In what promises to be a central theme of his campaign for governor, Democrat Parris N. Glendening, through aides and key supporters, has begun depicting Republican nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey as a right-wing fringe figure outside the mainstream of Maryland voters.
The Glendening camp has also started deriding Mrs. Sauerbrey's pledge to slash personal income taxes, ridiculing it as "voodoo economics," a phrase applied by George Bush to Ronald Reagan's economic proposals when both were seeking the 1980 GOP presidential nomination.
The Sauerbrey campaign responded by denying the assertions and insisting that Mr. Glendening was attempting to divert the attention of voters from other issues, notably spending and crime.
Although the Glendening campaign had expected to face off against U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley in the general election, its rhetoric since Tuesday's primary demonstrates that it has already adjusted its sights to a new rival.
On Wednesday, the day after Mrs. Sauerbrey won a stunning come-from-behind victory in the Republican primary, Michael D. Barnes, the vice chair of the state Democratic Party, described her political base as "a rather narrow band of ideologues."
Mr. Glendening's campaign manager, Emily Smith, moved to reinforce that message yesterday, saying of the GOP standard bearer, "She is an extreme conservative, out of touch; she was elected by the radical right."
By contrast, Ms. Smith described Mr. Glendening as "a moderate Democratic who will appeal to a broad base of voters."
Mrs. Sauerbrey's spokesman, Tom Dupree, was quick to respond. "Ellen Sauerbrey stands for reducing spending, controlling the growth of government and putting violent criminals behind bars," he said. "That's not radical right, that's mainstream Maryland."
Mr. Dupree scoffed at the description of Mr. Glendening as a moderate. "It sounds like they lassoed Parris Glendening and are trying to drag him back to the political center," he said.
Mr. Dupree also challenged the attack on Mrs. Sauerbrey's vow to slash personal income taxes by 24 percent over four years, saying major tax reduction measures had been enacted by Republican Govs. William Weld in Massachusetts and Christine Todd Whitman in New Jersey.
"They told Bill Weld it couldn't be done. They told Christie Whitman it couldn't be done. Now Parris Glendening is telling Ellen Sauerbrey it couldn't be done," said Mr. Dupree. "History speaks otherwise."
The strategy behind characterizing Mrs. Sauerbrey as a hard-right conservative is clear. Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in Maryland. The few Republicans who have run successful statewide races in recent decades have been in the moderate to liberal mold.
Ms. Smith said that Mrs. Sauerbrey's views on abortion and gun control -- along with the strong support she received on election day from anti-abortion forces, gun rights advocates and conservative religious groups -- justified linking her to the radical right.
Mrs. Sauerbrey, the Republican leader of the Maryland House, has been aligned with anti-abortion forces in the legislature. She said during the primary campaign, however, that she would not attempt to reverse a 1992 referendum that affirmed a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.
Unlike Mr. Glendening, she has said that as governor she would not lift restrictions on state Medicaid funding of abortions for poor women.
Mrs. Sauerbrey has been a consistent opponent of gun control, saying that legislative efforts to control crime should be aimed at criminals, not gun owners and firearms enthusiasts. She has proposed stiffer sentences for violent offenders.
Though she has laid heavy emphasis on scaling back state government, Mrs. Sauerbrey has not explained in detail what programs and services she would eliminate or curtail to offset the loss of revenue, estimated at $800 million.
She has also said that she would give local governments greater taxing authority to compensate for lost revenues resulting from her tax-cut proposal.
Ms. Smith insisted that the Sauerbrey tax cut would lead to higher property taxes, because local subdivisions would be forced to assume the cost of services no longer provided by the state.
"Come April 15, you may write different checks to different people, but your taxes will be the same," she said.
Ms. Smith also said reduced revenues resulting from a tax cut would handicap efforts to fight crime, because less money would be available for the prison system, police protection and the courts.