Maryland Republicans pledge unity, renewed spirit in race for governor Central committee meets to schmooze, campaign


Two hundred of Maryland's most enthusiastic Republicans gathered this weekend for their state convention to schmooze, swap war stories and pledge unity for the election ahead.

Some party leaders blame Ellen R. Sauerbrey's narrow loss in the 1994 governor's race on the divisiveness that spilled over from a bitter primary election battle against Helen Delich Bentley, who did not endorse Sauerbrey.

L But this year, there seems little danger of a similar split.

At the BWI Sheraton yesterday, yellow-and-black Sauerbrey stickers were even more prevalent than the red ties and elephant jewelry favored by GOP faithful. The gossip focused far more on Sauerbrey's possible running mate than on the primary challenge from Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who has done little to dent Sauerbrey's lead.

"If you sling mud at a Republican, then a Democrat will pick that up after the primary and sling it right back," state GOP Chairwoman Joyce Lyons Terhes told party activists. "For God's sake, follow Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment, and do not speak ill of fellow Republicans."

The convention, a twice-yearly gathering of GOP central committee members from around the state, began Friday night with an hourlong meeting followed by hours more of cocktails, chatting and campaigning.

Sauerbrey and Ecker had hospitality suites. Sauerbrey's leading contenders for running mate -- 1994 running mate Paul H. Rappaport, former U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett and Prince George's County GOP Chairman Michael Steele -- worked the crowd.

Vendors peddled Republican paraphernalia that included a Richard M. Nixon pin, a "Glendening is an enPARRISment" bumper sticker and a yellow T-shirt reading, "4 more years of the Parris-ites? Not if you register and VOTE FOR GOV. SAUERBREY."

Meetings resumed yesterday morning. "There's still twice as many Democrats as Republicans in this state," said state Sen. Robert R. Neall of Anne Arundel County. "If we split up, even if they split up, their pieces are bigger than our pieces."

At a convention focused on unity, the one note of dissent came when Richard Andrews of Talbot County proposed a rule expelling any central committee member who refuses to endorse the Republican nominee for governor.

After a 20-minute debate in which opponents called the proposal divisive and unnecessary, it was voted down.

Keynote speaker Steve Forbes, the magazine publisher who is gearing up for a second run for president, bashed the federal tax code and predicted that Republicans will finally win back the governor's mansion after three decades of Democratic rule. He has endorsed Sauerbrey.

"This year, we have a chance to truly win the governorship. We won it last time, but you know what happened," said Forbes, referring to allegations of voter fraud in 1994. "This time, even those fooling with the ballots will have to acknowledge it's a Republican year."

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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