Governor Ecker? Primary obstacle: Howard county executive mulls race; Sauerbrey could be biggest hurdle.


WHAT CHARLES I. ECKER did for Republicans in Howard County, he'd like to do for Maryland -- by running for governor and spearheading a takeover of the State House.

The Howard county executive has won kudos in his two terms as a fiscal conservative who cares about helping people. He's not ++ an ideologue but a pragmatist whose "aw shucks" manner has proved endearing.

Before Chuck Ecker, Howard Republicans were in the wilderness. Since he first won election in 1990, though, the GOP has come to dominate county affairs.

Now Mr. Ecker is mulling a race for governor. Democrat Parris Glendening looks vulnerable. Yet the toughest part could be the GOP primary. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the party's 1994 nominee, is a formidable foe.

She has a cadre of conservative believers. But her allegations of vote fraud and refusal to concede defeat in 1994 alienated some voters. A number of business leaders and GOP officials worry that her hard-right ideology could be too much for voters in 1998. They don't want the GOP to blow a golden opportunity.

Enter Mr. Ecker. His supporters see him as a moderate with broad appeal, a la Charles "Mac" Mathias. He has the contacts and track record to raise big campaign funds.

The 67-year-old executive can't by law run for a third term in Howard, so he'd have nothing to lose filing for governor. But he'd have to be ready for a rough primary. Loyalties would be split. He would be under attack for collaborating with the enemy (the dreaded Democrats) while county executive. He would start out little known in much of Maryland.

As we noted in 1994, a contested primary is good news for the Republicans. It shows that they have a strong bench and that the party has a real shot at winning these elections.

Mr. Ecker would be doing the party a service by running. Given the option of a true conservative or a true moderate, which would Maryland Republicans choose? A Sauerbrey-Ecker contest would let GOP voters clearly determine the direction of their state party.

Pub Date: 9/02/96

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