Republicans trade early shots Rhetoric: The GOP gubernatorial campaigns are working on their aim and using each other for target practice.; CAMPAIGN 1998


IT'S EARLY, of course, but not too early for an election year tale of cheap shots, "hypocrisy," respect and mailing lists.

As they strive for traction on the slippery spring footing, candidates will be looking for opportunities to create some advantage for their campaigns.

Take, for example, this exchange between the GOP's gubernatorial primary candidates, 1994 nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey and Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Sauerbrey invited Oliver L. North, the conservative Iran-contra figure, to help her raise money. He was to appear last night at a private fund-raiser in Annapolis.

North, a super-conservative hero to some and a right-wing fanatic to others, proved an irresistible target. Geyer Wise, Ecker's campaign manager, called North "Ellen's kind of guy," and wondered if Sauerbrey was hanging a "For Sale" sign around her neck.

Turns out, though, that North might be Ecker's kind of guy, too.

On Feb. 16, Ecker wrote to North inviting the retired Marine to visit "Maryland to speak on my behalf as a strong leader who moves beyond ideology to practical solutions.

"Someone of your notable stature," Ecker wrote, "who shares my rational and positive approach to government and its capabilities, would help assure Marylanders that sensible Republicans are well-represented in the state of Maryland."

The February letter was sent by fax across the GOP landscape yesterday.

"I am disappointed in their hypocrisy," said Carol Hirschburg, speaking for the Sauerbrey campaign. "I never thought that Chuck Ecker was the kind of person who would take cheap shots at someone, particularly when he was doing the same thing."

Wise said the letter went out to a long and standard list of national Republican stars for two reasons: To get their support, if possible, and to let them know that Sauerbrey has competition in Maryland.

"It's discouraging when you have someone who has walked the Republican walk, talked the talk and still you get no respect," she said of her candidate. Frequently, she said, the stars come to town and all-but-endorse Sauerbrey -- despite the Ecker challenge.

Wise said none of the leading lights on the mailing list has agreed, up to now, to visit on Ecker's behalf.

Hirschburg said the Sauerbrey campaign sold another seven tickets yesterday morning after a story in which the Ecker campaign's comments were reported in The Sun.

Need a score card to track press secretaries

Judi Scioli, the affable and accommodating press secretary to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, will be moving to a yet-to-be-determined state job. Scioli says her decision to seek another niche in state government springs from a variety of personal considerations.

Depending on how you count, Scioli becomes the fourth lead person in the Glendening press office to depart. They've had different titles, but they all were assigned to do some of the gubernatorial speaking.

The list includes Tim Ayers, who was Glendening's press secretary when Glendening was Prince George's County executive; Diana Rossborough, now press aide in the Department of Transportation; and John W. Frece, formerly with The Sun and now the governor's point man on Smart Growth.

Sauerbrey also has a new press aide, the second of this campaign. He's Jim Dornan, a 38-year-old quasi-itinerant veteran Capitol Hill and grass-roots politics. He ran Republican Rep. J. C. Watts' successful 1994 campaign in Oklahoma -- making Watts the first African-American congressman from that state since the reconstruction era. More recently, Dornan has been chief of staff for Republican Rep. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina.

Dornan replaces Laura Woolfrey, who left unhappily in November.

Voters' policy preferences revealed in opinion polls

Opinion poll results will always be with us -- particularly in an election year. Some of the most useful poll data comes from surveys about policy questions: Should cigarette taxes be pushed much higher? Should personal taxes be lower? Would you like to see the Intercounty Connector in Montgomery County completed?

About 60 percent of 2,800 voters from the Rockville area favor completion of the so-called ICC, according to a recent poll by the District 17 state senator and delegates, all Democrats. The controversial road would link Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg with Interstate 95 in Laurel.

Said District 17 Del. Cheryl C. Kagan: "We expected this response [on the ICC] considering the phone calls, letters and e-mails we've received all session long."

The poll also found that higher cigarette taxes were popular among this group of Montgomery Countians and that a fair number would love to see their tax bills lowered.

Glendening has favored higher taxes on cigarettes -- and he pushed a 10 percent income-tax cut last year.

But, while the polling was under way, the governor announced that he was rethinking and withdrawing at least temporarily his long-held support of the road project.

Two out of three may not be bad most of the time, but in this case it's probably not terrific. Montgomery County remains a must-win-and-win-big county for Glendening, and many of his opponents, Republican and Democratic, are lining up to criticize him on his decision.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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