- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2007

CRISFIELD, Md. Even during an election off-year, Maryland”s top crab feast is all about the politics.

The 31st annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake yesterday drew more than 5,600 visitors to the southern tip of Maryland”s Eastern Shore to talk politics and feast on such Eastern Shore favorites as clams and hard-shelled crabs.

“I was here last year in the sweltering heat without a breeze, and we”re back this year,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat. “We made a commitment that we would continue to outreach in Maryland, and that”s what we”re doing. You know, the Eastern Shore is in many ways no different than the rest of Maryland. We face the same challenges.”

Gov. Martin O”Malley missed the event to attend a soil-conservation luncheon on Solomons Island.

More state politicians typically make the trip during election years. Organizers estimated that last year”s festival, held during the height of the 2006 gubernatorial race, drew about 1,100 more people.

Still, many state politicians come annually election or no election.

“It”s an opportunity to see so many friends you have from all over the state,” said former Gov. Marvin Mandel, a Democrat who said he has been to every Tawes crab feast since it started.

“I think this is one of the top political events not only because of the crowd, but because you see someone from every county,” he said.

The feast included 300 bushels of Maryland blue crabs, 725 dozen ears of corn, 800 pounds of trout and 42,000 clams, all grown or caught locally, said feast co-Chairman Danny Thompson.

“We”re not out here for any public relations-type thing. This is just networking, and politicking and good family fun,” said Mr. Thompson, who has co-chaired the festival, named in honor of former Gov. J. Millard Tawes, for 17 years. He did not speculate on how the feast became such an essential event for Maryland politicians.

However, lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who sponsored a tent at the event, said there is no place to be on the third Wednesday of July “other than Crisfield, Maryland, at the Millard Tawes Crab Feast.”

“This is the Super Bowl of Maryland politics,” he said. “And if you”re a politician, you”re a political junkie, you should be here.”

Candidates for the House seat held by U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest came to the feast even though the Feb. 12 primary election is still more than six months away.

Queen Anne”s County prosecutor Frank M. Kratovil Jr. and private lawyer Christopher Robinson, both Democrats, joined state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican. All brought entourages to help Eastern Shore voters learn more about their candidates.

Hala McIver, a Harris volunteer and veteran of Eastern Shore political campaigns since 1992, said the key issues in the race to represent the 1st Congressional District, which is mostly the Eastern Shore, are environmental concerns that should be balanced against bringing more businesses and jobs to the region.

“We have no industry whatsoever,” he said.

Still, politics was not on everybody’s mind yesterday.

“How do we get a cold beer with the crabs we”re gonna eat?” asked Comptroller Peter V. R. Franchot, a Democrat “I love this. It”s all about eating and drinking and socializing, and every once in awhile someone from the Maryland political world sticks their hand out and the general response is: ‘I”m from Delaware.’ ”