Gouge optimistic, has no regrets after losing race

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Julia W. Gouge lost the first political race of her career three weeks ago, but has recovered enough to say she's not sorry she got into it.

She took a thorough beating, but being part of a statewide campaign bolstered her confidence and expanded her political options, she said.

The Carroll County commissioner said many paths in and out of government are open to her, but she is waiting to see who wins the governor's race before saying what she really wants. She talks of a job in Annapolis and even a run for Congress.

It likely would be four years before Mrs. Gouge, 54, of Hampstead, could be on a ballot again, and that's a long time to maintain name recognition, a county Democratic leader said.

"I don't want to kick Julia when she's down, but the reality is, it's hard to come back," said L. Gregory Pecoraro, chairman of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee.

Mrs. Gouge took a chance in June when she agreed to be Republican gubernatorial candidate William S. Shepard's running mate. If Mr. Shepard lost -- and he was expected to -- she would be out of office for the first time in 15 years.

Mrs. Gouge said she agonized for two weeks about the decision to drop her campaign for a House of Delegates seat to be the lieutenant governor candidate on the Shepard ticket. She never had been in a campaign that went beyond county borders.

"It came down to the fact that this was an opportunity you don't get every day. I felt it was an honor to be asked, and it was an opportunity to run a statewide campaign, and it was an opportunity to win, because you never know," Mrs. Gouge said last week.

That mantra -- "You never know" -- coupled with "Anything can happen" kept Mrs. Gouge and her campaign committee, which included many relatives, going through the 11 1/2 weeks they worked with the Shepard campaign.

And they did work.

"I don't think any of us realized how hard we would have to work," Mrs. Gouge said. "The organization was not as widespread as we had anticipated.

"I guess we have different philosophies in campaigning. Bill is a very laid-back person and does a much better job talking to smaller groups or one-on-one.

"He wasn't the type who was real outgoing, who would work his way through a crowd. A lot of people still didn't know who Bill Shepard was, and we found that out when we hit the campaign trail," she said.

Gary W. Haegerich, Mrs. Gouge's news media coordinator and nephew by marriage, said he and others from her committee urged Mr. Shepard, a retired diplomat from Montgomery County, to narrow his focus to a few issues on which he could make strong, memorable statements. But the candidate was reluctant to do that.

In a three-way primary race last month with U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley and state Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, both of Baltimore County, Mr. Shepard came in last with 10 percent of the vote. Mrs. Sauerbrey won the nomination.

Mr. Shepard did not have enough money to spread his message across the state, Republican State Party Executive Director Lance D. Copsey said.

Mrs. Gouge and her supporters believe the overwhelming loss will not hurt her political ambitions.

"This loss reflects more on Shepard than it does on her. It would not count against her," said Mr. Haegerich, a Baltimore County resident who also has worked on past campaigns for Mrs. Bentley, Mrs. Sauerbrey and District 5 Sen. Larry E. Haines.

In traveling around Maryland with the gubernatorial campaign, Mrs. Gouge made many contacts and gained visibility "to position her for something bigger later on, if she chose to do that," Mr. Haegerich said.

Carroll County Republican Central Committee Chairman Thomas W. Bowen said Mrs. Gouge would be a viable candidate in the future.

"She's a well-respected lady. As a person who would like to see more women in politics, I hope she will come back in 1998," he said.

Mrs. Gouge, a former Realtor, began her political career in 1979 when she was elected to the Hampstead Town Council. Later, she was elected town mayor and now is in her second term as one of three county commissioners. Her term will expire in December.

This year she has been president of the Maryland Association of Counties, an organization that lobbies for counties in Annapolis.

Mrs. Gouge was considered a front-runner in the Republican primary for one of three District 5 House of Delegates seats because of her name recognition as a county commissioner.

But a win was not assured. Mrs. Gouge was not elected as county commissioner by wide margins and was the third highest vote-getter in each election.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, D-5th, has encouraged Mrs. Gouge to stay in politics. The two met through MACO eight years ago and have shared hotel rooms at conferences to save money.

She understood her friend's decision to run on the Shepard ticket.

"She really did sacrifice a safe election," Ms. Spector said of the delegate race. But "she felt this was once-in-a-lifetime. Women have to take that risk because you don't always get the opportunity. She didn't think she'd have the opportunity again."

She said Mrs. Gouge is proud of "the firsts" she has accomplished -- first female mayor in Carroll, first female Carroll commissioner and first Republican female MACO president.

L "She was a trailblazer. No pain, no gain," Ms. Spector said.

Mrs. Gouge said she is proud to have been the first woman in those jobs and knows if she accomplishes nothing else, she'll be mentioned in local history books.

"I have a place there," she said.

Her daughter, Jill Gebhart of Hampstead, said her mother does not regret the decision to run with Mr. Shepard.

"Once or twice in the heat of the moment she'd say, 'What am I doing?' " Mrs. Gebhart said. "But she wouldn't undo it. We learned so much.

"She's definitely looking for a job. She can't stay idle. She never planned a career other than her political career."

If she does not run for office again, Mrs. Gebhart said, her mother could work in economic development, which she has studied extensively; use her talents in growing and arranging flowers to open a florist business; or become a motivational speaker.

She won't go back to selling real estate, Mrs. Gebhart said. "She's done with sales in her life."

Mrs. Gouge said she would be open to a state job, perhaps in the governor's Cabinet, if Mrs. Sauerbrey wins next month.

"I would enjoy a job in Annapolis," she said.

When she joined the Shepard ticket, local politicians from both parties speculated she did so to position herself for a state job. Mr. Haegerich said that wasn't true.

"She was not running for a cabinet position. She was running with Bill to win," he said.

Mrs. Gouge said she has considered becoming a lobbyist to advocate for town or county governments or working in public relations of some sort.

Mr. Shepard was reluctant to speculate about Mrs. Gouge's future last week, saying only that it was "bright."

Mr. Pecoraro, the county Democratic leader, took a dimmer view.

"Shepard didn't make much of a blip, and I don't think she did either," he said.

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