting racial fears, but the governor's tactic apparently worked.

"I was going to vote for that woman," said Mary Rice, a 36-year-old African-American from Baltimore, "but then I saw on television she was against civil rights. I know what Glendening is going to do. I don't know what she's going to do."

Though voters remained cool to Glendening as a personality, many were drawn to improvements he claimed in the state's system of public education and to a robust job market.

"I didn't vote for him with much passion," said Carol Brewer, a 52-year-old retired teacher who spoke outside a polling place at Lutherville Elementary School, "but the policies he supports are closer to what I see as my philosophy of government."

In the most costly and negative gubernatorial campaign in Maryland history, Glendening's late-inning effort seemed to persuade voters that Sauerbrey was not the benign figure presented in her widely acclaimed early commercials.

"SHE'S BACK!" declared an ad that went on to describe her as a threat to abortion rights and civil rights across the board.

Even those who voted for the 61-year-old Republican had reservations: "Ellen scares me because I'm an engineer and she's probably going to kill some projects, like [replacing] Cole Field House," said Richard Hillis, a 50-year-old civil engineer. But he said he voted for her because she was "a person of integrity."

Hillis said he turned away from Glendening because the governor, when he was Prince George's County executive, arranged a generous pension payout for himself and left a large budget deficit.

These issues appeared to be major vulnerabilities for Glendening at the beginning of the race -- and may have kept it close even as the state's economy boomed.

As the battle was joined over the last month, though, Sauerbrey failed to take full advantage of the opportunities that were presented. And many thought she was thrown "off message" by Glendening's counterattack.

As if her strategists could not decide between the softer image they had created for her early in the campaign and a tougher one that would have been demanded by an unrestrained attack strategy, her campaign appeared to stall.

Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research, said Sauerbrey's team appeared off balance and without an answer to Glendening's frontal TV assault over the last weeks of the campaign. There were many signs that Sauerbrey could manage an upset -- until unhappiness with Congress landed in the electorate like a "a match in gasoline," Haller said.

A key to the Glendening victory was the firing of his media adviser and the hiring of Robert Shrum, one of the most effective professionals in the business.

Until then, many on Glendening's side had been saying her TV was better than his. Shrum mounted a succession of blistering commercials suggesting Sauerbrey was just short of a racist Philistine, an opponent of women and the exemplar of the most retrograde forces in Maryland.

Baltimore Democratic Del. Maggie L. McIntosh says Shrum was able to build a negative image of her without appearing to demonize her -- allowing voters to make up their own minds -- never calling her an "extremist." The idea was to make it add up to that picture without angering the weary, oversaturated voter.

Voters were alternately turned off and philosophical about the negative tone of the campaign.

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