Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's last-minute assignment to a prime speaking slot on Thursday's acceptance night at the Democratic National Convention shows that Bill Clinton's campaign is prepared to overlook Maryland's defection to the Tsongas camp in the state primary last March. Together with the two assignments Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski has been given on the podium, it ensures Baltimore a high profile.
Mr. Schmoke was a consistent supporter of the Arkansas governor during his darkest days, when it appeared the Clinton candidacy might disintegrate under the pummeling of charges of marital infidelity and draft-dodging. So this is the mayor's reward, but it is more than that.
By giving choice speaking slots to Mr. Schmoke, Mississippi Rep. Mike Espy and other black party leaders, the Democratic presidential nominee puts more and more distance between himself and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who has been unable to put the kind of pressure on Mr. Clinton that he exerted against Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis in 1984 and 1988. (One Maryland delegate, with no little glee, said Mr. Mondale had 62 negotiating sessions with Mr. Jackson; Mr. Clinton none.)
Whether this indicates Mr. Schmoke or his political guru, Larry Gibson, is in line for a high post in a Clinton administration is conjecture. But such talk has seized the imagination of many Maryland delegates. Almost everyone in the delegation has been seized by convention euphoria, a phenomenon also in evidence prior to the party's debacles in 1980, 1984 and 1988.
This time, there is palpable optimism not only because President Bush is faltering and Mr. Clinton has pulled even in the polls but most especially because Ross Perot has made it a three-way race. For Maryland, with its traditional strong Democratic base, this is a special boost. "It is just easier for us to get 40 percent than 50 percent," said one party analyst. "And 40 percent this year will be enough to carry Maryland." He figured 75 percent of the 30 percent of the Republican vote that went for conservative Pat Buchanan in the GOP primary last March will go to Mr. Perot, while only 10 to 20 percent of the Tsongas vote in the Democratic runoff will go to the independent candidate.
Such calculations underlie an upbeat mood among Maryland Democrats not seen as recently as a month ago. The absence of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has made no secret of his dislike for Governor Clinton and his preference for Sen. Paul Tsongas is of only passing notice. Mr. Schaefer is not due in New York until tomorrow, and then it will be little more than a pitstop on a round-trip bus ride.
Once again, Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke are on opposite sides. But this time, the mayor is basking in the glow of his candidate's capturing the Democratic presidential nomination.