Md. Governor's Race Intensifies
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, April 20, 1998; Page B01
The race for governor in Maryland goes high throttle this week, with a blockbuster announcement by Baltimore's mayor, an opening round of sharp-edged television ads and an embattled incumbent lashing out at the "radical right."
In a season that ought to be an incumbent's dream -- mainly because of a booming economy and falling crime -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) is fighting tenaciously to keep old friends in his corner and to woo voters who have eyed him warily since he took office in January 1995. His Republican and Democratic challengers are aiming largely at his character and ethical judgments, which may presage a harshly personal campaign year.
Having hardly caught his breath from the General Assembly session that ended last week, Glendening launched his counterattack at a rally Thursday in his home county of Prince George's. He hailed his agenda as "family-friendly" and decried "the radical right," a reference to Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.
Meanwhile, Sauerbrey -- who narrowly lost to Glendening in 1994 and hopes for a rematch this fall -- is shifting her campaign into overdrive with more high-profile events, doubling her number of daily appearances.
Other contenders are revving up as well. Democrat Ray Schoenke, an insurance company owner and former Washington Redskin, launches the campaign's first round of major television commercials today , which suggest Glendening is a "political chameleon" who "winks" at ethics.
But this week's most anticipated political event is scheduled for noon tomorrow in front of Baltimore City Hall. There, according to his associates, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D) will endorse Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, yet another Democrat hoping to deny Glendening his party's renomination. It's embarrassing for any governor to have a party leader turn against him, especially when the two have been close allies, as Schmoke and Glendening have been.
Today, most of the Montgomery County legislative delegates will endorse Glendening at a campaign event in Rockville, according to several Democratic county officials. But the governor has problems elsewhere in his suburban Washington base: Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, like Schmoke, is considering his own break with the governor.
With the September primaries still five months away, many voters probably are paying little attention to these gyrations. But the candidates seem to be straining at their leashes, now that attention is off the legislative session.
Glendening, a fierce competitor who has never lost an election, used the state's hefty revenue to finance what many legislators agree was a popular agenda: an accelerated income tax cut, millions in school aid, new help for the developmentally disabled and added environmental safeguards for the Chesapeake Bay.
Yet many voters seem reluctant to credit the governor for such accomplishments. The most recent statewide poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research for several media clients two weeks ago, had Glendening's approval rating at 41 percent. That's hardly encouraging for an incumbent in good economic times.
Meanwhile, Sauerbrey is raising money faster than she did four years ago, when she was not expected to win even the GOP primary. This year's gubernatorial campaign could be the most expensive in state history, with both major party candidates spending more than $5 million apiece.
"It's going to be a very exciting and fascinating election," said Herb Smith, a political scientist at Western Maryland College in Westminster. Glendening "is embroiled in a neck-and-neck race with powerful and energetic challengers. This will be a campaign-driven outcome."
The strong economy and Glendening's legislative record, his admirers say, leave his opponents little to run on except personal attacks. The governor's embrace of a tax reduction has blunted a key issue for Sauerbrey, who campaigned on a 24 percent tax cut proposal four years ago.
For now, Glendening is trying to appear above the fray. He has not formally announced his reelection campaign, even as he raises money, establishes new campaign offices and expands his paid campaign staff.
Still, he indulged in a few political jabs at Thursday's rally in Bowie, where he was joined by almost every prominent elected Democrat in Prince George's, save Curry. Glendening decried the "radical right's" attempt to take over Maryland, a clear shot at conservative Sauerbrey, who has worked hard in the last four years to try to soften her image.
Sauerbrey, battling Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker for the GOP nomination, has been careful not to attack new state programs that appear popular. She notes, however, that Glendening's new initiatives will cost hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years.
"It's much easier to play Santa Claus," Sauerbrey said. "It is very difficult to be the voice of reason and say, 'Look out for the long-term problems.' "
In the two commercials Schoenke's campaign begins airing today in Baltimore, Glendening is indirectly lumped with "politicians who sell out for contributions." The ads also criticize the taxpayer-subsidized football stadiums in Prince George's County and Baltimore, which Glendening had championed.
Davidsonville physician Terry McGuire also is seeking the Democratic nomination, emphasizing his opposition to abortion.
Schoenke, Rehrmann and others say Glendening has invited attacks on his character because of a series of ethical missteps. Only 10 days into office, the governor and several top aides were engulfed in controversy over their plans to take unusually lucrative pensions from their years in Prince George's County government. Under intense public criticism, he and the aides eventually rejected the extra benefits.
Political fund-raising was another source of problems for Glendening. In 1996, the governor attended a New York fund-raiser sponsored by a health care company that was bidding for state work. He rejected the money after questions from reporters.
The question of Glendening's character "is already an issue," Rehrmann said. ".I think for Parris Glendening, Parris is the worst problem he has."
Glendening hopes to focus the campaign on the economy and public school improvements, his strong suits.
"It's not a popularity contest," said his campaign manager, Tim Phillips. "It's not who's got the best smile. It's about the issues."
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