Former congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley has never been one to back away from a fight, and this year, she's returning to the political fray to boost Republican Charles I. Ecker's campaign for governor.
Bentley sent out a letter last week to 4,000 prospective contributors asking them to support Ecker, the Howard County executive, in the GOP gubernatorial primary by contributing to his campaign.
"I think he'd make an excellent chief executive for the state," she said. "I'm trying to help him as much as I can."
Bentley maintains that her endorsement is not about the woman who beat her four years ago in a bitter Republican primary, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who this year is running against Ecker.
Asked if Sauerbrey's front-running campaign was the reason she is backing Ecker, Bentley said, "He'd make a great chief executive. Period."
This from the woman who appeared to slap away Sauerbrey's hand at a unity rally the morning after losing the 1994 primary to her.
Ecker also maintains that Bentley's support has nothing to do with her relationship with Sauerbrey.
"She's been supporting me since the beginning," he said. "She hasn't said anything about her differences with Ellen."
Besides, Ecker said, "I'm thankful for any support I can get."
Bentley's support of Ecker didn't faze the Sauerbrey campaign.
"Helen hasn't made any secret of the fact that she's supporting Chuck," said Jim Dornan, Sauerbrey's spokesman.
"We respect her desire to support whoever she wants," Dornan said. "We just don't happen to believe she's on the right side this time."
Bentley's letter asks for contributions of $100, $250, $500 or more to help Ecker "wage a winning effort."
Her two-page letter extols Ecker's "long experience" as a two- term county executive, highlighting his efforts to promote the county's business climate. There is no reference to Sauerbrey, a former schoolteacher and legislator.
Bentley, 74, eased herself out of the public eye after her loss to Sauerbrey in 1994. She formed Bentley & Associates Inc., a lobbying and consulting firm dealing in international trading and business development, and still maintains a rigorous schedule.
In an interview, Bentley did level one shot at the Sauerbrey camp -- the conservatives Sauerbrey counts among her grass-roots supporters.
"I do have one problem with her side -- that's the extremists who are in her camp," said the moderate Bentley.
She was referring to the conservatives from whom she wrested control of the Maryland Republican Party in the 1980s, when the GOP's right wing had taken over.
"That's what the party is beginning to become again, and I'm sorry for that," said Bentley, a former Republican national committeewoman.
"When I heard these people boo Chuck Ecker at Lincoln Day dinners, and some wouldn't even introduce him, that tells me a great deal," she said.
Pub Date: 6/02/98