Did ads lay it on line or did they cross it? Tapping racial issues aided Glendening, but critics see polarization; ELECTION 1998 : MARYLAND

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Well-crafted commercials suggesting that Ellen R. Sauerbrey was an enemy of civil rights drew a record number of African-Americans to the polls this week, but some observers believe the long-term price could be a more deeply polarized Maryland.

One of five voters Tuesday was an African-American -- and 90 percent of them voted for Glendening partly because they were fearful of Sauerbrey. Exit polls point to the black vote as Glendening's margin of victory.

"We won tonight," Glendening said after the result was clear, "because the people of Maryland stood up for a fair, just, inclusive and compassionate society."

Sauerbrey, Glendening's commercials said, would not have been so committed to an open society -- and might have allowed a rollback of civil rights laws passed during a generation of struggle.

The commercials were the best of their kind in this campaign, according to Ronald A. Faucheux, editor of Campaigns and Elections, a Washington based magazine.

"They put her on the defensive on an issue that gave her a David Duke-type smell," he said, referring to the former Ku Klux Klansman who ran for office in Louisiana.

"That was what [Glendening] needed to do to convince moderate to liberal ticket splitters that she shouldn't be their candidate," Faucheux said.

The commercials were aired in Maryland at a time when the U.S. House of Representatives was voting to conduct an open-ended impeachment inquiry of President Clinton.

Polls have shown that black voters give Clinton a 90 percent approval rating -- exactly the vote they cast ultimately for Glendening. So the ads became part of a potent turnout chemistry in the black community.

Some found the ads necessary.

"I think it is something to be celebrated," said the Rev. Chester Wickwire, the former Johns Hopkins University chaplain who was prominent during Baltimore's 1960s civil rights era. "I'm glad Glendening won. Ellen Sauerbrey and others have been trying to revive the Republican Party, but it doesn't appear it has been able to become very inclusive."

And some said many voters accept such ads as part of the landscape. "I think a campaign is a campaign -- people understand," said Del. Cheryl C. Kagan, a Montgomery County lawmaker.

But others found the tone disturbing.

"What he was doing was polarizing. A lot of people believed it -- and believing really got out the black vote," said Harrison L. Gross, an African-American and a retired Social Security Administration employee who lives in West Baltimore.

A Democrat, Gross declined to say who he had voted for -- but he thought the ads could create resentment among white Marylanders who believe Sauerbrey was damaged unfairly.

Republicans, not surprisingly, agreed.

Combative even as he conceded Tuesday night, Sauerbrey running mate Richard D. Bennett accused the governor of running a racially divisive campaign that had polarized the state, saying: "Politicians who seek in a moment of panic to polarize and divide people ultimately hurt themselves."

In an interview yesterday, Bennett said he felt Glendening "crossed the line" with his final-weeks attacks on Sauerbrey's civil rights record.

"When a reporter flat-out asked if he was saying she was a racist, he said no comment. You might as well call someone a racist," Bennett said. "You make these allegations and then you not only polarize African-American voters, but what is the reaction you get elsewhere? What is the reaction in the more conservative areas of the state?"

Bennett acknowledged disappointment that he and Sauerbrey failed to persuade more African-American voters to back them, despite months of campaign visits to black churches and neighborhoods. "I deeply regret how poorly we did in the African-American community," he said. "I really don't think anyone can say that we didn't reach out to the African-American voters."

U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican now left as one of the party's main standard bearers, added: "It was divisive. I think there's a national trend, when politicians on the left find themselves in trouble, they have begun to implement a very effective strategy of race and class divisions, and it works. It worked yesterday in Maryland.

"You've seen it taken to new heights in Maryland," he said. "The emphasis, the divisions in race, really outraged some in the black community, but it worked. The class warfare worked, the classic -- it's the Republicans are for the rich, and Democrats are for the downtrodden."

But many Democratic leaders and others strongly disagreed the election promoted racial division. They argued the opposite: that the Glendening campaign had built a broad coalition from typical Democratic constituencies, including labor, environmentalists, abortion-rights activists and others.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said she believes there was "clearly less of a divide now than in the previous election."

"Our message of strong education, preserving the Chesapeake Bay, preserving women's right to choose, making sure we have sane gun laws provoked a much larger majority than we had previously," Townsend said. "We gained strength throughout the state, and in fact, the Republicans lost ground in many parts of the state."

Republican losses are attributable in some measure to anger at Congress.

In the end, some said, the polls in Tuesday's vote were not so much racial as purely political -- with Sauerbrey on the right and Glendening on the left.

"This was clearly a test of philosophies -- regrettable but perhaps unavoidable," said Arthur C. Abramson, a political scientist and director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. "They were attacking core beliefs. That was what this was all about. We were not dealing with marginal issues."

That sort of battle, he said, inevitably becomes bitter and divisive.

And it provides opportunities for various groups hoping to win leverage by providing help when it's critically needed.

One such group was the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, a nonprofit committed to civil rights. The institute worked to turn out black voters in Maryland and other states Tuesday -- as an effort to regain the attention of candidates in close elections such as Maryland's.

The institute trains turnout workers to follow up after the votes are counted, under the banner of "Collect after you elect."

But Sauerbrey said she believes there is more to this equation.

"When you divide people and polarize people by race and class," she said, "this doesn't go away the day the election ends. It creates divisions and animosities that linger."

Winners and losers

A few of the winners and losers from the 1998 General Election:

Gov. Parris N. Glendening: Won on his record but turned waffling into an art form on the question of President Clinton. Lectured and rejected, and then reconciled with the president -- just in time to catch the national wave of pro-Clinton, anti-impeachment sentiment.-- THUMBS -- UP

Joseph A. De Francis: How much money did he gamble on a victory by Ellen R. Sauerbrey? The Republican National Committee reported $200,000 or so -- but Sauerbrey and her openness to slot machines at the tracks faltered on the backstretch. -- THUMBS -- DOWN

BUILD: Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development gets the Jack Pollack Memorial Boss Trophy for most machinelike performance in a major election -- and doing it all without walking-around money (as far as is known). -- THUMBS -- UP

Dick Hug: He started the campaign as Sauerbrey's $4 million man, a label drawn from his fund-raising objective. He raised 50 percent more than his goal -- $6 million, a Republican record in Maryland. But Sauerbrey proved that money alone doesn't do it. -- THUMBS -- UP & DOWN

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and his adviser Larry S. Gibson: Angry with Glendening for denying an agreement to allow slots at the tracks -- with a share of the bounty for Baltimore -- they tried to bring him down. Their timing was unfortunate, because an outpouring of Democratic support for Clinton made their carefully withheld assistance inconsequential. -- THUMBS -- DOWN

William Donald Schaefer: This election's comeback kid, the 77-year-old former governor returned to public office largely by declaring his desire to do so. Unhappy with him when he left the governor's office in 1994, Marylanders said they were sorry by making him their new tax collector. -- THUMBS -- UP

8th District Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella: Able to leap

tall buildings with a single bound,

faster than a speeding bullet -- look out in front of the pack, it's "Connie." Her opponent, observing that she was on a first-name basis with voters, thrust his own first name into the fray as a desperate reach for competitiveness. "Ralph" didn't have the same ring. -- THUMBS -- UP

2nd District Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.: A bit of the luster came off the GOP's shiniest star. Sauerbrey lost. His friend Kenneth Holt lost a state Senate bid in Essex. And Democrats may have come out of the race stronger. Ehrlich may have to rethink his plan to challenge Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in 2000. -- THUMBS -- DOWN

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: With much higher approval ratings than her ticket mate, Townsend had a larger role than any second banana in Maryland history -- burnishing her image for the 2002 race for governor in her own right. --

THUMBS -- UP

Half the Annapolis lobbying corps: Unaccustomed as they are to risk-taking, several of the assembly's paid business representatives backed Sauerbrey against the sitting governor. Access to a governor -- unavailable to them now? -- is a bankable commodity in the lobbying trade. -- THUMBS -- DOWN

Peter S. Hamm: An itinerant mouthpiece for candidates, Hamm was Glendening's always available, always affable spokesman whose formulations were creatively (as opposed to boringly) "on message." -- THUMBS -- UP

Carol L. Hirschburg: Hamm's counterpart on the Sauerbrey side gets the Bon Mot Award for her response to the chant of "Four more years" sent up Sunday by the Democrats. "Two more days," she said. -- THUMBS -- UP

Sauerbrey: She gets the Teddy Roosevelt Award: "The law of worthy national life, like the law of worthy individual life is, after all, fundamentally, the law of strife," TR told a Republican Club VTC dinner in New York in 1899. "It may be strife militarily, it may be strife civic; but certain it is that only through strife, through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and by resolute courage, we move on to better things." -- THUMBS -- UP

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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