Well-heeled dark horse Stewart Bainum Jr. officially joins the race for governor of Maryland tomorrow, trumpeting his belated entrance into the crowded field of Democratic hopefuls with a monthlong fanfare of television commercials to propel him from the starting gate.
Besides showcasing Mr. Bainum, the ads highlight a new dynamic in the campaign -- personal wealth and the willingness to use it. The multimillionaire Montgomery County businessman hopes they will be the great equalizer, making up for his relative political obscurity and entry a scant four months before the Sept. Democratic primary.
Although six other Democrats are contending for the party's nomination, none has yet electrified the voters or emerged as the clear front-runner. That makes Mr. Bainum's well-funded rush, even from a standing start, a potentially powerful force in the campaign.
Mr. Bainum is scheduled to announce his candidacy, expected for months, at news conferences in Hagerstown, Silver Spring, Baltimore and Salisbury.
In addition to his late start and early use of television advertising, Mr. Bainum is going against the grain in another way, publicly linking himself with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whose popularity has sagged in recent years.
Mr. Bainum said in an interview he admires Mr. Schaefer's willingness to take on special interests. "While I don't always agree with Governor Schaefer on issues, if elected I'd aspire to have as much political courage as he has," Mr. Bainum said.
He also said that if elected he would recruit nationally for his administration, but made a point of saying he might retain some key Schaefer aides at the Cabinet, sub-cabinet and State House staff level.
He would not specify whom he might ask to stay, but spoke in glowing terms during the interview of Nancy S. Grasmick, the state schools superintendent.
Encouraged by Schaefer
The governor, searching for a successor, encouraged Mr. Bainum to enter the race, as he did two other announced candidates, State Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, a Baltimore
Democrat, and Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley of Baltimore County.
The TV ads, the first this year in the governor's race, are to run for the next month over the air and on cable in the state's four major media markets -- Baltimore, Washington, Hagerstown in Western Maryland, and Salisbury on the Eastern Shore.
In one polished, 30-second spot shown to reporters last week, Mr. Bainum is introduced to voters as a no-nonsense, fiscally responsible businessman and former legislator who can nonetheless poke fun at himself for driving an 8-year-old car.
Looking younger than his 48 years, Mr. Bainum also is seen talking to employees in his shirt sleeves and playing ball with his son Bradford, 2, while the announcer tells viewers, "As Maryland's next governor, he'll go to bat for us."
The ad, developed by Payne & Co., a Boston political media consultant, is the first of at least two, possibly three, that will be shown in coming weeks.
Mr. Bainum pegged the price for purchasing the television time at more than $500,000 but well below $1 million -- all of it coming from the candidate's deep pockets.
His net worth
He said he did not know his precise net worth, but put the value of his stock in Manor Care Inc., the firm he has headed since 1987, at about $50 million. He has other, less extensive holdings as well, he said.
As for how much of his financial resources he is willing to spend to win the primary, he said, "Enough to get a plurality," which seems to translate to whatever it takes. Although individuals and corporations are limited in the money they can contribute to a candidate, the candidate can donate or lend his or her campaign any amount.
The Chevy Chase resident will present himself as a fiscally conservative entrepreneur whose success in the nursing home and hostelry fields has groomed him for the state's highest office.
Like Ross Perot and other rich men who have reached for high office, he intends to tell the voters that he will run the government like a business, making it more responsive to
residents, whom he equates with customers who pay with taxes for services.
On that point, he promises an overhaul -- his phrase is "fundamental reform" -- of the state personnel system, saying it is antiquated and unresponsive. "Why should we allow a 19th century . . . system to take us into the 21st century?" he said. "It has to be changed."
His plans for revamping it involve incentives and punishments, which could put him at odds with state employee unions. In his system, he said, "People who work hard and do a good job are rewarded and people who don't work hard and don't do a good job are held accountable."
Other issues on which Mr. Bainum expects to campaign include: