With former Republican Del. John J. Bishop set to file Monday to run against Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, local backers of Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey worry that Bishop's challenge could hurt her campaign for governor.
The concern, they say, is that an active challenge to the Democratic county executive could energize Ruppersberger's organization -- and increase overall Democratic turnout in Baltimore County, seen as a key battleground in the race for governor.
"I think you should let sleeping dogs lie -- he's the kind of guy that if you get him riled up, he'll campaign pretty hard," warned County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican running unopposed for re-election -- with Ruppersberger's support.
But a number of prominent county Republicans reject that theory, saying the party should field a candidate, which would make Ruppersberger spend some of his $800,000 campaign treasury.
"With no opposition, he will use his money to benefit [Gov.] Parris Glendening and other Democrats," said County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican. "Anyone who believes otherwise is missing the boat or doesn't understand Dutch."
As if to emphasize that point, Ruppersberger is planning an endorsement rally for Glendening at Towson's old courthouse Tuesday-- after the election filing deadline.
Four years after taking over as county executive, Ruppersberger dominates the county's political landscape. Most county Republicans say he is so popular he's nearly unbeatable, and some say privately that Bishop may not be able to raise enough money to seriously compete.
And if the energetic county executive goes all out, McIntire and others believe, he's likely to bring more Democratic voters to the polls, helping Glendening.
Sauerbrey, moreover, needs a larger winning margin in Baltimore County than she received in 1994, when she got 134,663 votes to Glendening's 102,398. Glendening won only three jurisdictions that year -- Prince George's and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City.
This week, Sauerbrey gave Bishop a lukewarm blessing, without promising any specific help in a race against Ruppersberger. "As leader of the Republican ticket, I'll support all Republicans," Sauerbrey said yesterday.
But Carol Hirschburg, Sauerbrey's spokeswoman, said that because of the demands of her own campaign, Sauerbrey "won't be involved in individual races."
Former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly, a Republican who supports both Ruppersberger and Sauerbrey, said Sauerbrey would be better off if Ruppersberger is unchallenged.
But Kelly also said the county executive would benefit from a campaign, saying it would keep him and his organization active and sharp at a time when voters focus more on individuals than on political parties.
Bishop, 50, a former two-term moderate Republican legislator from Parkville, said Sauerbrey told him during a conversation Wednesday evening that she will support him if he runs.
"I'm pleased," he said. "The support will be very helpful. If that broad support is not out there among all the Republicans, it's not as doable a race."
Bishop and county party leaders say having a candidate for county executive is important for other Republican candidates, too. Too small a local GOP effort could hurt candidates running for County Council or the General Assembly, they say.
"As a rule, my belief is that the party is best off by fielding a complete ticket," said Christopher R. West, chairman of the Baltimore County Republican State Central Committee. "I would like to have a candidate."
For his part, Ruppersberger was taken aback at the notion of having little or no opposition.
"If I don't have an election, I don't know what I'll do," he said, hesitating a bit before commenting.
"I've always been one who enjoys elections. I enjoy dealing with people. I just enjoy the competition," he said.
Pub Date: 7/04/98