Elizabeth Hanford Dole, the GOP's would-be first lady, rallied the Republican faithful at the state convention in Annapolis yesterday, helping to bridge some of the rifts between conservative and moderate factions of the party.
Dole, stumping on behalf of her husband, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, found a receptive audience among state GOP activists, many of whom had supported the conservative Texas Sen. Phil Gramm before he aborted his presidential bid.
With both the ease of a seasoned pro and the intimacy of an old friend, Dole left the podium to walk among the 200 conventioneers, while promoting the candidacy of her husband, the presumed party nominee, and taking shots at President Clinton.
"You better elect Bob Dole to carry out Bill Clinton's broken promises," she said in her North Carolina drawl. "If Bill Clinton is re-elected, there'll be no holds barred. Just watch those liberal stripes come out."
Dole, a former U.S. secretary of transportation and secretary of labor who now heads the American Red Cross, was clearly a crowd pleaser -- and a timely one.
In the minds of many Republicans, her address -- and its reception by the party activists -- seemed to mark the state party's uniting behind Bob Dole, who is viewed by many GOP hard-liners, particularly former Gramm supporters, as not being conservative enough.
"She was great," said State Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a first-term legislator from Montgomery County. "She united the party at the first opportunity after the primary to bring all the factions together under one roof and unite them all behind Bob Dole."
Party officials have feared that the fissures caused by ideological differences between the right-wing and moderates of the party would erode the gains made by the GOP in predominantly Democratic Maryland in the past few years.
The resounding theme for the convention was clearly that of unity amid continued concerns that the hard-liners were steering the party too far to the right -- reminiscent of a time in the late 1980s, when the religious right seized control of the party.
Former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, in her farewell address as national committeewoman, warned of "the extremists in the party."
"No party can survive extremists on either end demanding everyone to march to their tune," said Bentley, who is credited with wresting control of the party in the late 1980s from the conservatives.
"I just hope that the foundation that we laid in 1988 will continue to provide the basis for expansion of the Republican Party, so Maryland will truly become a two-party state," she said.
Bentley was succeeded yesterday by her one-time rival, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the GOP nominee for governor in 1994 who headed the Gramm forces in the state.
The conservative Sauerbrey, the former Maryland House minority leader from Baltimore County, was elected national committeewoman unanimously, giving her an official role in the state party from which she can better launch a State House bid in 1998.
Some of the rifts were in evidence during the semiannual convention, the first GOP gathering since Dole's victory in Maryland's March 5 primary.
But the real test of the conservatives' influence yesterday was that of electing eight at-large delegates to the Republican national convention in August in San Diego -- all of whom are bound to vote for Dole, because he carried the state in March.
One of the concerns voiced privately by mainstream Republicans was that a group of conservatives running for the delegate slots -- a so-called "alternative slate" -- would be elected and keep such moderates as 8th District Rep. Constance A. Morella away from the convention.
While Morella squeaked by as the eighth delegate in a field of 12, two other moderates -- both Dole supporters from Montgomery County -- were knocked off.
The two from the official Dole slate who didn't make it were William S. Shepard, the retired diplomat who ran for governor in 1990 and 1994 and helped organized the Dole campaign in Maryland, and Robert E. Lighthizer, Dole's national treasurer.
In their stead will go Dels. John R. Leopold and Michael W. Burns, both from Anne Arundel County.
Joyce Lyons Terhes, the state party chairwoman, said those two losses on the official Dole slate did not spell trouble for the party -- or the restart of problems with the conservative wing that the GOP saw in 1988 and 1989.
"I do think we have some people out there on the fringes, but they're there all the time and might just be a little more vociferous" than the more mainstream Republicans, Terhes said.
She said that she believed the "alternative slate" was created not so much out of ideology, but out of a feeling that too many delegates would have been from Montgomery County. And, of course, "they don't like to be told by anybody who to vote for." On the other hand, she added, "If Connie [Morella] had lost, then it would have been a different story."
Pub Date: 5/05/96