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  •   Sauerbrey Attracting GOP Heavyweights

        Ellen Sauerbrey at the state Republican convention.
    Ellen Sauerbrey at the state Republican convention.
    (Sarah L. Voisin/ For The Washington Post)
    By Daniel LeDuc
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, June 15, 1998; Page A01

    New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman is a Rockefeller Republican and stalwart supporter of abortion rights. But there she was last week in Rockville, saying all sorts of nice things about -- and raising lots of money for -- Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Goldwater Republican who opposes abortion and wants to be Maryland's next governor.

    And today, another abortion-rights Republican, New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, will be raising money for Sauerbrey at the Orioles-Yankees game at Camden Yards. He and Whitman are part of a stream of nationally prominent Republicans -- of all ideologies -- who are traveling to Maryland to boost the candidate they see as the party's best chance in years to win the governorship.

    That such GOP stars are weighing in so early -- even before Sauerbrey has secured her party's nomination -- is a reflection of the national party's view that Maryland is one of the best chances for turning out an incumbent Democrat, Gov. Parris N. Glendening. But it also shows how far Sauerbrey has progressed in gaining stature in a party that largely treated her as an afterthought when she ran against Glendening four years ago.

    "The time is right in Maryland for Ellen," said Whitman, who earned her party status by knocking off an incumbent Democratic governor in 1993.

    Sauerbrey's repeated calls for lower taxes and smaller government appear to resonate with Republicans of all stripes, and Whitman brushed aside ideological differences with Sauerbrey on abortion and other social issues -- differences that have fractured the GOP elsewhere.

    "We want to be part of a growing, majority party, and you can't be that if you're a litmus-test party," Whitman said.

    "What we're about is what is important to people. We believe in empowering people by cutting taxes."

    But Democrats are hoping to capitalize on the GOP's big-tent style support by pouncing on the conservatives backing Sauerbrey. They have criticized her for inviting Oliver L. North to Maryland. The conservative radio talk show host and former Reagan administration national security aide remains a controversial figure among many Maryland voters, Democrats say.

    Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Peter Krauser said Sauerbrey is too conservative for most voters.

    "I can understand why Oliver North would be her supporter," he said. "It's very unfortunate that moderate Republicans like Christie Whitman are lending support to Ellen Sauerbrey, who is the far right wing of the Republican Party."

    Glendening is attracting his own share of high-level party help.

    His staff hopes to have President Clinton campaign for Glendening later this year, and Vice President Gore has already headlined a fund-raiser for him in Washington.

    But the wave of national Republicans coming to campaign for Sauerbrey is already quite striking, particularly because she has primary opposition from Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who trails her badly in the polls.

    Some prominent Republicans, such as former president George Bush, have held off endorsements until the general elections. But many other party leaders aren't waiting.

    The roster of Republican stars to come to Maryland for Sauerbrey this year has included former vice president Dan Quayle; Sen. Phil Gramm, of Texas; Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad; Michigan Gov. John Engler; former Massachusetts governor William Weld; and U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, of Indiana, who has headed the controversial congressional investigation of President Clinton.

    Presidential aspirant and magazine publisher Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes has endorsed Sauerbrey, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich will appear Saturday at a fund-raiser at the Potomac home of Shelly Kamins, who chairs GOPAC, Gingrich's political action committee.

    "We've had such an outpouring of support from the whole party," Sauerbrey said. "It's tremendously encouraging for me."

    The steady wave of prominent Republicans is far different from what Sauerbrey experienced during her first gubernatorial campaign four years ago, when she was widely seen as an underdog to then-U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley for the GOP nomination.

    The only national Republican to appear with her before that primary was Jack Kemp, and even then, he pointedly did not endorse her.

    Relying on public financing, Sauerbrey was limited by law in her fund-raising, the main reason for party celebrities to come into the state. Even after her upset primary victory, Whitman and former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander were the only national figures to campaign for her.

    Sauerbrey's surprise primary victory, her near-victory in the general election and her constant campaigning ever since for another shot at the governorship have combined to rally the national party behind her with an enthusiasm not usually seen in Democratic-dominated Maryland.

    Sauerbrey also has been dogged in developing her national support, becoming a Republican national committeewoman and frequently traveling to party meetings.

    "This is a state that we can pick up. We have targeted this state," said South Carolina Gov. David M. Beasley, chairman of the Republican Governors Association. "This will be a major coup for the Republicans in a state that has historically not elected Republican governors."

    Both the association and the Republican National Committee count Maryland among the five states where they have the best chance of adding to the current list of 32 GOP governors.

    The Republican National Committee plans to monitor the Democratic primary results and the summer's polls to determine how damaged Glendening appears, before deciding how much money to devote to the Maryland race.

    Independent analysts agree that the GOP has its best chance in Maryland this year in generations.

    "When people like Whitman and Quayle come into a state, it really is a sign that the party is committed," said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes governors' races for the Cook Political Report.

    Giuliani normally does not endorse before primaries, but "he thought Ellen was the better of the two and the best chance for a Republican gubernatorial victory in Maryland," said the mayor's spokeswoman, Cristyne Lategano.

    William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said: "She's been very diligent. Coming so close last time gives her real credibility and makes people less reluctant to get involved."

    He said many national Republicans pair Sauerbrey with Jeb Bush, who ran an unsuccessful but close race for Florida's governorship and who is making a strong run again this year. "People in the national party see these as pickups in '98," he said.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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