Ellen R. Sauerbrey threw her support behind the front-runner yesterday as she agreed to serve as Maryland chairman of Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush's bid for president in 2000.
Sauerbrey, who in 1996 backed a conservative long-shot whose campaign fizzled early, went with the safer choice this year after meeting with the Texas governor six weeks ago in Austin.
"I was generally very pleased with what I heard from George Bush on the issues," said the two-time GOP nominee for governor. "Generally I agree with his positions right down the line."
By enlisting Sauerbrey, Bush gains the political and financial support of Maryland's best-known Republican politician. His Maryland finance chairman will be Dick Hug, who raised a record amount of money for a statewide race as Sauerbrey's 1998 finance chairman.
Officially, Sauerbrey and Hug will be heading Bush's exploratory committee in Maryland, but the Texas governor has given every indication that he plans to run.
A leading Bush supporter in Maryland, House Minority Whip Robert L. Flanagan, said Sauerbrey is "the perfect person" to lead the Bush effort.
"She brings an awful lot to his campaign, and it is a sign that the Republican Party will unite behind Governor Bush's candidacy," said the Howard County delegate.
But Keith Haller, president of the Bethesda polling firm Potomac Inc., said the choice was "a pretty bad mistake" for Bush, whom he does not expect to encounter a serious primary challenge.
"Bush is pretty much focused on a general election strategy, and in a place like Maryland, he needs to reach out to moderates and persuadable Democrats, and I'm not sure that's Sauerbrey's political profile," Haller said.
In 1996, Sauerbrey's choice of staunchly conservative Texas Sen. Phil Gramm turned out to be out of step with Maryland Republican voters as they strongly backed Sen. Robert J. Dole, the eventual nominee.
Trounced in early contests, Gramm dropped out before the Maryland primary.
In choosing Bush, Sauerbrey has spurned the nascent campaigns of several favorites of the Republican Party's right wing, including former Vice President Dan Quayle, publisher Steve Forbes and populist conservative firebrand Patrick J. Buchanan.
Sauerbrey, who was swamped by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in November after coming within a whisker of winning in 1994, noted Bush's strong track record in attracting minority voters as a strong plus in Maryland.
"He will be the strongest candidate Republicans can muster," Sauerbrey said.
In early polls, Bush has been running far ahead of Elizabeth Hanford Dole, the former Cabinet secretary who has steered a moderate course so far in her campaign. He has also been running well ahead of Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic front-runner, in general election polls.
Pub Date: 5/20/99