Cardin drops run for governor Democratic leaders decline to back him against incumbent

Campaign 1998

September 03, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith and Thomas W. Waldron | C. Fraser Smith and Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Unable to find Maryland Democrats who would publicly support an effort to unseat Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin said yesterday he has decided not to run for governor in 1998.

Cardin said he would instead seek a seventh term as Maryland's 3rd District congressman, saying he was newly enthusiastic about his role as a national policy maker on health care and taxes.

"I have an incredible opportunity in Congress," the Baltimore Democrat said in an interview.

"I think I can serve the people of Maryland best there."

Cardin's decision ended months of speculation that he would undertake what would surely have been a bruising battle with an incumbent governor.

He said he made up his mind Monday night after discussions with his family -- and after final efforts to win the public backing of party leaders failed.

Cardin, 53, declared himself "comfortable" with his decision but said he has undiminished concern for the fate of his party.

For reasons his pollsters were unable to pinpoint, Cardin said Glendening is vulnerable to a Republican challenger.

"I remain concerned about the political viability of Governor Glendening," Cardin said.

He readily conceded that the unwillingness of ranking party officials to stand with him against Glendening was an impor-tant factor in his decision to stay out of the race.

In a series of discussions over the past several weeks, Cardin had sought such a public show of support from a variety of prominent Democrats disgruntled with Glendening.

But they said they could not back him before next spring, after the end of the General Assembly's 90-day session, a period when the governor will have great control over state spending dear to local elected officials.

"I let it be known that I was not going to make any commitments to anybody until after the session," said Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "The only thing I said is that this governor has been very good to Baltimore County."

Glendening declined to comment personally on Cardin's decision, but he said through his press secretary that he was "pleased Ben decided to remain in Washington, where he has built a distinguished career."

Others thought Glendening had to be more than "pleased."

"I'm sure that Parris and his people are dancing in the streets of Annapolis," said Keith Haller, a Montgomery County political analyst and pollster.

Cardin, he said, was "the most formidable candidate considering a run against Parris Glendening."

But Haller joined many others in saying he never thought Cardin would take the leap.

"There were too many hurdles and discomfort in taking on a seated governor," Haller said.

While Glendening was no doubt happy with Cardin's decision, so, too, seemed Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the 1994 Republican candidate and likely nominee next year.

Had Cardin run and defeated Glendening, Sauerbrey would have been robbed of the Democratic opponent she sees as weakest.

"I think the final decision that Ben made shows how difficult it is to defeat an incumbent governor in a Democratic primary, even as damaged as Parris is," she said.

"Obviously, a Sauerbrey-Glendening rematch is the race I've been looking forward to and preparing for."

With Cardin out, Glendening's critics within his party may shift their attention to others -- first among them Eileen M. Rehrmann, the Harford County executive who announced her candidacy in May and has been trying to organize a statewide network of support.

Raymond F. Schoenke Jr., a Montgomery County businessman and former Washington Redskins football player, has also said he is considering entering the Democratic primary.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said that Cardin's decision, while good news for Glendening, doesn't ease his own concern about Glendening's prospects for re-election in November 1998.

Duncan says Glendening has not done enough for his vote-rich county: "I think that's why this next [legislative] session is key to his chances in Montgomery County."

Cardin's decision, which he is expected to announce formally today, came after a summer of intense discussions with businessmen who promised to bankroll his campaign, and with political leaders who urged him to run -- but declined to endorse him until after the session.

Cardin said serving on the House Ways and Means Committee gives him extraordinary authority over legislation on health care and taxes.

Though he has been frustrated with Congress in the past, Cardin said he has a renewed enthusiasm for a job he's always loved.

Many of the people he consulted about running for governor, moreover, said they hoped he would stay in Washington.

"I looked at it because people asked me to and because of the concern about Ellen Sauerbrey becoming governor," he said.

But he said he was, in the final analysis, unable to decide whether his candidacy would result in a Democratic victory and continued control of the State House.

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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