Consider the lowly bumper sticker: In an era when politics seems to have more to do with tracking polls and media consultants, the bumper sticker seems an unlikely departure point for a campaign.
But as a symbol and tool of the kind of campaign he wants to run, state Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs thinks the bumper sticker has a lot going for it. So last Saturday, when he met with about 350 of his most fervent supporters (the "inner circle," quipped one Sachs partisan) to map strategy for the 1986 governor's race, the first order of business was bumper stickers.
Simply put, Sachs wants 15,000 of the blue and yellow stickers stuck on cars by the end of January. The bumper sticker drive is the first play in what Sachs and his campaign manager, Blair Lee IV, call their "three yards and a cloud of dust" plan for capturing the State House. The plan has three parts: organization, organization and organization.
"The strategy is grass roots," Sachs said. "There's nothing new and nothing remarkable."
That is the way Sachs won his first election as attorney general in 1978, and that is how he plans to run for governor in 1986, regardless of who his opponents are.
Right now, House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin and Howard County Executive Hugh Nichols are the only candidates who say they are committed to the race, but the Sachs campaign is running as if Baltimore Mayor William D. Schaefer is the likely, and lasting, opponent. (Several pictures of the mayor adorn Lee's office in the Sachs campaign headquarters in Baltimore.)
"What made 1978 successful was an independent movement outside of the political establishment," Sachs said. "I got to be attorney general by going to the people. If I am elected governor it will be a people's campaign."
Because of the mayor's statewide reputation as a successful big-city executive and his access to people with very deep pockets, Sachs and Lee think that the way to beat him is by putting together an organization with thousands of committed volunteers.
"We are looking to have a campaigner on every block in Maryland," Sachs said.
In his address to the faithful Saturday, Lee recounted a recent comment by Schaefer's campaign manager in the 1983 mayoral election that television is everything in politics.
"I hear in that the voice of conventional wisdom," said Lee, "that the campaigns of Stevenson, JFK and RFK have gone the way of the buggy whip. I also hear the voice of opportunity, the hare saying to the tortoise he's out of date."
So, by the end of January, the Sachs campaign expects to have a computerized list of 10,000 supporters and potential volunteers from every corner of Maryland. Over the next year, those people will be encouraged to expand the network even further.
Which gets back to bumper stickers.
"Bumper stickers don't jump on cars," Sachs said. "It takes organizational reach. Bumper stickers also say commitment, unlike billboards, which you have to buy. You can't buy commitment."
And not least, Sachs said, 15,000 bumper stickers sends a message to other candidates: "They will let 'em know we're moving."
Last Sunday, 647 days before the 1986 gubernatorial primary, the Sachs campaign received its first confirmed sighting of a bumper sticker with the message "For Governor of Maryland -- Steve Sachs." The car was spotted at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the person who saw it was Sachs' mother.