State party is the real winner in debate

March 02, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

Although all the Democratic presidential candidates thought they did well at last night's debate at the University of Maryland at College Park, only the state Democratic Party could claim unquestioned success.

That the debate took place at all was proof that party officials had succeeded in getting candidates to pay more attention to the state than they did four years ago.

At the party's behest, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly had moved the primary date to March 3, tomorrow, to make Maryland a stepping-stone between the New Hampshire primary Feb. 18 and the big round of mostly southern contests on March 10.

And though Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska virtually ignored Maryland, four other candidates felt that Maryland was important enough to appear.

Nathan Landow, the state Democratic Party chairman, who more than anyone else was responsible for the debate, glowed in the television lights.

And while he may have exaggerated in terming Maryland a "crucial gateway" to the nomination, tomorrow's primary is especially significant to former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas, whose campaign manager has said he needs to win here.

The other candidates also hope to get a boost -- or avoid a setback. For that reason, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton is counting on a strong second-place finish, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa wants third place and former California Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking to surprise all of them.

State Democratic officials didn't miss their chance to share the limelight.

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg was there, as were Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Reps. Steny H. Hoyer and Tom McMillen, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., state Treasurer Lucille Maurer and a parade of legislators, among then Dels. Timothy Maloney of Prince George's County, Howard "Pete" Rawlings, of Baltimore and Mary Boergers of Montgomery County.

Ms. Mikulski, who is running for re-election, received more applause than the presidential candidates -- though their supporters made themselves heard throughout the debate.

Though urged to restrain themselves, members of the audience burst into laughter at the frequent funny comments that made this debate seem less heated and nasty than some previous ones.

After the debate, a couple of the candidates and their staffs tried to put their spin on who fared best.

"The best debate of the three, clearly," declared Mr. Clinton's deputy campaign manager, George Stephanopoulos.

Tim Raftis, Mr. Harkin's campaign manager, said of his man, "I think he did terrific."

Peggy Connolly, Mr. Tsongas' press secretary, resisted making a victory prediction, saying only, "He's going to do well," and might win by three or four percentage points.

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