Paul H. Rappaport, recently passed over for a second go-around as Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's running mate in ++ the governor's race, bounced back yesterday by launching a challenge to Democratic Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
Billing himself as a "tough, two-fisted crime fighter" who would not be "a rubber stamp for the governor," Rappaport, 64, said he plans to file candidacy papers today in Annapolis.
The former Howard County police chief's decision comes as a relief to Republicans, who were worried that they might not field a full statewide ticket in a year when they expect to mount a strong challenge to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
With the July 6 filing deadline just days away, no other prospective opponents from either party have stepped forward to contest Curran's bid for a fourth term. An apparent lack of interest among other prominent Republicans could give Rappaport a clear shot at the GOP nomination.
A spokesman for Sauerbrey, the front-runner in the GOP gubernatorial primary, said she would "absolutely love" to have Rappaport run for attorney general on the Republican ticket.
"We think he would be a strong candidate and he would have a very, very good shot at beating Joe Curran," said spokesman Jim Dornan.
Curran, 66, a Baltimorean who has held public office since 1958, said he always expected the Republicans to find somebody to run against him.
He said he would be happy to compare his record as a lawyer against that of his challenger, who earned a law degree in 1974 but has practiced full-time only since 1987.
"Truthfully, I didn't know that Paul practiced law," Curran said.
But Rappaport, a state trooper and police chief for more than 30 years, signaled that he would try to shift the debate to crime-fighting -- charging that Curran has been ineffective in that role.
First elected attorney general in 1986, Curran survived a serious political challenge in 1994 when he garnered 54 percent of the vote in his race against former U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett.
"Dick Bennett showed in 1994 how vulnerable Joe Curran is," Dornan said.
Rappaport, an Ellicott City resident, will enter the race a decided underdog because Curran has had a three-year head start in raising campaign money.
Curran has union support
Curran, who can count on strong support from unions and plaintiff's attorneys, has also received abundant publicity about the suit he brought against tobacco companies seeking recovery of billions of dollars for the state in health care costs from smoking-related illnesses.
But Joyce Lyons Terhes, who chairs the Maryland Republican Party, said Rappaport will be able to count on an extensive network of grass-roots supporters across the state.
"His followers, especially since the 1994 campaign, have been very loyal and they're devoted to him," Terhes said.
Rappaport has received strong support from the party's right wing since he agreed to run for lieutenant governor with the conservative Sauerbrey in 1994, long before she appeared to have a chance of beating former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley in the primary. In that race, Sauerbrey and Rappaport upset the more centrist Bentley and came within 6,000 votes of being elected.
After Sauerbrey's defeat in the general election and through her three-year campaign for the 1998 nomination for governor, Rappaport openly displayed interest in returning as her running mate.
To broaden ticket's appeal
But last month, in an effort to broaden her appeal, Sauerbrey passed over Rappaport and chose Bennett, a moderate.
Rappaport's decision to shift his sights to the attorney general's race was welcomed by Republican leaders such as Del. Robert H. Kittleman, the House minority leader and a fellow Howard Countian.
"He'll have 1,000 percent support from me," Kittleman said.
The delegate acknowledged that Rappaport is getting a late start, but expressed optimism about his chances.
"It's going to be difficult, but sometimes you get some real sweeps," he said. "He could ride Ellen's coattails maybe."
Pub Date: 7/02/98