Shepard hopes to tap groundswell of anger

THE BALTIMORE SUN

At the Great Frederick County Fair, Republican gubernatoria candidate William S. Shepard strolled the midway in his brown suede sport jacket, spent $3 for three errant shots with a basketball and enjoyed a cone of black raspberry ice cream.

The 55-year-old retired foreign service officer -- desperate for name recognition -- wore no tag carrying his name and the office he seeks. Except for a few brief conversations and a radio interview, this campaign day had an air of detachment from the presumed business at hand.

Mr. Shepard said later he wore no tag in deference to his jacket. He had lost his pin-on tag at a diplomatic function in Washington the evening before. And he eschewed the stick-on variety.

"The glue screws up suede," he explained.

In the business of running for office, a typically manic candidate might seriously consider walking down the middle of a picnic table to shake hands with the picnickers. Mr. Shepard has been energetic and steadfast as a campaigner, but on occasion he has seemed bemused by the task he set for himself 10 months ago: to defeat an incumbent Democratic governor with immense financial and political resources.

With little help from his party in Maryland -- and with occasional obstructions -- the GOP contender has put together a sometimes sharply critical and scholarly challenge to the record and personal style of Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Mr. Shepard identified areas in Mr. Schaefer's record that were vulnerable to attack, and he prepared a series of position papers mapping his own ideas, particularly in the area of budgets and taxation.

The campaign's political high point -- and perhaps the low point as well -- came in June when Mr. Shepard announced he would name his wife, Lois, as his running mate for lieutenant governor. A former Reagan administration bureaucrat and political operative, Mrs. Shepard stepped into the race after several other leading Republicans declined to spend their summer running uphill.

Mr. Shepard defended his unorthodox selection by saying his wife was eminently qualified -- and a better choice than many contenders he had interviewed.

Politically, the decision was costly. It earned him a primary opponent, Dr. Ross Z. Pierpont, who jumped into the race to protest what he called the "one household" ticket. Time that might have been spent attacking Mr. Schaefer was diverted by the necessity of defeating Mr. Pierpont -- a chore only narrowly accomplished.

Mr. Shepard said last week he had hoped his campaign would move through three phases:

Marylanders upset with Mr. Schaefer would be saying at first, "I'm staying home" on Election Day.

Later as his effort took hold, these angry voters would start to say, "I'm voting for that guy who's running against Schaefer."

Finally, the Shepard name would be a household word, and people would say, "I'm voting for Bill Shepard."

He concedes he hasn't made it.

Last week, Mr. Shepard did his best to overcome his status as man without a profile. On Wednesday, he started the day shaking hands at Dresser Industries in Salisbury, taped a television show called "2 The Point" on WMAR-TV, testified on mass transit issues in Hunt Valley, went to a dinner in Hagerstown, and finished the day in Darnestown with a political forum.

His strategy, he said, has been to pull together small constituencies of disaffected Marylanders and hope that the alleged widespread unhappiness with incumbents -- and with taxes -- will give him the needed momentum. He insists victory is still possible, although Mr. Schaefer led him by 69 percent to 18 percent in a recent poll done for The Sun.

So far, he counts several not necessarily harmonious elements in his mix: the Eastern Shore, parts of Western Maryland, state employee union members, gun control opponents, gay rights activists and Maryland Right To Life.

Though some political wisdom suggests that siding with anti-abortion forces may not be the winning move this year, Mr. Shepard says he is doing so because he believes it is the right position -- and because he needs support wherever he can find it.

"You have to stand up for what you think is proper and right," he said at a news conference where he got the endorsement of MarylandRight To Life. Mr. Schaefer, he said, has "changed his mind on abortion, then changed it, then changed it again. People began to wonder, can we trust this guy? He's shown no leadership."

"What you shouldn't have to do is lick your finger and hold it up to the wind to see how it's blowing," he said. "A leader is someone who faces issues whether it's popular or not."

He said he was aware that he needed more than a few isolate groups.

"We have to get beyond these groups to the mainstream," he said. "That's why this taxpayer movement is so important."

Last Friday, as he tried to tap into this unhappiness, Mr. Shepard joined former ambassador Alan L. Keyes at a taxpayers' protest rally on the State House steps in Annapolis.

On that same evening, his wife, Lois, hosted a fund-raiser at their home in Potomac. The guest of honor at the $40-per-person event was Jeanie Austin, co-chair of the National Republican Party. The Shepards also have sent out a fund-raising letter signed by Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas. Next week, the Bush administration's drug czar, William J. Bennett, is scheduled to be the speaker at a fund-raiser at the Center Club in Baltimore.

These events are unlikely to generate significant campaign advertising money, Mr. Shepard said, and a major push on television or radio during the closing days of the campaign is unlikely.

"We have some plans, but whether we can afford it i questionable," he said.

The lack of money, he said, has forced him from the beginning t "invent this campaign as we go along."

The major building blocks of his campaign have been positio papers on the state's budget and taxes, crime, education, the environment and transportation. The Shepards have based their campaign largely on the contention that they can

manage the state's money better than Mr. Schaefer, whom they call a "reckless big spender."

Mr. Shepard has warned that Maryland's budget problems mus be fixed before "we end up with our own 'Massachusetts miracle' " -- a reference to the huge budget deficits

in the Bay State.

He has made much of a contention that a $440 million surplu was spent within two years, suggesting that the money was frittered away on "pet projects" without regard to the state's needs. This charge seems to have found little resonance among taxpayers, even at a time when voters in some counties are pushing for caps on tax revenue.

The surplus-spending issue is somewhat difficult for Mr. Shepar to make because Maryland has been praised as well managed by Financial World and because the state retains its AAA bond rating. He is left to argue that the legislature, not Mr. Schaefer, should get credit.

If he is elected, Mr. Shepard says, he would put his wife i charge of setting priorities for state spending. He says he would institute even stronger spending affordability guidelines than the legislature advocates. And he says he would seek out private financing for projects wherever possible.

He observes that Money magazine calls Maryland "a tax hell. And he says he would not raise taxes if elected -- unless the economy or other factors made that absolutely necessary.

He has been particularly critical of Mr. Schaefer for allowing th Linowes commission on Maryland's tax structure to delay publication of its recommendations until after the election. Though Mr. Schaefer has left open the possibility that he would support a Linowes call for new taxes or redistribution of taxes already collected, Mr. Shepard has not generated much Schaefer-directed outrage -- so far.

Any move toward his position, he said, might not be observabl until this last week of the campaign.

He continues to hope that the state's current deficits will mak large numbers of Shepard converts.

Mr. Schaefer has declined to help Mr. Shepard by submitting t a debate, leaving the Republican to fire off an angry charge:

"He knows I would beat him in a debate, and people would se it." Referring again to Mr. Schaefer's temper and reputation for intimidating people, he said: "There's one person at least in the state who intimidates William Donald Schaefer, and that's Bill Shepard."

Perhaps, but his standing seemed clear in the words of Nelli Whitmer, 72, of Bel Air last week.

"I don't know anybody who really dislikes him," she said of th Democratic governor. "I think we've had a wonderful governor." She was asked if she knows whom Mr. Schaefer is running against.

"I don't know his name," she said.

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