Maryland GOP may end up doing the Tennessee Waltz

THE POLITICAL GAME

February 03, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

What do Pam Shriver, Bill Bennett, Brooks Robinson, and Bill Brock have in common?

Each is an achiever in politics or professional sports. And each has been mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for public office in Maryland.

So far, none of them has actually run in this state.

You could think of them as carpetbaggers in waiting, public figures with name recognition to spare as the result of athletic or political exploits.

The term carpetbagger, however, may have lost its sting because the public at large is rather mobile. The term matters more within a party, particularly one such as the Maryland GOP, which has been struggling to build its base and its cadre of candidates.

Newcomers with high political wattage tend to short-circuit the local effort. The tension is between wanting to win with one of your own and wanting to win.

So, former Tennessee Sen. Bill Brock becomes the latest of the "come here" crowd. The business consultant in Washington, who is a man of great accomplishment in the GOP, might be the best and most potent of these would-be leaders of the state party.

L He has lived in Annapolis for seven years, and in Montgomery

County before that, more than long enough to be considered a Marylander. He is at least as legitimate as Tom McMillen, former basketball star and former Democratic congressman.

Alas, that is tepid consolation for those toilers in the ranks of Republican Maryland. For them, the Brock floater is freighted with melancholy if not anger. He would have little hope of success if the party's development mechanism for candidates were churning up enough talent to make an outsider's ambition seem more cheeky than altruistic.

They also know the truth: unless a party regular begins to assert a compelling case, the Maryland Republican Party could find itself in a year when the governor's mansion is within reach -- of a Republican from Tennessee.

Ben Cardin, the 3rd District congressman, will be working closely over the next few months with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The first lady and Mr. Cardin are likely to be working together on legislation to cut health-care costs, expand health-care insurance and maintain the quality of health care in the United States.

A member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, the congressman has made health care one of his specialties.

Mrs. Clinton's role as the president's point person, Mr. Cardin says, gives the enterprise a greater chance of success.

By putting his wife in charge, "the president has raised the stakes. It would be a terrible embarrassment for the country if we failed," the congressman says.

And this is but one of the ways in which Washington life has become increasingly heady for the 49-year-old Democrat. If he is torn between his career in Washington and a lingering desire to be governor of Maryland, the Clinton presidency could lock him into Congress.

"People I know are in the White House," he says, still impressed with that novelty. Until now, he has served during Republican administrations.

"It's amazing. People I know are in the budget department, in Treasury. These are people I agree with on things. They're going to be taking my calls. They're going to be knocking on my door."

As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Cardin also will be helping to shape the nation's deficit-reduction plan, possibly including a tax bill; efforts to stimulate an economic recovery; trade matters and welfare overhaul. He also hopes to be named soon to the Helsinki Commission, the international organization that seeks to enforce an agreement on human rights, arms control and economic development.

"I'm very pleased about where I am in Washington," he says. He says he plans to decide "soon" about whether to run for governor.

If he doesn't sound much like a man headed back to Annapolis, he says he has not ruled that out either.

"People I respect have asked me to look at it, so I am. But my focus is on Washington."

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