Sauerbrey decides not to run in primary to replace Ehrlich

Choice leaves two major Republican contenders

April 18, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Republican race to replace Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in Congress got a bit clearer yesterday when former legislator and two-time gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey bowed out.

Her decision, announced late yesterday afternoon, leaves two major contenders from the party: former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley and Del. James F. Ports Jr. Both said they would make their decisions within a few weeks.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening radically reshaped the 2nd Congressional District in the redistricting process in an effort to make it more favorable to Democrats, specifically outgoing Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Although Ehrlich has chosen to run for governor instead of re-election, Republicans think they can hold the seat. The district has gained national attention as one of a few dozen that will likely determine the balance of power in the House of Representatives.

A poll taken by the National Republican Congressional Committee using an old version of the district map found that Sauerbrey could beat Bentley in a Republican primary, but that the less-conservative Bentley would fare better in the general election.

Sauerbrey, 64, who cares for her 89-year-old mother, said that family obligations would prevent her from devoting the time necessary to win a race she considers difficult - but not impossible - for a Republican.

"It is not going to be won by anything short of 100 percent of your time and energy and commitment for the next six months, and I recognize that I don't have that ability," she said. "So I want to do what I think is in not only the best interests of my own situation but also the best interests to keep the seat in Republican hands."

Ruppersberger, 56, has said he plans to formally announce his candidacy April 29. Another Democrat, Oz Bengur, 53, an investment banker from Ruxton, has entered the race.

Bentley, 78, said yesterday that she is looking at entering the race "very seriously" and would be announcing her decision "in the immediate future."

"We're going to have a lot of fun in this election. That's all I can tell you," she said.

Ports, 43, said he has been told by the Ehrlich campaign not to make any announcements or commitments about what office he will seek for three weeks. What will happen then, Ports said, he doesn't know.

He said he considers getting Ehrlich elected governor his first priority and that he will do whatever Ehrlich thinks will be the most help.

Yesterday, Sauerbrey confirmed she has been offered a federal appointment by the Bush administration but denied a persistent rumor among area Republicans that the job was an attempt to keep her out of the race.

Area Republicans have been suggesting for months that the national party, desperate to keep control of Ehrlich's seat, would arrange an appointment for Sauerbrey as an effort to enable Bentley to run unopposed.

Sauerbrey said she asked the White House to put the federal appointment on hold while she decided about the congressional race.

Carol L. Hirschburg, a Republican consultant who has worked with Sauerbrey in the past, said Bentley could be a divisive candidate for the party.

Sauerbrey beat Bentley in the 1994 gubernatorial primary, and Bentley did not support Sauerbrey in the general election in 1994 or 1998. Shortly after the 1994 race, Bentley got a $75,000-a-year consulting job on maritime issues for state government, which some Republicans saw as a betrayal, Hirschburg said.

"There are many Republicans who will be sickened at the thought of Helen Bentley being the party's candidate," she said. "Whether these people will support her if she enters the race, will look for another candidate, will support Dutch Ruppersberger or just won't vote is unclear now."

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