Gubernatorial hopefuls need three things when wooing votes and money in the rural outdoors of Montgomery County: cold beer, digestible hamburgers and fair weather.
The gods must have been smiling on Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs Saturday, for he had all three in abundance at a fundraiser on the grounds of a Spencerville estate. The take from the $50-a-head event was $30,000 -- mere pocket change for a candidate who expects to raise $1.5 million by election time next year -- but Sachs seemed pleased.
"You can do all the political discounting, and it's still a great success," he said. "I always run well in Montgomery County."
Indeed, asking an unabashed liberal from Montgomery -- there were plenty of them in Spencerville Saturday -- to contribute $50 to Steve Sachs is a little like waving honey under a bear's nose.
Sachs and the folks who are the backbone of the county's Democratic Party are natural allies. Old-line Montgomery Democrats, many of them Jewish as Sachs is, love his liberal credentials, and his personal style and record as a champion of consumer rights make him the perfect candidate for yuppies.
Sachs may be the candidate of choice in the liberal heartland of Montgomery, but he has no monopoly on its often fractious Democrats. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Baltimore Democrat who has been speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates since 1979, has a small but loyal band of followers in the county, the core of which is its large House delegation.
Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, too, enjoys the support of a few key Montgomery businessmen, as well as a handful of present and former local politicians. It's not that Montgomery holds the key in a statewide race -- voting patterns in Prince George's County and the Baltimore area are far more crucial -- but Montgomery is a rich source of money for candidates, and Sachs is making no mistake by courting its Democratic regulars.
"Sachs is going to win the county next year," said Del. Michael R. Gordon, a Rockville Democrat. Gordon was quick to add, however, that he personally is uncommitted about the governor's race, which he and others see as shaping up between Sachs and Schaefer.
"It's too damn early," Gordon said. "In fact, this whole campaign started too early. I'm here because I got two free tickets."
Schaefer, who has yet to announce whether he will run for governor, was a kind of unseen presence at the fund-raiser. One Sachs fan sported a blue-and-white "Keep the Mayor Mayor" button, a relic of one of New York City Mayor Ed Koch's many campaigns.
Also in attendance were a couple of Schaefer loyalists, Annapolis lobbyists more suited to the turf in Baltimore's City Hall than a sod field in upper Montgomery. They were there "hedging their bets" about Maryland's next governor, cracked Blair Lee IV, Sachs' campaign manager.
It is difficult to make forecasts about a politician as unpredictable and wily as Schaefer, but Sachs is confident about two things: that the mayor will run and will outspend him.
"He will be better financed than me," said Sachs, who called his own goal of $1.5 million "the benchmark that pretty much guarantees you can compete on TV -- compete honorably. Two million and more would be even better . . . . "
Sachs was bouyed by two solid weeks of free television air time during the height of Maryland's savings and loan association crisis. But Schaefer has planned a giant fund-raiser for later this year and expects to raise $1 million. Sachs says he will spend a good part of the summer deciding whether to do the same.
"We're still kicking it around, but one of the things we're looking at is a major fund-raising event," said Sachs between sips of his beer: "Not the traditional fund-raiser, but more grass roots. Maybe a series of simultaneous parties" across Maryland.
With money the lifeblood of his campaign, Sachs may have to resort to something unusual to compete with Schaefer, who has a knack for raising large amounts of money in Baltimore. But for the moment, it's traditional politics -- beer, burgers and $50 tickets -- and it seems to be working.
"There's a palpable sense of enthusiasm," said Sachs as several hundred people, including some from as far away as Garrett County and the Eastern Shore, mingled nearby. "I can't tell you it's conclusive. But it does renew purpose."