ANNAPOLIS, JULY 2 -- Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who had been looking ahead to a November matchup with a Republican husband-and-wife team, today drew a Democratic challenge from the leading opponent of Maryland's landmark gun control law.
Fred Griisser, a 35-year-old real estate agent from Anne Arundel County, announced his bid for governor just hours before the candidate filing deadline. Griisser said he was "never very political" until he chaired the Maryland Committee Against the Gun Ban, the chief group that opposed Maryland's law prohibiting the sale of some poorly made handguns.
Griisser's group took the law to referendum in 1988. Schaefer supported it, and Maryland voters overwhelmingly ratified it, in a campaign that was fueled by millions of dollars from the National Rifle Association and became the most expensive in state history.
Griisser said he and his running mate, Silver Spring gun dealer Sanford M. Abrams, were "a couple of normal guys leading normal lives" but thought after the referendum that they should get involved.
He said that his candidacy will not be a single-issue effort and that he hopes to tap concern over taxes, crime and links between politicians and developers to beat Schaefer, a well-funded incumbent.
"This is not needling, it is not to get a message across," Griisser said of his candidacy, which includes the promise of raises for police and teachers and construction of a "huge prison" for violent criminals.
Griisser wasn't the only surprise in the governor's race: GOP gubernatorial candidate William S. Shepard also drew primary opposition with the last-minute entry of perennial candidate Ross Z. Pierpont.
Pierpont, 72, a Baltimore surgeon who has been vying for local, state and national office since 1966, said he decided to run because he was uncomfortable with Shepard's decision to run his wife, Lois, for lieutenant governor.
"You need a strange bedfellow, not the same bedfellow," he said, comparing the Shepard and Shepard team to the Marcoses in the Philippines and the Peron dictatorship in Argentina. His running mate will be Lloyd W. Reynolds, of Baltimore; the two ran together for the top state offices in 1982.
Pierpont was among the last to file on a day in which the politically famous and the obscure made it official they were running. The party primaries will be on Sept. 11, and the general election on Nov. 6.
All of the state's eight congressional candidates face opposition, but only one is expected to have trouble winning reelection. Rep. Roy Dyson (D) nearly lost his 1st District seat two years ago after news reports of his ties to defense contractors and the suicide of his chief aide. Eight Republicans are in the race, and three Democrats besides Dyson are running in the primary.
Abortion dominated an emotional session of the General Assembly this spring and promises to be a major issue in the fall's campaigns. Abortion-rights activists hope to increase their numbers in the Senate.
Republican officials, meanwhile, were happy the party has candidates for all three statewide offices, and said the GOP is poised to capitalize on a decade of registration gains.
Shepard is the favorite to top the GOP slate, although the choice of his wife as a running mate has caused concern among party regulars that it could trivialize the GOP ticket and hurt candidates in some local races. The couple dismissed that this morning as old-fashioned thinking. William Shepard continued his criticism of the Schaefer administration's spending, and Lois Shepard said she wants to turn the office of lieutenant governor into a "real job."
Democratic Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. will be challenged by Republican Edward Blanton, a Baltimore lawyer. Democratic Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein faces a primary challenge from Kenneth Frederick, of Baltimore. Two Republicans, Larry Epstein and Marshall Jones, both of Baltimore, are seeking the nomination.
At the local level, the GOP is hoping for gains in Montgomery County, where an expanded and reconfigured County Council offers the GOP a chance to win representation for the first time in 20 years.
Anne Arundel County also offers a chance for Republican gains, according to state GOP Chairman Joyce L. Terhes, with former House minority leader Robert R. Neall among those vying to replace County Executive James Lighthizer (D) when his second and final term ends. Neall will face William J. Steiner in the primary.
Staff writer Lisa Leff contributed to this report.