ANNAPOLIS – Although former Gov. William Donald Schaefer appears poised to grab the Democratic nomination for Maryland comptroller, the six-person Republican ticket may be any candidate’s game.
A Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. poll conducted July 16-18 showed Republican candidate Michael Steele of Largo in the lead for Tuesday’s primary.
Steele, 39, led the poll with 10 percent of the vote – but 80 percent of those surveyed were still undecided. The poll surveyed 332 Republicans and has a margin of error of 5.9 percent.
A corporate lawyer, Steele was endorsed and recruited by GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey. He also has been endorsed by 15 members of the Maryland General Assembly; the Maryland Classified Employees Association; and U.S. Reps. Constance A. Morella, R-Montgomery, and Robert Ehrlich, R- Baltimore and Harford counties.
But at least one political analyst is placing his bet on Ardath M. Cade, widow of state Sen. John Cade.
“[The GOP primary] is a very difficult race to call,” said Donald F. Norris, professor of policy sciences at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. “I have to say [Cade] is the front runner because of the name recognition and Sun [newspaper] endorsement.”
Cade, 62, of Severna Park, comes to the Republican primary with endorsements from The (Baltimore) Sun and Washington Post. With 27 years of financial management experience in Maryland government and a list of gubernatorial appointments over the years, Cade is familiar with the state capital and said she has an advantage having her name first on the ballot. Listings are alphabetical.
She is the only woman running in the GOP primary.
Two former Republican nominees for the seat – Larry Mark Epstein (1990) and Timothy R. Mayberry (1994) – are running again this year.
Epstein, 49, of Glyndon, is a former chairman of the Baltimore County Tax and Budget Commission and offers 24 years of experience as a certified public accountant. He was endorsed by former Rep. Helen D. Bentley. Epstein said his goal is to balance the budget while reducing taxes.
Mayberry, 42, of Boonsboro, wants to eliminate more than $200 million in spending by streamlining the comptroller’s office. A bank vice president, he works as a consultant to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Mayberry challenged the former comptroller, Louis L. Goldstein, in the last election, but won only 39 percent of the vote.
Goldstein, who held the office of state tax collector for 40 years, was seeking re-election when he died July 3 at the age of 85. His former deputy, Robert L. Swann, is serving as acting comptroller until Jan. 18.
Also in the race for the Republican nomination are Eugene Robert Zarwell, 56, of Gambrills, an international consultant; and Robert W. Kearns, 71, of Queenstown, a retired engineer.
But Paul S. Herrnson, an author and government and politics professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, said the GOP primary will likely have little effect on the outcome of the general election race in November.
“Schaefer is an immensely popular politician and people have missed seeing him,” Herrnson said.
Norris concurred. “I think it is conventional wisdom the only candidate is Schaefer; it is his race,” he said. “Schaefer is the 500-pound canary.”
Schaefer, 76, led the six-person Democratic field in the July 16-18 Mason-Dixon poll with 58 percent of the vote. The poll surveyed 481 Democrats and has a margin of error of 4.5 percent.
“He contrasts the current governor, who doesn’t bring the same fun to the office,” Herrnson said.
He added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Schaefer’s goodwill brings some to [Gov. Parris] Glendening, benefitting the entire ticket.”
Schaefer, still living in Baltimore, is a recognized face in Maryland government. He served the state for more than 40 years, including four terms as the mayor of Baltimore and two terms as governor.
Schaefer has been endorsed by many government officials, including the governor and four county executives – from Harford, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Joan M. Pratt, Baltimore City comptroller, is Schaefer’s closest competitor, according to the Mason-Dixon poll. Pratt, 46, won 12 percent of the vote in the poll. Pratt, of Baltimore, has been endorsed by State Sen. Decatur Trotter, D-Prince George’s; Del. Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George’s; and U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn, D-Prince George’s. Also in the running for the Democratic nomination for comptroller are: * Eugene A. Walsh, 48, of Ocean City, an attorney; * Gerald E. Berg, 41, of Catonsville, a sales representative; * Lawrence Keval, 60, of Bowie, a detective agency owner; and * Lih Young, 57, of Potomac. -30-