From his trial balloon, Schmoke surveys the state

ROGER SIMON

February 28, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

Just one day after Kurt Schmoke announced that he wa "exploring" the idea of running for governor, he already sounded like a man growing comfortable with the idea.

"My view is that I can win this thing," he said.

And few elected officials turn away from races they feel they can win. It's like asking a chocoholic to turn down a Hershey bar.

Not that Schmoke is ready to say he will definitely run in 1994. That decision will follow what will be, in effect, a pre-campaign campaign.

Schmoke told me Friday that he soon will take his show on the road with speeches in Carroll County, the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland. Then over the next several weeks, he will test the political waters all around the state.

"When I have gone outside [Baltimore] in the past, people were not viewing me as a candidate for governor. Now, I may get a different reaction. Like: 'You're a nice mayor; why don't you stay there?' " Schmoke said with a laugh.

Schmoke sounded relaxed and happy during the phone interview. He did not sound like a man under unbearable pressure.

He said he had come to the decision to explore a gubernatorial race not out of any "timetable for future office or game plan" but because "private citizens and elected officials" had recently urged him to run.

Schmoke also said that in the weeks ahead he would consider not only the political possibilities of his candidacy, but also the larger questions.

"I have to identify what appear to be the major issues facing the state and whether I have anything to offer," Schmoke said.

He faces other considerations, however. Although Schmoke has always attracted support across racial lines, his political base is the black vote of Baltimore.

If Schmoke runs for governor and wins, he will have to turn the mayor's chair over to the president of the city council, Mary Pat Clarke. Clarke is not only a political rival, but also is white.

And the question is whether black voters will resent turning Baltimore back to white mayoral rule so soon after a black person was finally elected to the job.

"In the last 12 hours, that issue has already come up," Schmoke said. "Right now, I am just listening. It is just one of many factors I have to consider."

If Schmoke runs and wins, Clarke would become mayor in January 1995. She would face a primary election in September and a general election in November, should she choose to run for the seat.

While incumbency would be a plus for her, it provides no sure thing. Kurt Schmoke was first elected mayor by turning out Du Burns, who assumed the mayor's chair when William Donald Schaefer became governor.

While some have wondered why Schmoke was announcing his possible intentions so early, he may have had little choice. If he does want to run for governor, he has to lock up endorsements and support before they go to other candidates.

As Larry Gibson, Schmoke's campaign manager, put it on Friday: "He decided he wanted to get reaction while the General Assembly was in session so the state legislators can respond."

One big plus for the Schmoke campaign is the statewide experience that Gibson got last year in running the Bill Clinton campaign in Maryland. "We all have a better feel now for how the state operates, where we are in the state, who is politically active across the state and the political situation in Maryland in general," Gibson told me. "We have more friends now."

Gibson and Schmoke also have something else: more voters. Part of the Clinton campaign in Maryland was a massive voter registration drive, and many of the new voters live in Baltimore.

Schmoke said, however, that the reaction of his family also would be a factor in his decision whether to run for governor and that his wife, Dr. Patricia Schmoke, has not yet made up her mind.

"She went through this with me in 1982," Schmoke said. "I was in private [law] practice and started talking about the possibility of running for state's attorney and running against a two-term incumbent with a very high name recognition who was pretty popular. And at that time my wife said: 'Talk to people and see what they say.' "

As it turned out, they said yes. And Patricia Schmoke said yes. And Kurt Schmoke said yes.

And it sure looks like this could be a case of here we go again.

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