- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

With an inexperienced front-runner and some ambitious county leaders, the race for Maryland's Democratic gubernatorial nomination is far from over. But it's hardly gotten under way for Republicans, who are trying to find someone — anyone — to step into the ring.
The Republicans' long drought — Democrats have knocked down every Republican gubernatorial candidate since Spiro Agnew — and the loss of two state senators who became Democrats after the previous election make it critical for the party to field a strong candidate for governor in 2002.
Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has said he may seek the nomination, and an Ehrlich candidacy has drawn almost universal Republican support. However, he'd risk losing a congressional seat he'd otherwise be likely to keep and may take much of the summer to decide. Republican leaders are pushing Mr. Ehrlich to commit soon because they know their candidate will need time to raise his profile, and about $8 million to compete with the Democrat.
Urgency and the uncertainty that Mr. Ehrlich will run for governor have millionaire moving company mogul John Kane considering a bid himself.
On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend may seem like the best bet to renew her family's political franchise and become the party's nominee for governor. And, in a state where Democrats outnumber Republican voters 2-to-1, many believe she'll become Maryland's first female governor.
But questions about her experience persist.
"There's concern whether she's seasoned enough — even though she has made gains in the last eight years," said Johns Hopkins University political science professor Matthew Crenson.
Doubts about whether Mrs. Townsend — who has held no elected position except lieutenant governor — would be able to lead effectively are fueling at least three ambitious chief executives' hopes that they could win the nomination despite the Kennedy clout.
Of them, only Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan risks sacrificing a third term to run. But Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry and Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger are lawyers and could run for attorney general. Any of the three could run for comptroller, but an attempt to oust the Democratic lions holding those two seats — four-term Attorney General J. Joseph Curran and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer — would be surprising.
For now they are biding their time and basking in bonhomie at each other's fund-raisers which, after all, represent low-overhead opportunities to be seen around the state.
While none of the three has ruled out becoming Mrs. Townsend's running mate if she offers, many believe they would find it difficult to take a back seat.
"Doug has been saying for some time he is looking at running for governor," said Jerry Pasternak, Mr. Duncan's special assistant and former campaign manager. "Around the state … he has been hearing from people the race is not a foregone conclusion, and he's also hearing that they are looking for an alternative to Lt. Gov. Townsend."
Mr. Curry and Mr. Ruppersberger have made respectable fortunes in the private sector, and both say they are keeping their options open.
But Mr. Ruppersberger has encouraged little talk of his running for anything but governor, and Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he believes Mr. Ruppersberger is "the only candidate in that race for the long haul."
And although it has been reported that Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin is again considering a run for governor, his spokeswoman, Susan Sullam, said he has been approached but is not pursuing a bid.
Montgomery County Democrat and political commentator Blair Lee IV said two politicians who haven't talked about seeking a spot on the statewide ticket may hold key cards in the poker game that now best describes the governor's race.
According to a poll conducted by Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications in May, Martin O'Malley, the charismatic 30-something who hasn't yet finished his second year as Baltimore's mayor, may have the best chance of beating Mrs. Townsend in a Democratic primary.
Serious flirting with a run for governor could hurt Mr. O'Malley with so much work to be done to combat crime, drug and population-loss problems in Baltimore, but the threat he poses puts him in a position to influence all the candidates' decisions.
Longtime Montgomery County Council member Isiah Leggett also is in a powerful spot, Mr. Lee said. The Howard University law school professor has built a record as both a leader and team player. Add his base in the state's most populous jurisdiction, and his potential to draw minority voters and candidates may prompt candidates to recruit him as a running mate.

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