Jeanette Wessel, treasurer of the Maryland Republican Party, made a confession all too familiar to members of her party last night.
"I think I'm a kiss of death to candidates because I've never been in a winning campaign," she told the state party's first school for potential candidates and campaign managers.
There were understandable nods from around the table as she spoke. For most of the other 35 party loyaltists in attendance admitted they had had far more experience with defeat than victory in recent years.
That was the whole purpose of the three-day campaign seminar, part of a national effort to rebuild the sagging fortunes of the Republican Party from the bottom up.
"We know we're right. That's why we're her," former U.S. Rep. Lawrence Hogan (R-Md.), the seminar chairman and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate said. "We've reached the pits. How could any party carry the liabilities we've carried the last few years and survive?We ought to be dead. But as Mark Twain said, 'Reports of our death are greatly premature.'"
The seminar, the first of six planned in the state, was designed to teach potential candidates and campaign managers the nuts and bolts of winning elections.
There was no talk of ideology, which has so often split the party in Maryland into warring conservative and liberal factions. Instead, the emphasis was on the mechanics of electioneering: assessing the strengths and weaknesses of candidates, research, fund raising, advertising, dealing with the news media and developing winning strategies.
It was part of a major spring offensive by the state GOP directed toward the 1978 elections. The aim, according to state party chairman David R. Forward, is to double the number of Republicans in the state Senate, triple the number in the state House of Delegates, and to elect a Republican governor.
"I think this election (1978) will determine whether we'll have a two-party system in Maryland with a strong, minority party or whether it will be a one party state," he said.
As part of this effort, Maryland Republicans have beefed up their professional staff, embarked on a $250,000 fund raising drive, and scheduled a series of campaign work shops modeled after the one held here. Last week, it raised $20,000 for State Senate candidates at a fund-raiser in Baltimore. Monday, it plans to announce a $100-a-plate dinner on June 8 with former Texas Gov. John Connally as the featured attraction.
Party fortunes could hardly be at a lower ebb in Maryland, where democrats out-register Republicans almost 3 to 1. The party controls only 15 seats in the 141 member House of Delegates and eight in the 47-seat state Senate. Its 1974 gubernatorial candidate captured only 7 per cent of the vote, and its 1976 senate candidate, then incumbent J. Glenn Beall, received only 37 per cent of the vote. And its only statewide office holder. Sen. Charles McMathias, has been invited to join the Democratic Party because his liberal voting record is at odds with many GOP regulars.
The mood at the seminar, the first of its type ever held in the state, was optimistic, however. It brought together an unusual collection of longtime campaign workers, new faces, and party professionals from the Republican National Committee, which has budgeted $700,000 toward local election efforts nationwide.
Some like Lee Osmansky of Anne Arundel County, were chiefly interested in behind the scenes activity. "I have a very elementary therory to politics,= he said. "If anything moves, or is stationary, I put a bumper sticker on it."
Others were newcomers, attracted by more cosmic elements. "I was one of the silent majority," siad John Marsch, of Howard County, "but now I'm through being silent. I want to get active."
Joan Athen director of a therapeutic horsemanship program in Columbia, was typical of the younger members of the group. She has worked in Republican campaings off and on since 1964, and is now considering running for the state House of Delegates.
This is a rather awesome task in a place like Columbia, where Democrats out register Republicans 4 to 1. "I'm really exitied about this. It's something the Republican Party has never done before," Athen said. Candidates have shied away from the aprty in the past. "Financially, or ograizationally, it's had nothing to offer the, she said.
"In Howard County, Republicans have almost had to run alone without any organizational structure," she added. "I hope this just one of many things that can be done to correct that . . . If there's a strong enough party, candidates will come to it."
THe pitch at the seminar was hard sell. There were lectures on strategy and tactics, budgeting, communications, advertising, recruiting supporters, complaying with state election laws, and a homework assignment in which all participants planned a mock campaign. Speackers ranged from State Sen. Monority Leader Edward Mason of Cumberland, to Joe Gaylord, director of local elections for the Republican National Committee.
Much of the advice was what one would expect to hear at such a gathering: That, for example, candidates should be brutally honest with themselves in assessing their liabilities and assets; that they should carefully study the demographics of their area, and the records of their opponents.
Some of it focused on mistakes others had made in the past. Former congressman Hogan, who has worked in 20 Maryland campaigns, for instance, suggusted that candidates should never be their own campaign managers as he had often done himself.
He also said candidates should avoid spending much time talking to Republicans. I'm here to say, if you get every single Republican vote, you're a loser in Maryland," he said. "You've got to go out and meet Democrats. That's where the votes are."