State's primary has clout Harkin times visit to swing Democrats in March 3 election.

September 18, 1991|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

Hold a presidential primary March 3, state Democratic Party officials said, and the candidates will come.

The Maryland legislature obliged, and the candidates are indeed coming, the latest being Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Harkin is a liberal who's promising to attack President Bush on domestic issues. That makes him attractive to organized labor.

Harkin donned blue jeans and a work shirt and laid brick today at the new stadium in Baltimore -- a publicity stunt intended to help lay a state foundation for his Democratic presidential bid.

Harkin's visit and visits of other candidates reflect the heightened importance of Maryland's primary, which will be held two weeks after New Hampshire holds the first primary on Feb. 18.

In 1988, Maryland's impact on the nomination process was diluted because the state joined other Southern states in a "Super Tuesday" regional primary March 8.

Only Colorado, Idaho and Minnesota have decided to hold their primaries on the same day as Maryland's. In doing so, these states become important to candidates trying to build momentum before the larger states vote.

"Maryland's going to play an important role," Harkin said, talking to reporters during a lunch break at the stadium.

State Democratic Party chairman Nathan Landow asked the legislature to make the change. "We're excited about moving up the date," he said. "I think the focus will be on Maryland and it will be quite a media event."

Among Democrats, former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts, also an announced candidate, already has visited Maryland and wants to come again. Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who announced candidacy two days before Harkin did on Sunday, plans to visit soon, Landow said.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who is considering running, came to a meeting of Democrats Monday in Greenbelt.

Another possible candidate, Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, also wants to meet state Democrats, Landow said.

Landow, who is a leading fund-raiser, said he hasn't decided whom he'll support.

Harkin, meanwhile, reiterated his populist themes in comments to reporters. "People in this country need a square deal, they need a job," he said, with sufficient income to buy a car, a house, "retire with dignity, have some health care."

With a nod to the bricklayers who tutored him, he said, "I want to make it clear I am not the candidate of organized labor, but I am the candidate of working people."

Harkin is off to a good start in Maryland. He visited Montgomery County on July 11 and drew a large, enthusiastic crowd, according to people present.

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