CRISFIELD -- Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was the crabs. But as Maryland's political universe crammed itself into this bayside town for its annual crab feast yesterday, a bipartisan reunion broke out among old enemies and friends.
Republicans found themselves singing the marching tune of Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann's campaign for governor. Democrats swapped tales of the late Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein's many appearances here.
And former Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- attending his first Crisfield crab feast since leaving office -- was greeted as a conquering hero. Gov. Parris N. Glendening, just a week after snubbing Schaefer by not appointing him comptroller, spent much of the afternoon a step behind him, vying for attention.
The 22nd annual J. Millard Tawes Crab Feast, named for the late Maryland governor, drew nearly 5,000 people who consumed 300 bushels of crabs. Plenty of civilians show up each year, but the event is dominated by politicians, handlers and busloads of supporters.
Candidates for governor, Congress, U.S. Senate, state Senate, delegate, comptroller, county council, town council, mayor, register of wills, orphans' court and party central committees were here, handing out stickers and signs -- and most of all, schmoozing.
Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, Schaefer's main Democratic rival in the race for state comptroller, stood outside the gates, giving out literature.
But Schaefer -- running for the same job with Glendening's belated support -- made the biggest splash, working the crowd in a bright orange polo shirt and a navy blue hat saying, "I'm a Wm. Donald Schaefer supporter and Damn Proud of It!"
A Salisbury man outdid him with a hat that was almost a sculpture, with a can of Bud Light perpetually pouring petrified beer onto his head. He shook Schaefer's hand and said, "I hope you run."
"It's right there," Schaefer replied, handing the man a campaign card.
Schaefer soon came upon Glendening. Their appearance together turned into an instant news conference as reporters, photographers and camera crews encircled the pair.
Glendening stood by smiling as every question went to Schaefer, who was all too happy to hold court on his campaign, how much he loves the Eastern Shore and all the bridges and buildings he helped erect.
When Glendening tried to jump in with a comment, Schaefer obliged, saying, "Go ahead."
A few minutes later, Schaefer sat down at a table for a sandwich. Glendening was there a moment later, tearing into some crabs. The crowd soon included Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.
"I feel like I died and went to heaven," Taylor said.
The Republicans -- particularly the dozens of Ellen R. Sauerbrey supporters in their bright yellow shirts -- seemed in high spirits as well. Sauerbrey worked her way through the crowd with her choice for comptroller, Prince George's County GOP Chairman Michael S. Steele.
But many Sauerbrey supporters also wore stickers for Republican Paul H. Rappaport, a Republican candidate for Maryland attorney general.
Rappaport -- who was Sauerbrey's running mate in 1994 but was replaced this year -- has refused to join her ticket. But yesterday he wore a Sauerbrey sticker.
Her main Republican rival for governor, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, also chatted his way through the crowd with a band of supporters in white-and-teal campaign shirts.
The July 3 death of Goldstein, a tireless campaigner who many said had not missed a Tawes Crab Feast since it began, hung over the event like the overcast skies that never quite cleared.
"He had become almost as much a fixture here as the event itself," Glendening said. "He's here in spirit."
Sauerbrey recalled Goldstein's remarkable crab-eating technique, in which he lopped off the legs with a knife, chopped the body in half, then lifted off the top to reach a mound of crab meat inside.
"He tried to teach me once," she said, "but I couldn't get it."
The mood grew more jovial as the afternoon waned and the kegs continued to flow.
Jim Dornan, Sauerbrey's deputy campaign manager, walked by a group of reporters and said, "Where's Schaefer?"
"He's the only Democrat I've ever voted for in my life," he said. "I think I at least deserve a picture with him."
A moment later came Larry S. Gibson, campaign manager for Rehrmann. A radio on his shoulder blared her campaign jingle, set to a marching beat.
Gibson was singing along, blowing a whistle at the appropriate times, when Sauerbrey spokeswoman Carol Hirschburg joined in. "Vote for Eileen Rehrmann, it's a matter of trust," she sang.
As Gibson sang the zinger, "We'll leave Parris in the dust," Hirschburg smiled.
"That's my favorite," she said.
Pub Date: 7/16/98