Campaign surprise

July 27, 1994

Who would have suspected that a nondescript backbencher in Annapolis, a regular in the ward-heeling politics of ethnic Baltimore, would be running second in the polls in the Democratic primary for governor?

Few gave American Joe Miedusiewski a chance when he declared his intentions last year. Common wisdom held that by the filing deadline, he'd be running for reelection as a state senator or agree to run as lieutenant governor on someone else's ticket. Conventional wisdom was wrong.

Mr. Miedusiewski has emerged as the Baltimore region's foremost contender in the Democratic primary. He has done so with a blend of bluntness and humor, tough anti-crime rhetoric and an underdog's determination that has won him much more support than anyone ever expected. In the past month, his poll ratings have jumped from 7 percent to 16 percent.

Still, he remains far behind Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, who stood at 38 percent in the last Mason-Dixon poll. And Mr. Miedusiewski continues to display a major weakness: he's unknown and unsupported in the populous Washington suburbs.

The Baltimore senator's message is blue-collar and conservative. More police. Boot camps for juveniles. Tougher sentences. In fact, a full-court-press on combating crime. He's made this his central theme.

And he has become a prickly foe, especially for Mr. Glendening, who has been the butt of humorous Miedusiewski radio ads linking him to "The Love Boat," "Dragnet" and TV's fumbling deputy sheriff, Barney Fife. Mr. Glendening doesn't think any of these ads are very funny. But the public seems to disagree. Whether they agree with Mr. Miedusiewski's political allegations against Mr. Glendening is another matter. There's no indication that the front-runner is faltering.

To make substantial inroads on Mr. Glendening, the Miedusiewski campaign must do more than mock its rival in cute radio commercials. The candidate has to demonstrate a capacity for governing this state that failed to surface during two decades in the General Assembly. He has to give Marylanders a vision for the future that is more than simply a tough-on-crime stump speech.

So far, Mr. Miedusiewski has shown the most growth of any candidate for governor. In the remaining weeks, he has to persuade a much broader audience that he is, indeed, a viable alternative to the front-runner instead of a respectable, but distant, runner-up.

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