Eager to replace Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening with a Republican, national GOP leaders are lining up to raise money for Ellen R. Sauerbrey even though her bid for the gubernatorial nomination is contested.
The high-caliber Republican support indicates that party leaders believe Sauerbrey has the best chance of ousting Glendening, the likely Democratic nominee in the November general election.
Sensing his vulnerability, Republicans of every stripe are responding to Sauerbrey's call.
They range from Rep. Dan Burton, the Indiana congressman whose zealous efforts to damage President Clinton embarrassed and irritated the party, to New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a liberal who was scorned for supporting Democrat Mario M. Cuomo for governor over George E. Pataki. Also expected to support her are House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a slew of U.S. senators and other congressmen and several GOP governors.
"She's definitely able to attract people from all across the spectrum of the party -- themoderates and the conservatives," said Kirsten A. Fedewa, spokeswoman for the Republican Governors Association.
It is relatively unusual for national figures of either party to step in before the primary. In this case, the big names are weighing in for Sauerbrey despite her race against Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, choosing to ignore a GOP rule against raising money for one candidate in a contested primary election.
Former President George Bush, for one, has refused to appear at a function in Maryland until after the Sept. 15 primary.
The guest appearances "surprise me," said Geyer Wise, Ecker's campaign manager, "because there have been a number of Republicans who have said they don't get involved in contested primaries."
"We're just spending our time concentrating on the people who can vote for us," Wise said.
Glendening campaign spokesman Peter Hamm shrugged off the talk of big Republican money coming to Maryland.
"A challenger is going to bring in surrogates who appeal to people to put together every bit as aggressive a fund-raising operation that he or she can," said Hamm, whose candidate spent a record $5.2 million in 1994. "We have no doubt that she's going to be a very, very aggressive fund-raiser."
Four years ago, Sauerbrey came within 5,993 votes of beating Glendening, and the Republicans vowed a rematch. As Glendening plunged in the polls -- a trend that has reversed itself only in the past year -- capturing the Maryland State House became both a possibility and a priority for the GOP.
Sauerbrey has been able to raise anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 at small gatherings in private homes around the state, with the GOP leaders as featured guests. The scope of the events is likely to increase as the campaign accelerates efforts to hit its $5 million fund-raising goal.
"We expect to raise a significant amount of money out of these events," said Jim Dornan, spokesman for the Sauerbrey campaign. "It is part of our whole fund-raising strategy."
On Monday, a $250-a-head cocktail party will feature Burton at the home of Richard D. Bennett, who is leaving as chief counsel to Burton's committee investigating the role of foreign money in Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign.
On June 10, a $100-a-head event in Bethesda is scheduled for New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, the candidate after whom Sauerbrey fashioned herself in 1994.
Five days later, Giuliani will be on hand for a Yankees game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where 20 supporters will pay $1,000 each to schmooze with the mayor and Sauerbrey in a skybox.
Later next month, Gingrich will be the draw at a $250-a-person fund-raiser in Montgomery County at the Potomac home of Sheldon Kamins, a Sauerbrey supporter who heads GOPAC, Gingrich's fund-raising arm, Dornan said.
Yet it seems that the fund-raising efforts have less to do with Sauerbrey, the darling of the GOP's conservative wing, than they it do with changing the "D" after the Maryland governor's name to an "R." If Sauerbrey were to win, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1, she would become the first Republican governor in 32 years and the sixth ever.
"The GOP senses a real opportunity here," Fedewa said. "There's a feeling that there's going to be a fight -- and it's winnable, but it's not going to be a cakewalk."
While the Republican Governors Association and the Republican National Committee are claiming neutrality in the primary race, it is clear that Sauerbrey, the Maryland GOP's national committeewoman, is capitalizing on her national contacts.
It was Sauerbrey who complained bitterly four years ago that the front-runner in the GOP primary, former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, then the state's national committeewoman, was garnering all the national money.
Earlier this year, Sauerbrey benefited from what campaign staffers refer to as "Governor's Week," a three-event fund-raising spree in which three Republican governors -- John M. Engler of Michigan, Terry E. Branstad of Iowa and William F. Weld of Massachusetts -- held events here.
In March, Sauerbrey opened herself up to criticism -- particularly among Democrats looking toward the general election -- when ** Iran-contra figure Oliver L. North was the attraction at an Annapolis fund-raiser.
Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, whose presidential campaign in Maryland was chaired by Sauerbrey in 1996, has held two events for her this month alone.
Sauerbrey also has commitments for events, yet unscheduled, from a long list of GOP heavy hitters, Dornan said.
They include GOP governors George W. Bush of Texas, Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin, James S. Gilmore III of Virginia, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, and David M. Beasley of South Carolina.
Pub Date: 5/28/98