Blanton hopes to gallop over Curran

October 29, 1990|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Richard Bennett, Baltimore County's Republican Party chief, invited Edward L. Blanton Jr. to lunch at the exclusive Maryland Club to solicit his ideas about recruiting GOP legislative candidates.

But Bennett had something else on his agenda that afternoon last May. Before they had finished their after-lunch coffee, Bennett had succeeded in persuading the 59-year-old bankruptcy attorney into running for state attorney general against one-term Democratic incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Blanton is a three-piece suit, button-down lawyer from Glen Arm in the Long Green Valley who claims as his best friend a 17-year-old, registered Tennessee walking horse named Choco.

He is more at ease poring over a copy of the federal tax code than glad-handing at county fairs. He wages his campaign mainly on the airwaves rather than organizing a statewide army of volunteers.

The only deviation Blanton allows himself from his button-down image is to wear a 10-gallon cowboy hat with a Blanton sticker on the front when he attends outdoor events.

"The hat was given to me by a nephew to wear when I ride my horse because my skin is sensitive to the sun," he said.

Riding his horse is to him what a martini might be to another man: "My horse, Choco, is my best friend," he said. "When I need to be myself and unwind, we ride around the hills near my home."

Blanton's law career includes a stint as an assistant attorney general under then-Attorney General Francis B. "Bill" Burch, and he once was a law partner with Harry R. Hughes, the former Democratic governor.

His only other run for a major public office was also for attorney general. Blanton lost the 1978 GOP primary.

His meeting with Bennett last May was one of many where the Republican Party faithful sought his advice. He takes some credit for advancing the political career of such persons as Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, and, yes, even his opponent in the Nov. 6 general election.

Blanton said he helped Curran obtain the chairmanship of the state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in 1967, while Blanton was a law partner of Hughes, who was the Senate majority leader at the time. Hughes was promoting Curran to then-Senate President William S. James, who made committee appointments, to replace chairman Sen. Frederick Malkus Jr.

"I suggested to Hughes that he tell James of his intent to run against him as Senate president unless Curran got the appointment," Blanton said. The ruse worked, he said.

Hughes, however, said he doesn't remember Blanton playing any role in that. "The more progressive senators wanted the conservative Malkus out and they had the votes. James had no choice."

Curran served as chairman of the committee until Hughes picked him to be his running mate as lieutenant governor in his 1982 campaign for re-election as governor.

Blanton said Curran, now his opponent, is "a very nice man, but he just shouldn't continue to be attorney general."

Blanton has embarked on an aggressive campaign attacking Curran on various issues.

But is anyone listening to his message?

A recent Sun poll showed that 67 percent of those questioned had never heard of Blanton and another 25 percent said they had no opinion of him.

"We started from nothing and in a short time we have gained 33 percent recognition and climbing higher," said campaign manager Mark Rivers. "We are not running a patty-cake campaign just so our party has a candidate in the race."

He characterizes his campaign as guerrilla warfare, hitting at Curran at quick news conferences around the state and by using radio advertising.

"When you are outmanned and outfunded as we are, this is what you have to do," Blanton said.

The campaign has raised about $80,000 so far without benefit of a fund-raiser, Blanton said. He said he expects to raise at least another $80,000.

Blanton, who has had trouble attracting media attention, got some unexpected help from Curran last week when the attorney general publicly said he favored a debate on decriminalizing drugs as a way to reduce drug-related crime.

Blanton blasted Curran's comments as "a terrible message to send to our children" and announced that he would step up his radio advertising and public appearances on the drug issue this week. He further challenged Curran to a debate on decriminalization of drugs.

Blanton calls Curran the "stealth" candidate because, like the stealth military aircraft, "we never see or hear him even though he is supposedly out there campaigning. We've challenged him to a debate but he has not responded."

Blanton has put out position papers describing where he stands on issues:

* He has called for a statewide crime summit to discuss better coordination in the war on crime. He favors using the attorney general as an anti-crime czar.

* He supports the death penalty and suggests that Curran's moral opposition to capital punishment prevents him from vigorously defending capital sentences on appeal.

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