Republican Helen Delich Bentley says if she becomes governor, new jobs will flock to Maryland, violent thugs will be put behind bars to stay, and government expansion will grind to a halt.
What the five-term congresswoman does not say is precisely how she would accomplish such feats, nor how she would tackle the endless array of other thorny problems facing Maryland's next governor. Details are not what her campaign has been about.
Instead, her disciplined race has locked in on a single objective: winning in November. Her message has been crisp -- pro-business, anti-crime, fiscally conservative -- and intentionally uncluttered by specifics opponents might attack.
Mrs. Bentley's handlers have concluded it is politically safer to hide their candidate than risk one of her famed slips of the tongue, or allow her rivals a chance to chip away at her big lead in the polls.
The normally outspoken 70-year-old from Lutherville has muzzled herself, resisting the temptation to reply to barbs from her opponents. She has ducked debates, deferred questions about her stances, kept her schedule a secret, and waged the lowest visibility campaign she could.
The people developing her television ads admit they are intentionally avoiding issues, emphasizing instead the traits that make their candidate likable, that have "gut feeling" appeal.
Don't worry, her image makers are telling voters. Helen Bentley is a fighter, a doer, a problem solver.
It all has been calculated to get her past the Sept. 13 primary without helping her two lesser known GOP rivals, Baltimore County Delegate Ellen R. Sauerbrey and retired diplomat William S. Shepard of Montgomery County.
Mrs. Bentley says it is no big deal: Marylanders know who she is.
"I think I have a very public record that goes back a period of 40 or 50 years in Maryland. And I haven't changed in that time," said the woman who spent 24 years as a maritime writer for The Sun, chaired the Federal Maritime Commission under Richard M. Nixon, ran her own import-export business, and is completing her 10th year representing Harford and Baltimore counties in Congress.
But by waging such a stealth campaign, Mrs. Bentley has failed to present the electorate with any grand plan to move the state forward. Even her most repeated claim -- that as governor she would erase Maryland's anti-business reputation and create -Z more jobs -- is virtually devoid of the details of how to accomplish that.
Her message seems to be: "Trust me! The specifics will come later."
Mrs. Bentley's story is inseparable from her half-century involvement with and advocacy for the port of Baltimore, a passion developed as a reporter but linked to every major achievement in her life.
She plays up her role as the head-knocking negotiator who mediated countless labor disputes on the docks, the one who forced longshoremen to rid Baltimore of its reputation as the only port that refused to work in the rain.
Angered that Democratic Rep. Clarence Long was costing the port jobs by blocking on environmental grounds the dredging of the Baltimore shipping channel, the tenacious, self-described "Fighting Lady" challenged him in three successive elections. She won in 1984, and got the federal money to dig out the channel the next year.
Allegiance to port
Her allegiance to steamship lines, stevedores and other port industries also helps explain the strident protectionist views she has championed in Congress, her Japan-bashing, her opposition the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and her flag-waving pitch to "buy American."
She has steered Navy jobs to her district's Bethlehem Steel shipyard and helped to persuade Martin Marietta to stay in Middle River. Admirers marvel at both her energy and influence, recalling how she once flew to Hong Kong to help persuade a major shipping line to move its business from Norfolk to Baltimore. She stayed for dinner and lunch the next day, then flew home.
In 1987, she made "Bentley" a household word in Japan by smashing a Toshiba radio with a sledgehammer outside the U.S. Capitol. The stunt was a protest of Toshiba's sale to Moscow of high-tech machinery that could help Soviet submarines elude detection. Seven years later, state economic development officials still worry that a Governor Bentley might have trouble conducting foreign trade with Asia.
In Congress, she has voted against expanding abortion rights for women. She also was the only member of Congress from Maryland to vote against the 1990 civil rights bill (which banned employment discrimination) and is the only one to have no blacks or Hispanics on her staff.
She has voted against gun control measures, often after saying publicly she would support them.
By contrast, Howard A. Denis, the state senator she picked to be her lieutenant governor, favors abortion rights and gun control. His solid base in vote-rich Montgomery County seems to have been more important than his views.
In foreign affairs, Mrs. Bentley voted to authorize President Bush to go to war in the Persian Gulf, but criticized him for sending U.S. troops on a relief mission to famine-ridden Somalia.
Mrs. Bentley, who is of Serbian descent, has been the most vocal supporter in Congress of the Serbian aggressors in the Bosnian war. She used her congressional staff to help organize a national network of Serbian-Americans, who repaid the favor by contributing more than $80,000 to her 1992 re-election campaign.
Croatian-Americans are already trying to make "Helen of Serbia" an issue in the gubernatorial campaign, saying her support for a regime linked to mass rape, torture and ethnic cleansing demonstrates a fundamental flaw in her character and sufficient reason for Marylanders to vote against her.
Michael S. Kosmas, her campaign manager, said Mrs. Bentley was only helping the Bush administration establish communications between the two warring factions in Bosnia. "When the Bush administration went out of office, her involvement ended," he said.
It is harder to say what kind of record Mrs. Bentley wants to establish as governor.
Her Democratic and Republican rivals have batted around issues at public forums, and have issued booklets and "white papers" outlining their positions on deficit reduction, welfare, education and other issues. Mrs. Bentley, by contrast, has been almost invisible, missing -- by Mr. Shepard's count -- at least 45 nonpartisan forums and debates.
She says she has been busy in Congress, while her two opponents have nothing to do but campaign.
First position paper
But only within the past two weeks did she issue her campaign's first position paper, a plan to fight crime that quickly illustrated the political danger of saying out loud what she might do as governor. The plan immediately drew attention to, and criticism for, her two votes against the $30 billion federal crime bill.
Her plan also seemed to demonstrate a shallow understanding of state issues. She claimed, for instance, that most Maryland prison inmates are nonviolent, when in fact nearly 60 percent have been convicted of violent crimes, according to state corrections officials.
Her tough-sounding proposal to give two-time violent offenders life in prison without parole immediately elicited complaints from judges and jailers who said it would clog the courts, cram the prisons and endanger the guards.
For months, Mrs. Sauerbrey and Mr. Shepard have been trying to get Mrs. Bentley on the record on such issues, saying they believe that her limited grasp would unwittingly be revealed to voters.
"The more she campaigns, the more votes she loses," said one member of Congress who knows her well.
Indeed, Democrats and Republicans alike agree that Mrs. Bentley is running a smart campaign. She is not banking on issues to get elected, at least not in the primary. She is counting on the pent-up desire of Maryland Republicans -- who have not won the Governor's Mansion since Spiro T. Agnew was elected in 1966 -- to back someone they believe can win it all.
Then, in the general, she expects to face Parris N. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive, whom she surely will portray as just another big-spending liberal Democrat.
Casting herself as the hold-the-line conservative in the race, she hopes to capitalize on the support she already has among traditionally Democratic labor groups at the port, and convince conservative "Reagan Democrats" to give her the crossover vote she would need to win in a state with a 2-to-1 Democratic advantage in voter registration.
Mrs. Sauerbrey has challenged Mrs. Bentley's claim that she is the only Republican who can win in November, saying the congresswoman is too big a spender, too close to labor, and too cozy with Democrats, especially Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Ironically, those are just the ingredients many political insiders say they believe a Republican has to have to win in Maryland.
Mr. Schaefer protected Mrs. Bentley during redistricting in 1991, leading to the eventual defeat of an incumbent Democratic congressman, Tom McMillen. Mr. Schaefer also encouraged her to enter the governor's race, and some contend that he might back her in a general election contest against Mr. Glendening.
But Mrs. Bentley, aware that ties to Mr. Schaefer could cost her votes, has distanced herself from him, saying she neither wants nor will accept his endorsement.
Mrs. Bentley is so confident she will win the primary that her campaign has already spent much of the $1.1 million it has raised so far to stockpile yard signs, produce television ads and prepare for an eight-week general election brawl.
She has said she gave up her safe seat in Congress to run for governor because she wants to make Maryland more of a two-party state. Over the years, she has invested much of her time and energy on the Grand Old Party.
She is an admirer of President Nixon, for whom she crisscrossed the country making 150 speeches in 1972. That year, while still chairing the Maritime Commission, she funneled $20,000 in contributions from two New York shipowners to the president's Watergate-era re-election committee.
Mrs. Bentley twice chaired President Bush's campaigns in Maryland, and expects him to campaign for her here next month if she wins the primary.
In 1986, after the Christian right gained control of the Maryland Republican Party and ran it into debt, she secretly stashed $20,000 in presidential campaign funds in a Carroll County account to keep it out of the hands of state party hierarchy. She now is widely credited with "saving" the state party from what more mainstream Republicans viewed as conservative extremists.
But her supporters say that through the power of her personality and appeal to Democrats she has made it possible for Republicans at all levels to have a chance to win this year, including in the governor's race.
"She blazed a trail in this state for people like me," said state Delegate Robert Ehrlich Jr., who is running for Mrs. Bentley's congressional seat. "I can go to Essex in 1994 as a Republican and expect to do OK. Prior to Helen Bentley, that couldn't have occurred."
-! Tomorrow: Melvin A. Steinberg
HELEN DELICH BENTLEY
Home: Lutherville, Baltimore County.
Family: Husband, William R. Bentley. No children.
Education: B.A., journalism, University of Missouri.
Experience: Congresswoman, Maryland 2nd District, 1985-present. President of import/export company, 1975-1985. Chairman, Federal Maritime Commission, 1969-1975. Maritime reporter, columnist and editor, The Sun, 1945-1969.
POSITIONS ON ISSUES:
Taxes/budget: Says has no plans to raise taxes and would avoid any general tax increase "if humanly possible." Would address projected deficit by freezing state spending at current levels in first year or two, reducing cost of state employee health insurance, and reducing work force through attrition.
Economic development: Says her top priority as governor would be to eliminate Maryland's "anti-business" reputation. Says businesses are hurt by too many regulations, especially environmental regulations. Would establish an ombudsman to business in the governor's office, and a revolving fund to help small businesses start and expand.
Crime: Would eliminate parole and work release for all violent offenders. Proposes a "two-strikes" law requiring mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole for anyone convicted of a second violent felony. Would make room in existing prisons by moving nonviolent offenders to boot camps and home detention. Favors expansion of death penalty to include drug kingpins and those who sell drugs on school property or to minors.
Gun control: Favors better enforcement of existing gun control laws, but opposes expansion of those laws. Has generally voted against gun control laws in Congress, even after saying she would vote for them.
Abortion: Has cast anti-abortion votes in Congress, but says would not attempt to change or repeal the Maryland abortion law ratified by voters in 1992. Would not change current restrictions on use of state Medicaid funds for abortions for poor women.
Schools: Would trim state education bureaucracy. Opposes xTC Maryland's community service requirement, which she calls "mandated voluntarism." Would make local school systems account for their spending better before considering any move to target more money to poor jurisdictions. Supports teacher recertification and state take-over of troubled schools, but says communities around failed schools need to be involved more.