- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

With newly released polls showing Republican Rep. Robert Ehrlich holding a first-ever slight lead over Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland Democrats find themselves in a very unfamiliar position: having to come from behind if they are to maintain their 33-year grip on the governorship.
On Wednesday, party leaders, among them Rep. Steny Hoyer, aides to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, Reps. Ben Cardin, Elijah Cummings and Al Wynn, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan met at a Washington hotel to discuss how to get Mrs. Townsend's faltering gubernatorial campaign back on track.
Actually achieving this will be very difficult indeed. It would require that the Democrats lay out a meaningful vision for Maryland's future particularly explaining how the higher levels of taxes and social spending they advocate will benefit Marylanders. They also will have to confront the state's growing budget shortfall, now projected at $1.7 billion during the next two years $600 million more than what was forecast just three weeks ago. They also would need to address Mrs. Townsend's disastrous administration of the juvenile-justice system. And her handlers, or better yet Mrs. Townsend herself, would have to help voters make sense of her claim to favor capital punishment, even as she was successful in persuading her boss, Gov. Parris Glendening, to institute a death-penalty moratorium despite the fact that no serious questions have been raised as to the guilt of anyone on death row.
Thus far, the Democrats have abjectly failed to do any of that. Nor have they managed to make any serious headway in portraying Mr. Ehrlich as some sort of extremist. So, some Democratic leaders Mr. Hoyer, in particular have begun hectoring fellow party members to show some enthusiasm for Mrs. Townsend's candidacy (or at least to pretend to do so when in public).
Mr. Hoyer has become unusually shrill in his criticisms of Maryland Democrats that he deems insufficiently supportive of Mrs. Townsend's candidacy. "I want to stop shucking and jiving," Mr. Hoyer reportedly declared at a Tuesday night fund-raiser for organized by Senate President Mike Miller. "I want you to stop backing up on Kathleen Kennedy Townsend." At the Washington meeting the following day, Mr. Hoyer directly confronted two aides to Mr. O'Malley and demanded that the mayor do more to help Mrs. Townsend. Mr. Hoyer telephoned Mr. O'Malley later in the day to repeat these concerns.
Meantime, party members continue firing away in public at Mrs. Townsend and her campaign director and top aide, Alan Fleischmann. "I think the campaign is in major disarray, and part of the problem is it is being managed by neophytes with no experience," Delegate Howard Rawlings said. Mr. Rawlings went on to criticize Mrs. Townsend's primary day performance, where she stood silently by as an officious poll worker tried to prevent her from voting in full view of reporters. "Her public persona on that showed weakness," he told the Baltimore Sun. "No one wants someone weak running the state … I just can't believe the woman doesn't have passion."
With friends like that and a campaign in disarray, Mrs. Townsend doesn't need enemies. She's in serious political trouble, and Maryland's Democratic Party establishment has no idea what to do about it.

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