If Cuomo had joined fray here, he would have been hard to beat, analysts say

December 21, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Too bad, Mario, Maryland was your kinda place.

Political analysts said the New York governor, who ended months of speculation yesterday with the announcement he will not be a candidate for president, would have found strong support among Maryland's Democrats.

John T. Willis, author of "Presidential Elections in Maryland," saida Cuomo candidacy would have done well in Maryland, since most Democrats here tend to support the "progressive side of the party."

The governor would have been "the instant front-runner [in Maryland]," added Brad Coker, president of Mason Dixon Opinion Research in Columbia.

Maryland has a large number of ethnic, minority and progressive Democrats, the same political mix that supports Mr. Cuomo in New York, both analysts explained. These same voters provide the base of support for Maryland's two Democratic senators -- Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes -- philosophical soul mates of Mr. Cuomo.

"You put all that together and Maryland fits [the New York governor] pretty well," Mr. Coker said.

Maryland voters chose the New York governor by a wide margin over other Democratic presidential candidates, according to a Mason Dixon telephone poll taken Dec. 14 and broadcast this week on WMAR-TV in Baltimore (Channel 2).

Thirty percent chose Mr. Cuomo, followed by 11 percent for Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, 8 percent for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, 5 percent for Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, 3 percent for Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and 1 percent each for former California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. and former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas.

Still, 41 percent were undecided in this poll of 478 likely Democratic primary voters.

And in a matchup with President Bush, Mr. Cuomo was supported by 37 percent compared to 47 percent for the president, with 16 percent undecided, the poll showed. On that question, 504 Democrats, 256 Republicans and 65 Independents were polled.

Mr. Bush narrowly captured Maryland in 1988, beating Democratic candidate Michael S. Dukakis by 50,000 votes out of some 1.7 million cast.

Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Landow, who was interviewed before Mr. Cuomo bowed out, praised the governor as one of the party's "shining stars" but didn't see him -- or anyone else -- as a favorite.

"I think Maryland's [primary] is wide open at the present time," said Mr. Landow, a top presidential fund-raiser. "It's a little too soon to tell."

Mr. Landow said Mr. Harkin has a "leg up" on the other Democratic candidates here since he was the first to open a Maryland campaign office and has politicked throughout the area. Maryland's party chairman praised Mr. Harkin's candidacy when he attended his September campaign kickoff in Iowa.

But Mr. Landow said he does not plan to side with any candidate in the primary. Maryland's senators and the state's other top Democrat, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, also have neither campaigned with the presidential hopefuls nor plan any early endorsements, according to spokesmen.

In previous Maryland Democratic primaries, the more liberal candidate has usually carried the day, said Mr. Willis. In 1988, Mr. Dukakis won the primary, and four years earlier Walter Mondale was victorious in Maryland before going on to capture the party's nomination.

In 1980, Jimmy Carter barely won Maryland over an insurgent campaign by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. And in 1976, Mr. Brown -- running again this year -- was the top choice among the state's Democrats.

Regardless of who emerges as the front-runner, Maryland is being seen as a key political prize.

Its border-state location and March 3 primary date -- sandwiched between the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary on Feb. 18 and the "Super Tuesday" Southern primaries on March 10 -- could make it a springboard for the Southern contests. In 1988, Maryland was among the states with a Super Tuesday primary and consequently was "lost in the shuffle," said Mr. Landow.

Maryland could be a "testing ground" for candidates, said Mr. Willis. "I think it makes for an interesting dynamic," he said.

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