Sarbanes to seek 5th term in Senate

Poised to eclipse Tydings and make a run at history

February 02, 1999|By C. Fraser Smith and David Folkenflik | C. Fraser Smith and David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

Claiming some credit for what he called the country's "virtuous economic cycle" and encouraged by his party's success in Maryland's elections in November, Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes will seek a fifth term in the U.S. Senate -- which would be a record for the state.

The 65-year-old Baltimore lawyer will become the longest-serving U.S. senator in Maryland history in November next year, seizing that distinction from the late Millard Tydings, who served 24 years from 1928 to 1952.

Expecting a vigorous challenge in the election of 2000, Sarbanes has departed slightly from his usual approach by starting earlier to build a campaign fund.

A report filed yesterday with the Federal Election Commission showed Citizens for Sarbanes with $180,867 in cash on hand -- well above the approximately $12,000 in his account at this point prior to the 1994 race. Aides said he will need between $3 million and $4 million.

As ranking member of the Senate banking committee, Sarbanes is a powerful magnet for campaign contributions from financial institutions. He is also a member of the Budget Committee, the Joint Economic Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.

GOP challengers have frequently mistaken the senator's quiet cerebral nature as a sign of vulnerability. Only later did they discover another of his traits: his ability to rapidly transform himself into a highly partisan, articulate Democratic partisan.

Since 1976, Sarbanes has defeated candidates representing virtually every segment of the Republican political spectrum. His party's resounding success in the November election made him even more confident of his re-election.

Already potential opponents may be bowing to his strengthened position.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the 2nd District Republican, has decided not to oppose Sarbanes as he had planned to do before November, according to a reliable Ehrlich campaign source.

"This was a bad election cycle for Republicans in Maryland," Ehrlich said yesterday. The 41-year-old Republican also is aware his votes to impeach President Clinton in the House could work against him in view of the president's popularity.

Another potential Sarbanes opponent, Rep. Constance A. Morella, the Montgomery County Republican, was equally wary of a Senate race in the year 2000: "I'm not looking ahead that far. You need a lot of money to run."

Even before the November election, students of Sarbanes' political record gave Ehrlich -- or Morella -- little chance in view of the senator's strong support among core Democratic constituencies -- women, African-Americans and union organizations.

And just as Ehrlich's support of Clinton's impeachment could hurt him, Sarbanes may be helped by his resolute support for the president.

"I'm sharply critical of what the president did," said the senator, who will be 66 tomorrow. "I think it was a terrible way to be behaving in the White House. On the other hand, the question now is whether this conduct warrants removal.

"As horrible as his conduct was, I don't think it's what the Founding Fathers were trying to get at when they put in the impeachment remedy."

Sarbanes is critical of how the House Republicans conducted the impeachment proceedings. They had a different objective, he said: "They want to create a show, something of a spectacle."

"A slim partisan majority" of Republicans in the House, he said, have set out to "decapitate the executive branch whose leader has been chosen by all the people in an election. If impeachment is done on a lowered standard, you set a precedent for the future which really would undercut the stability that has marked the American system."

The impeachment proceeding, he said, is symbolic of the conservative-led GOP's extremism. And he expects his challenger to also come from the right of the ideological spectrum.

"You no longer have Republicans such as the moderate former Republican, Charles McC. Mathias," Sarbanes said. Mathias left the senate in 1986, pushed out in part by a rising conservative tide in Maryland.

But Sarbanes is confident Maryland's "moderate-progressive" political nature will reassert itself and continue.

"The Democrats saw what we could do if we came together and worked together as we did in this campaign," he said of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's successful re-election bid against conservative Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

In addition to the party's success in the race for governor, Democrats unseated county executives in Howard and Anne Arundel counties and reduced the GOP margin in the House of Delegates by six.

Sarbanes is noted for the unglamorous detail work of policy-making. His most public battle was over interest rates, chastising Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan for trying to use higher rates to block inflation but at the expense of jobs.

Sarbanes said he won't be hesistant to campaign on the Clinton administration's record, particularly as it relates to race relations.

African-American voters gave Clinton an approval rating better than 90 percent in polls in the fall, and they strongly backed Glendening in the November election.

"I think Clinton's very good on the question of race which is always of critical importance in our country," he said. "We have to constantly be working to keep this very diverse country together, to emphasize open opportunity so people really feel they're part of the system."

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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