- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 6, 2001

With Montgomery County,Md. Executive Douglas M. Duncan declaring he will not run for the Democratic nomination for governor of Maryland, it is fairly safe to start putting the party's crown on the head of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Now, what she has to do is see how her stance against slot machines plays out against her most likely challenger for the Governor's Mansion, Republican Rep. Robert E. Ehrlich Jr., who favors allowing Maryland's racetracks to offer slot machines.
Mr. Ehrlich has not decided whether to run against Mrs. Townsend, but some in the party are quietly urging him to take a chance. Their argument is that Mrs. Townsend has won no office, except as Gov. Parris N. Glendening's running mate, and has no independent executive authority or experience.
Mr. Duncan bowed out after polls showed that despite his "Mr. Clean" reputation and record of competent albeit sometimes contentious leadership of Maryland's most populous jurisdiction, he was not well-known outside his county.
Discouraging, too, were Democratic politicians in his own county who praised his work but had lined up behind Mrs. Townsend, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, more than a year before the election making it more evident that his future, for now, was at home.
"Now is not the time to leave the county I grew up in and the job I love to run for another office," Mr. Duncan said in a statement that emphasized his duty to pilot Montgomery through threats of a weakened economy and terrorism at its doors.
Still, after a meeting Thursday with National Institutes of Health officials in Bethesda about security measures causing traffic jams, he declined to say if he would endorse Mrs. Townsend.
He is not the only would-be candidate who knows that Mrs. Townsend's family ties and alliance with Mr. Glendening give her the war chest and power of an incumbent.
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the outspoken and charismatic Democrat who polls suggest would have the best chance of beating her in the September primary, knows it too.
Although Mr. O'Malley has not ruled out running for governor, he and others who would like to win the job suggest that Marylanders still haven't decided Mrs. Townsend is the best person to lead them.
But there is risk for Mr. O'Malley in running for governor in 2002, even though Baltimore's next mayoral election is in 2004.
If he runs against Mrs. Townsend and she wins, Mr. O'Malley will have to convince Baltimore voters that ambition hasn't outweighed his commitment to fixing the crime and drug problems that have caused many middle-class residents to flee the once-thriving city.
Also, alienating Mrs. Townsend is risky for the mayor of Baltimore, which is the biggest beneficiary of state aid that is meted out by the governor.
Mr. Ehrlich says he probably won't decide whether he will give up his congressional seat for a gubernatorial run until the end of the year.
Then he will have a better gauge of how much money and how many crossover Democrats he can attract statewide, and whether he could be re-elected in the redrawn district crafted by Mr. Glendening to help Democrats take back the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Despite Democrats' 2-to-1 voter advantage over Republicans in Maryland, Mr. Ehrlich and his aides have said they like their prospects in a race that contrasts his working-class roots, experience and self-made success with the liberal, wealthy, Kennedy heritage of Mrs. Townsend.
"I don't think they should underestimate Ehrlich he's not a lightweight and he's an effective campaigner" who probably has 35 percent to 40 percent of the vote sewn up now, said Herb Smith, a professor of political science at Western Maryland College.
If Mr. Ehrlich runs, "it's not going to be a coronation she's going to have to earn it," Mr. Smith said.
Even though capitalizing on his regular-guy roots has helped Mr. Ehrlich win his first congressional race against a more privileged opponent from an established political family, the Kennedy legacy on civil rights and the prospect of electing the state's first woman governor will make it harder for him to draw potentially crucial black and women voters, Mr. Smith said.
A state budget deficit, which some estimate could go as high as $1.7 billion when she is running for governor, could hurt Mrs. Townsend, since she has been part of the administration handling the budget for eight years.
"Four words: election year tax increase," said Ehrlich adviser Paul Schurick, referring to the damage that prospect holds for Mrs. Townsend as a virtual incumbent.
Meanwhile Democrat Wayne K. Curry, the Prince George's County executive who hadn't let anyone forget that Mr. Glendening left him with a $108 million debt in the county budget when he succeeded him in 1995, continued to "keep all [his] options open."
So does Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, another Democrat who, like Mr. Curry, cannot run for re-election in 2002 because of term limits.
"He's still looking at the governor's race, but increasingly he's beginning to look at what the [other] possibilities might be," including running for Congress, said Ruppersberger aide Nicholas M. Schloeder.
"It's all still percolating … and a lot depends on who does what," Mr. Schloeder said, adding that a decision by Mr. Curry or Mr. O'Malley to get in the governor's race changes the whole ball game.
But unlike Mr. Curry, Mr. Ruppersberger isn't considering a run for attorney general or comptroller, Mr. Schloeder said, because he supports the respective incumbents J. Joseph Curran Jr. and William Donald Schaefer who are expected to seek re-election.

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