Cardin for Governor?

September 29, 1993

The phone calls started last spring and have not stopped. In fact, the number of entreaties to Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin has grown in intensity in the past week. Some Maryland business leaders and politicians are trying -- unsuccessfully so far -- to get Mr. Cardin to run for governor now that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has dropped out.

Unhappy with the remaining field of contenders on the Democratic side -- Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and state Sen. Mary H. Boergers -- these movers and shakers view Mr. Cardin as a good choice for the state's top job. The only problem is getting him in the race.

Mr. Cardin's credentials sparkle: a 20-year veteran of the House of Delegates representing Baltimore City, a successful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a popular House speaker for eight years and now a highly regarded insider on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee with a key role in shaping health-care legislation. He remains one of the state's top experts on finance and tax matters and has developed a deep reservoir of good will among politicians in Annapolis and around the state.

Yet Mr. Cardin tried once before to run for governor back in 1986. His campaign went nowhere, thanks in large measure to the 800-pound gorilla in the race, then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer. He dropped out and instead ran for Congress. Mr. Cardin, who turns 50 next Tuesday, seems reluctant to give up that safe seat and the prestige of serving on this country's tax-writing committee.

Losing Mr. Cardin in Congress would hurt the Maryland delegation's clout in the House, but having a governor with such a solid grounding in federal issues would be a major plus. One former congressional colleague, ex-Rep. Willis Gradison, a Republican from Ohio, called Mr. Cardin "one of the brightest men I've ever worked with." Few colleagues in Annapolis or in Washington would dispute that statement.

With the mayor no longer in the gubernatorial race, Mr. Cardin would become the perceived frontrunner with a solid base in Baltimore City and proven voting clout in parts of Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties. Fund-raising would be no trouble. His longtime contacts around the state also give him an edge. But he is reluctant to take the risk. He says he is unlikely to enter the race.

Politics, though, requires risk-taking. Mr. Cardin has made no secret of wanting someday to be governor. With his Ways and Means patron, Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, facing possible indictment, Mr. Cardin's rise in the House could be stalled. This might be the ideal time to explore opportunities outside Capitol Hill -- if Mr. Cardin decides the potential reward is worth the gamble.

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