With nearly four months to go before the September primary, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening is now widelyregarded as the candidate to beat or the Democratic nomination for governor.
Anything can happen over the course of a summer-long campaign, but at the moment, the 51-year-old former college professor appears to have positioned himself to break away from the crowded Democratic field.
In interviews with state legislators, party activists, political contributors, pollsters and even supporters of rival candidates, Mr. Glendening is portrayed as the candidate with the money, the organization and the endorsements.
The three-term county executive also seems to have been the luckiest candidate so far. Put all that together and it translates into political momentum.
"He's not breaking away from the pack because there is no pack," said one state lawmaker who is no fan of Mr. Glendening (and who, like many people interviewed, asked not to be identified.) "He's the only candidate who is running a smart, focused disciplined campaign. He has the field pretty much to himself."
In recent weeks, Mr. Glendening has nailed down the endorsements of the leaders of the region's two biggest jurisdictions, Baltimore and Montgomery County; has secured the backing of the state teachers union; and has shown up on a poll commissioned by a rival Republican candidate as the leader among the Democrats.
As a Washington-area candidate who still is hardly a house hold name in the Baltimore region, Mr. Glendening succeeded after months of courting Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to garner his endorsement. With that comes a campaign organization run by Mr. Schmoke's political adviser, Larry Gibson, that should help Mr. Glendening overcome some of his name recognition problems in the city.
Mr. Glendening's most significant turn of good fortune, however, came when millionaire Montgomery County businessman Stewart Bainum Jr. unexpectedly decided not to enter the race. A Bainum candidacy could have posed a significant threat to Mr. Glendening, in part because Mr. Bainum might have cut into Mr. Glendening's support in the Washington suburbs.
Two other long-shot Democratic candidates, former state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer of Howard County and former Delegate Frank M. Conaway of Baltimore, also dropped out in recent weeks. Their departure effectively leaves four Democratic candidates: Mr. Glendening, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg of Baltimore County, state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County and state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski of Baltimore. (Lawrence K. Freeman, a Baltimore follower of Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., also has filed as a Democrat.)
Mr. Glendening downplays the significance of Mr. Bainum's decision, saying simply it "was helpful." He attributes his current position more to long-range planning than to the unexpected twists of a campaign.
"We didn't enter this race late. We knew early on exactly what we wanted to do. What you're seeing publicly now actually reflects two years of very hard work and detailed planning," he boasted.
Pollster Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Political Media Research Inc. of Columbia, agreed that Mr. Glendening "is the only one right now that is showing any signs of momentum." Mr. Glendening "clearly has the best-organized campaign. His strategy -- whether ultimately it will be victorious or not -- is working," Mr. Coker said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat and longtime adversary of Mr. Glendening's, said he agrees -- for now.
"I think that is a correct assessment," Mr. Miller said when asked if Mr. Glendening currently looks like the favorite. "But he could be overplaying his hand in that we haven't even gotten to the filing deadline and his campaign appears to be peaking. . . . Somehow voters like to bring down elected officials who are riding too high."
As might be expected, Mr. Glendening's rivals do not necessarily see him pulling away.
"It's just a perception he created," complained Mr. Steinberg, whose campaign has been sputtering for months.
Asked if he thought Mr. Glendening was moving ahead in the race, Mr. Miedusiewski said, "I think it is absolutely untrue."
Ms. Boergers grudgingly acknowledged, "To say [Mr. Glendening] is the front-runner today would be accurate." But she added, "Our expectation is that, in fact, he has peaked."
Both Mr. Steinberg and Ms. Boergers had eagerly awaited Mr. Bainum's entry into the race. Mr. Steinberg thought Mr. Bainum would take away some of Mr. Glendening's Washington-area vote, while Ms. Boergers saw the entry of another male into what was then a nine-member field as another chance for her to shine as the only woman seeking the Democratic nomination.