A wacky campaign

August 11, 1994|By Frank A. DeFilippo

THE CAMPAIGN for governor has little to do with what's ailing Maryland. Nor does it play out as a mind-blowing exercise in which the public is elevated by the lofty messages it hears and the convincing images it sees.

Instead, 1994 is a dumbed-down version of a campaign. A Laurel-and-Hardy, slapstick-type of campaign.

It's a campaign about East Baltimore state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, who named himself after the family saloon, suddenly claiming second place among Democrats in the polls.

Campaign 1994 is about those wicked radio commercials that Mr. Miedusiewski's been running. They produced the bonus result of revealing what a thin skin Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening really has beneath that buttoned-down Mr. Chips exterior.

So much so that Mr. Glendening, instead of laughing at himself, has been calling around the state to find out what effect the ads are having on voters.

It's about Mr. Glendening's $200 million worth of campaign promises that he's now backing away from. Nobody expected him to keep them anyway.

Campaign 1994 also is about the sad reality of Lt. Gov. Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg being unable to wrap his head around modern campaign techniques. His not-quite-ready-for-prime-time TV ads are vintage 1960 clip-and-paste jobs.

And it's demeaning to see a candidate for governor still waving a placard at busy intersections the way Mr. Steinberg did when he first ran for office in 1966. The trouble is, Mr. Steinberg hasn't had a contested election since -- until now. And it's about Mr. Steinberg free-falling from first to fourth in the test-drive polls.

Worse, Mr. Steinberg has gone through campaign staffs and running mates the way Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina goes through batters. And Mr. Steinberg made a grave strategic error by assuming that everyone who's loyal to Gov. William Donald Schaefer would be against him.

What's more, campaign 1994 is about Rep. Helen Delich Bentley's refusal to show up at candidates' forums -- 43 by rival Republican William S. Shepard's count -- and her detours around reporters' questions as if she has lockjaw.

It's about Ms. Bentley's confusing the state campaign finance law with the federal program. And it's about her many miscues -- her flip-flops on votes, her wacky plea for money and her fraudulent attempt to create the impression that local sports celebrities were endorsing her at a hastily arranged fund-raiser. And don't forget, she's had more campaign staff changes than even the hapless Mr. Steinberg.

Campaign 1994 is about two big-foot candidates for governor changing their minds. Mayor Kurt Schmoke -- considered an early front-runner -- walked away from a chance to move from City Hall to the State House. And Montgomery County multi-millionaire Stewart Bainum Jr. decided hours before he was scheduled to announce his candidacy not to run.

Other no-shows included Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall, former House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. and his successor, Casper R. Taylor, of Cumberland, Reps. Constance Morella, R-8th, Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, and Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th. Other prominently mentioned prospects included Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Frank Conaway and State Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick.

It has been a year in which the candidates for lieutenant governor have produced more laughs than David Letterman. Imagine, if you can, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend -- Mr. Glendening's running mate -- without her famous middle name and you get the point.

Campaign 1994 is this way partly because of the nature of the primary elections. They have more to do with organization, endorsements and clubhouses than with issues and personality. The latter two are on call-waiting for the general election.

But there's another element, too, and that just might be that America-in-miniature, as Maryland has been dubbed, is every bit as dysfunctional as the rest of the nation. And as a result, we're getting exactly what we deserve.

Campaign 1994 is the Forrest Gump of political campaigns.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes on Maryland politics from Owings Mills.

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