ANNAPOLIS – “Chuck Ecker for governor,” the Republican candidate said over and over Wednesday morning, as he methodically made his way across the room of an assisted-living home, shaking hands and introducing himself to residents.
The Howard County executive had made a similar round at the Shady Grove Metro Station in Montgomery County early Tuesday.
And he has repeated the greeting at churches, parades, festivals, state fairs and farm auctions throughout Maryland, as Ecker’s “Chuck Wagon,” led by his green ’72 Malibu convertible, has made its way to every county – some many times – in the candidate’s uphill quest to win the Republican primary for governor Tuesday.
His rival, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, 61, won the nomination four years ago and is the favorite to win this time, too.
But Ecker, 69, keeps steadily shaking hands. “I plan on winning on Tuesday,” the Columbia resident said.
He faces several disadvantages. Sauerbrey, a former House of Delegates minority leader from Baldwin, came within 6,000 votes of beating Glendening in 1994’s general election. And she has raised more than $3 million in campaign funds this year alone – compared to Ecker’s campaign receipts of more than $460,000 this year, their finance reports show.
“I don’t think you need a lot of money to run a campaign,” Ecker said. “At least I hope not.”
Ecker said his goal is to meet as many Marylanders as he can before the primary. In the next few days, he will be attending parades, festivals and other events in Baltimore, Charles, Howard and Montgomery counties, as well as in Baltimore City.
There will be radio ads running throughout the state and television ads that will be aired on stations in the Baltimore area and on cable stations in the D.C. area.
The ads will stress Ecker’s experience in public service – which includes eight years as county executive and 36 years in the Maryland public school system – and his appreciation of family values, said his campaign manager, Bill Chesnutt.
Sauerbrey also said she will be running ads, but they will be geared toward the general election. Her deputy press secretary, Anne Hubbard, said the ads will be issue-oriented but could not elaborate.
Ecker says if elected, he would extend much of what he has accomplished in Howard County to the rest of the state. In Howard County, Ecker said, he erased a $23 million revenue shortfall, created more than 25,000 new jobs and increased education spending.
Reforming education, making Maryland more business friendly and improving government efficiency would be priorities under an Ecker administration, he said.
Many residents of the Senior Quarters at Manresa, an assisted-living home in Annapolis, agreed with the former educator’s back-to-basics plan for schools, and to hold students more accountable for their actions.
“Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, respect and responsibility is what is needed in our schools,” Ecker told the seniors as they cheered the idea.
Ecker converted at least one Democrat in the room to his side. Manresa resident and Democrat Anthony Giordano, 79, said he would vote Republican if Ecker made it to the final round.
“I’ll go Republican this time for Mr. Ecker. He has some good ideas,” said Giordano.
And although Sauerbrey leads in the polls, Ecker said he is more qualified for the governor’s job.
“I’ve had the experience of actually running something,” Ecker said. “I balanced Howard County’s budget and I kept businesses in Howard County.”
“Ellen was a legislator for 16 years,” he added. “Her duty was to vote on policy. My job is to implement policy.”
Sauerbrey, who also worked as a biology teacher in the late ’50s and early ’60s and chaired U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm’s 1996 bid for president, said she was confident she would win the primary. “I haven’t focused on the primary election,” she said. “I’ve been focused on the general election” and a likely matchup with Gov. Parris N. Glendening, as the latest polls show a close race between the two.
“As a legislator, I built a reputation of being fiscally conservative, an educator and a fighter for crime victims,” said Sauerbrey.
She is promising to give a tax cut to retirees, spend more money in the classrooms by cutting administrative overhead, and implement a get-tough policy against crime that would include abolishing parole for violent criminals and appointing a Maryland drug czar.
“We need a leader who is more interested in the state than in politics and is not going to flip-flop,” she said. “The key issue will be, who do people trust?” -30-