Picking a Partner

June 22, 1994

In the lackluster race for governor this year, picking a partner is taking on added significance. The Democratic front-runner chose an inexperienced running mate for lieutenant governor who swings him far to the left, while the Republican leader selected a veteran legislator who pulls her forcefully toward the center. It helps both gubernatorial hopefuls in their respective primaries but raises a new set of problems for them in the November election.

Rep. Helen Bentley's choice of Sen. Howard Denis of Montgomery County for her ticket is being widely praised. He brings Annapolis skills that she sorely lacks. He is a master of the media "sound bite" and an eloquent, witty speaker. He is in the Mathias-Morella liberal wing of the state GOP.

If the two can submerge their considerable differences on issues, the selection of Mr. Denis could give Mrs. Bentley a big advantage, especially in Montgomery County, which contains more than a fifth of Republican voters statewide. This ends all talk of Mrs. Bentley withdrawing from the race. She is clearly beginning to position herself more toward the middle of the political spectrum, in preparation for the general election.

In contrast, Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening chose to align himself with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who represents the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Ms. Townsend has never held elective office before and was badly trounced by Mrs. Bentley in an earlier congressional race. Still, she brings the bland Mr. Glendening some of the Kennedy star quality, more fund-raising clout and liberal support.

Opponents are already sniping at these selections. Mr. Denis is being portrayed as a far-left Republican out of step with the conservative elements of the GOP. There is also alarm about his frequent anti-Baltimore tirades and his obsession with killing the Camden Yards stadium projects. Ms. Townsend, meanwhile, is being called unqualified and a reflection of Mr. Glendening's love of the kind of big-spending programs usually associated with the Kennedy wing of the party.

Now the pressure is on the remaining candidates to pick a No. 2. State Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski and William S. Shepard say they will announce their choices by Friday, and Sen. Mary Boergers and Lt. Gov. Mickey Steinberg may not be far behind. Their selections could create even more controversy. After all, this is the first major decision these gubernatorial candidates have had to make. It tells voters something about the leadership qualities of these would-be governors.

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