Talk about a quick exit! The day before he was set to formally announce his entry into this year's race for governor, former Democratic state Sen. Stewart Bainum Jr. shocked his supporters on Sunday by deciding he didn't really want the job.
Mr. Bainum would have been a major contender in the crowded && Democratic gubernatorial field. He had committed about $1 million to finance a fully staffed operation and a month-long media blitz. His family's ownership of the Manor Care nursing home and motel corporation assured him of all the campaign money he needed.
But that became a two-edged sword. Other candidates for governor already had assailed Mr. Bainum for trying to buy the governorship. He clearly didn't relish constantly apologizing for his family's wealth. Some of Manor Care's nursing policies would also have been easy targets: the company caters to the well-to-do elderly and admits it does not encourage poor people to become residents. Mr. Bainum had a conflict of interest he bTC couldn't hide: as governor, he would have set the Medicaid reimbursement rate for his own nursing homes. He's on record as saying the rates are too low.
Mr. Bainum's surprise withdrawal may not be the final twist in this topsy-turvy political race. There are still six weeks before the filing deadline and another 10 days after that for candidates to reconsider. Rep. Helen Bentley, the GOP front-runner, has told workers that unless fund-raising goals are met, she might not continue in the gubernatorial race -- a remark chilling to Democrats and Republicans seeking her Second District seat in Congress. New House Speaker Casper Taylor is being urged by some politicians, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer, to run for governor (a $200-a-ticket Taylor fund-raiser next week in Baltimore is expected to yield $500,000). A few candidates could combine forces to form governor-lieutenant governor tickets in the weeks ahead.
At the moment, the big gainer from Mr. Bainum's decision is Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening. One less Washington-area candidate in the mix is a distinct advantage for him. Conversely, it is a disadvantage for Lt. Gov. Mickey Steinberg, the main Baltimore-area candidate who wouldn't mind seeing a splintered Washington-area vote. These are the two contenders with the largest campaign coffers and the broadest name recognition.
Mr. Bainum would certainly have elevated the public focus on the race for governor. He had a good grasp of the issues confronting Maryland. Now the remaining candidates must shift their own campaigns into a higher gear if they hope to grab the attention of a distracted electorate.