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Schaefer finds understanding in W.Va.


SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- A West Virginia state senator applauded his sense of humor, businessmen gave him a standing ovation, a fellow governor called him one of America's very best public servants.

For Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a day of campaigning for West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton was like a homecoming away from home.

Schoolchildren sang for him, banners welcomed him and everyone had a kind word or a gift to give him.

When the Chamber of Commerce stood to applaud him during a luncheon here, the governor smiled and said, "Gee, maybe some day I'll go back to Maryland and. . ." Laughter interrupted him.

"They love me there," Mr. Schaefer said, rolling his eyes. More laughter.

Some may have wondered how a politician such as Mr. Schaefer -- occasionally caustic to voters and suffering a free fall in the polls -- could help anyone in search of votes. West Virginia may be almost heaven, but it's still in range of Maryland newspapers and television stations.

All the better, actually, strange as that may seem.

"What Governor Schaefer is going through over there -- we've already been through," said Philip T. Porterfield III, a vice president at Shenandoah Federal Savings Bank in Charles Town. People in Maryland will learn, the banker said, what the people of West Virginia had to learn three years ago when taxpayers were asked to bail the state out of near bankruptcy.

The lesson? "Somebody's got to pay the freight. I'm one of those who thinks the tax increases helped our state," Mr. Porterfield said. That, of course, is Governor Caperton's message.

West Virginia voters have watched Mr. Schaefer in a similar situation asking Marylanders to pay more.

And news of what's happening just across the Potomac River proves to West Virginians that they aren't alone. The knowledge could take a bit of the heat off Mr. Caperton, who is seeking votes for the Democratic primary Tuesday.

Beyond that, said Mayor Rufus Park of Charles Town, Mr. Schaefer is welcome and helpful to Mr. Caperton because "the people of West Virginia are kind-hearted individuals. They don't judge so harshly."

The state senator who likes the Schaefer sense of humor, Sondra M. Lucht, said: "His sense of humor is a little crusty, very earthy, a little like mine. I bet his negatives [in opinion polls] are like mine.

"When you're in public life, you do what you think you have to do. In the long term, it'll seem heroic. In the short term, it may be harder to get elected."

The two governors started their day along the banks of the shimmering Shenandoah near a tract of forested land donated to West Virginia by the Potomac Edison Co. along with $48,000 to make the access road usable by the state's half-million fishermen.

For Mr. Caperton, the location was a good one. In a state where coal is still occasionally king, Mr. Caperton is sometimes accused of being too friendly with the mine owners. News photographs of him near the water probably didn't hurt.

From there, the two-state motorcade sped toward a veterans hospital near Martinsburg. A third of the huge complex's employees and as many of its patients are from nearby Maryland.

The chief nurse, Judy Gerdeman, is a former Baltimore resident. She accepted a plaque from Mr. Schaefer honoring her and all the hospital's nurses. Mr. Schaefer said he had learned the wonders of nursing during World War II and never forgot.

Ms. Gerdeman has a signed picture of Mr. Schaefer on her bookcase at the hospital. "I know there's a lot of upset citizens in Maryland. And he's taking the heat. Maybe people need more education about state finances."

Mr. Schaefer's message to West Virginia voters -- "When you have a good man in office, when you have an honest man in office . . . a person who cares, someone who has devoted his life to people . . . all you have to do on primary day is go to the polls. Don't take him for granted" -- was delivered a bit wistfully, as if Mr. Caperton were not the only governor he had in mind.

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