Sauerbrey's Running Start On '98 Race for Governor
By Charles Babington
While her fellow Maryland delegates at the Republican National Convention listened to droning speeches today, Ellen R. Sauerbrey dashed to a luncheon with former vice president Dan Quayle.
While her colleagues wandered the San Diego convention sites with spouses or friends, Sauerbrey was shadowed by political adviser John Lloyd. And while the other delegates checked for phone messages now and then, Sauerbrey kept nearly round-the-clock contact with her Baltimore political office and her Washington-based press secretary.
If Sauerbrey was acting more like a candidate than a delegate, there's a good reason: She is running full-bore for Maryland governor, an office she came within 6,000 votes of winning in 1994. Sauerbrey is in San Diego to watch the nomination of Robert J. Dole for president, but it's clear she's dreaming of her own election two years from now on the other side of the continent.
"I hope to join you in 1998," Sauerbrey said today as she greeted Oklahoma Gov. Frank A. Keating.
Although many Maryland Democrats regard Sauerbrey, 58, as too conservative to win statewide election, some of her GOP colleagues here feel her chances get better with every stumble made by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D). In recent days, Glendening infuriated anti-gambling activists by appearing to waffle on the idea of legalizing slot machines, and he drew widespread criticism for attending a New York fund-raiser hosted by a businessman seeking a multimillion-dollar state contract.
"Governor Glendening is probably the most unpopular governor we've had in the state in a long time," said Michael S. Steele, chairman of the Prince George's County GOP. "That's a real opening for Ellen in 1998."
Of course, there's a hurdle she must clear first: Sauerbrey, a former House of Delegates minority leader, must win her party's 1998 nomination. Several Maryland Republicans privately say they hope for a candidate with broader appeal but concede that Sauerbrey's devoted core of admirers means that another contender will be hard to find.
"She clearly will be our nominee," said Republican National Committeeman Richard Taylor, of Montgomery County. "I don't think anyone else can come close to her."
Maryland pollsters, while acknowledging Glendening's low popularity ratings, question whether Sauerbrey can duplicate her surprising showing in 1994, when she called for deep income tax cuts and rode the same anti-Democratic tide that helped give Republicans control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
"Ellen Sauerbrey's 49 percent was probably the high-water mark for an ultra-conservative Republican in Maryland," said Del Ali, a Columbia-based pollster for Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. "The Republican Party would be better served by a moderate nominee."
Sauerbrey, who officially becomes Maryland's national GOP committeewoman this week, scoffs at such talk.
"Those people who say I'm not electable, I'd like them to look at the returns of liberal and moderate Republicans in Maryland," Sauerbrey said.
Because she supported Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) instead of Dole in this year's primary, Sauerbrey is somewhat out of favor at this convention. But she was Jack Kemp's Maryland campaign chairman when he ran for president in 1988, and Kemp's addition to Dole's ticket has boosted her spirits and standing here.
Sauerbrey is seeking pledges of financial support from GOP power brokers in San Diego, which is why she attended today's luncheon with Quayle, who is taking the reins of Dole's national political action committee.
While she was there, some Maryland Republicans mused about other candidates to challenge Glendening.
"Some people have asked me to consider it, and I haven't ruled it out," said Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a delegate. But Ecker acknowledged Sauerbrey's big head start and her popularity among party conservatives.
"The primary is difficult," Ecker said. "She has a statewide organization, and she has kept it alive."
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