DESPITE SETBACKS in the recent elections, Maryland Republicans were noticeably upbeat at their convention last week in Annapolis.
From the officers they elected to their unofficial roster of candidates for statewide office, the party displayed unity and new breadth.
As if they were a disciplined machine, GOP contenders for chairman stepped back in deference to Richard D. Bennett, the former U.S. attorney and candidate for lieutenant governor, to accept lesser offices and declared themselves well pleased.
Perhaps most notable, though, was the presence of Rep. Constance A. Morella, the 8th District/Montgomery County star who has been touted for some years as a strong candidate for the U.S. Senate. Never a regular at strictly party-type events, Morella entertained regulars at a reception Friday night, leading some to believe she might be thinking of running for the U.S. Senate.
Unbeatable in Montgomery, the moderate-to-liberal congresswoman has seemed to some in and out of her more conservative party to be the sort of Republican who could run well statewide. She has demonstrated just the sort of crossover appeal that Republicans need in a state where Democrats hold a 2-to-1 lead in voter registration.
Until the Morella murmuring, all the decision-making pressure appeared to be in the province of her colleague in Washington, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The 2nd District Republican had been virtually certain to run for the Senate seat held by Paul S. Sarbanes -- until Election Day Nov. 3. Democrats emerged from that race looking strong, and Ehrlich was left to reconsider.
His prospects were damaged when the GOP's Ellen R. Sauerbrey failed to unseat Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Had she prevailed, the message would have been clear: Maryland is no longer toxic to conservatives.
Sauerbrey lost, and by a wide margin. Analysts have held that Glendening was helped substantially by a revolt against Washington Republicans bent on impeaching President Clinton. Many voters said they were targeting Republicans to send a message of displeasure at that course.
Some choose to think of 1998 as a momentary detour on the HTC road to GOP superiority in Maryland. That would imply voters are pleased with the Republicans' continued pursuit of Clinton -- and many other things, of course.
Given the dynamics of this election year, Morella's stock may be even higher: She was one of the few Republicans to emerge virtually unscathed despite the antipathy directed toward Washington. Her margin of victory was virtually the same as it has been against every good Democrat who has dared to challenge her lock on the seat.
Morella and Ehrlich might simply be waiting to see if Sarbanes will be a candidate again in 2000. Republicans -- and others -- have thought the senior senator might be vulnerable, but those who have campaigned with him know his campaign style is as energetic and impassioned as his legislating is cerebral and anti-headline. Even in the best of GOP times, Sarbanes would likely win again -- especially after the Democratic performance .. this year.
Nevertheless, Republicans seem a less-dispirited bunch than they might have been and one with at least two well-regarded standard bearers to continue their struggle.
Neas still raising money, still running for office
At a breakfast meeting of Montgomery's Mid-County Democrats, Ralph Neas, the Democrat vanquished by Constance Morella in the 8th District, all but declared his candidacy for 2000.
The Democrats' problem in Morellaland, the lawyer told a crowd at Vignola's Restaurant in Rockville, is loss of momentum: Every year, the loser skulks off and someone else steps forward. Neas said he will continue to campaign and raise money.
He raised $800,000 for this year, but figures he needed another $200,000. He had 1,800 volunteers -- and wants to keep them committed. He said he would remind voters that they can help eliminate the six-vote Republican margin in the House of Representatives by electing him.
It's now good enough for government work
In what many of his colleagues found an oddly impolitic move, State Treasurer Richard N. Dixon pushed to have one of those official, "built-by" plaques enlarged so his name would be easier to read. This one hangs at the new Ravens football stadium.
"I think I'm going to make that story go away," the treasurer said yesterday without elaborating. "We all make mistakes."
Pub Date: 12/15/98