- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

OCEAN CITY, Md. — Gov. Parris N. Glendening drew chuckles from county officials from all over Maryland when he began his speech at their recent summer convention by recognizing the "numerous candidates for governor that I see with us today."
There in the front row was his fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the acknowledged front-runner 14 months before the next year's general election.
Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Republicans' best hope for a rare gubernatorial victory in Maryland, was all over the place — holding meetings, working the crowds, hosting a reception on the wind-swept second-floor deck of the Ocean Club.
And then there were the "three amigos," the county executives from Prince George's, Baltimore and Montgomery counties — Wayne K. Curry, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Douglas M. Duncan, respectively.
They got their nickname because they have been conferring on whether one of them — with the blessings of the other two — should challenge Mrs. Townsend in the Democratic primary.
Finally, there was Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. Mr. O'Malley disclaimed gubernatorial aspirations at the convention, saying he only is interested in running the city of Baltimore.
The gubernatorial campaign was not on the convention agenda, but it dominated conversations during the three-day gathering of the Maryland Association of Counties. The speculation focused on who might run and whether anybody could beat Mrs. Townsend.
She dominates polls, and is way ahead in raising funds — more than $3 million so far.
But Republicans and some Democrats aren't ready to give her the keys to the governor's mansion just yet.
"For a race that's supposedly locked up, a lot of people are interested in running for governor," Mr. Duncan said.
He and other potential candidates argue that the aura of invincibility that has surrounded the lieutenant governor is melting away.
"It's a lot different than it was a year ago or even during the General Assembly session," he said.
Mr. Ruppersberger said the three county executives believe they have the experience running a government that Mrs. Townsend does not have.
"Kathleen comes from a well-respected family. I like her personally," he said. "But it's really a matter of experience. That's what the voters will have to decide."
Mrs. Townsend's supporters scoff at the argument that she lacks the experience to be governor.
"The lieutenant governor's varied responsibilities on the state level are certainly as comprehensive and as complicated as anything that a local official has to do," said Alan Fleishman, her chief of staff.
As the administration's point man on criminal issues and economic development, Mrs. Townsend sets policy, oversees departments and manages a multibillion-dollar budget, he said.
Republican leaders relish the thought of knocking off a Kennedy and winning the governor's race in one of the most Democratic states in the nation. But with the battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives expected to be close next year, they worry that his House seat could wind up in Democratic hands if he runs for governor, and not for Congress.
Mr. Ehrlich said he is getting close to making a decision, but wouldn't set a deadline.

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