Wake-up Call for Maryland GOP


Tuesday's election results, showing a resurgent Republican Party from Virginia to New York City, ought to be interpreted as a wake-up call for Maryland's decidedly minority party as it prepares for next year's state elections. The party still doesn't have a candidate to run for the United States Senate, even though poll ratings show incumbent Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes is among the more vulnerable Democrats up for reelection.

Forming a high-quality statewide ticket is crucial for the Maryland GOP. A weak top of the ticket could crush the hopes of other Republican candidates desperate for coattail support. Yet the most prominent Republicans in Maryland have displayed a marked reluctance to take the plunge. Rep. Constance Morella refuses to run against Mr. Sarbanes. Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall bowed out as a candidate for governor and never even considered running for Senate. Rep. Helen D. Bentley is still trying to decide if she will campaign for governor or for re-election; a senatorial bid isn't in her plans, either.

Even the two Republican candidates who are active candidates for governor -- William S. Shepard and Ellen Sauerbrey -- refuse to consider switching races, though their backgrounds arguably make them better suited to run for the Senate: Mr. Shepard's career was in the foreign service; Mrs. Sauerbrey's strong belief in Reagan conservatism could be best displayed in a national forum.

Why are Republicans unable to come up with a high-powered candidate to run against Mr. Sarbanes? The incumbent Democrat is well-entrenched, slated for chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee and aided by this state's heavy Democratic majority. But with Mr. Sarbanes' liberal voting record, low profile and skimpy reputation for constituent service, Republicans should be clamoring for the chance to take him on.

Three years ago, Republicans shocked Democrats in county elections, seizing control of the executive offices in Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and coming close in Harford County. The future looked bright. But party leaders have dropped the ball in building momentum leading up to the 1994 elections. No one wants to run for the U.S. Senate. That is an indictment of Maryland's Republican Party. A party that cannot get its best candidates to run for top offices doesn't give voters much of a choice.

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