Money chase begins early

Three top Democrats build record bankrolls for 2002 governor's race

$2.5 million likely this year

November 07, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

In a political gold rush unprecedented in Maryland, potential candidates for governor are scrambling three years before the election to amass early bankrolls.

By the end of the year, the three Democrats considered to be the leading contenders are expected to have raised an estimated $2.5 million combined.

That would dwarf the sums raised by candidates at this stage of past election cycles, an indication that spending in the 2002 governor's race could break the $12.6 million record set in last year's battle between Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

With a bruising intraparty contest looming, it is crucial for the three most likely candidates, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, to post a solid financial showing early, aides said.

"It's almost ridiculous that they're doing this now," said Michael Davis, Ruppersberger's chief spokesman. "But we know what we're up against. . . . He needs to show he's competitive, so he has to do what he's doing."

The push for contributions comes even though none of the three is officially in the race.

Others are mentioned as possible candidates, including Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, who cannot seek re-election and had a major fund-raiser last spring at his home in Upper Marlboro.

But Duncan, Ruppersberger and Townsend have been the most active. Of the three, Ruppersberger apparently has the most money.

The Baltimore County executive -- who is prohibited from seeking another term in that office -- started ahead of everybody with about $500,000 left over from his 1998 re-election campaign.

Thanks to an April fund-raiser that attracted 1,500 people, and more than a dozen smaller events, Ruppersberger will have more than $1 million in the bank when candidates file their campaign finance reports with the state election board this month, Davis said.

"The response he's getting is terrific," Davis said.

Duncan in Bethesda

Duncan will hold a $1,000-a-head party Wednesday night at a Bethesda hotel, drawing largely from his base in Montgomery County.

Last week, he attracted about 75 business people paying as much as $1,000 at a smaller event in Prince George's County, aides said.

Duncan had about $250,000 on hand as of last month and expects to have more than $500,000 in the bank when reports are filed Nov. 23, aides said.

The Duncan camp is playing down the horse-race aspect of gubernatorial fund raising.

"Just as Doug raised the least amount of money when he ran for county executive in 1994, he'll probably be the underdog in fund raising should he run statewide," said one Duncan adviser.

Unlike Ruppersberger and Townsend, Duncan has the option of running for re-election to his current office in 2002.

Townsend at Port Discovery

Townsend will preside on Nov. 17 over what aides say will be her biggest fund-raiser, a $1,000-per-person party at Port Discovery in downtown Baltimore.

In a flurry of big-ticket events this fall, Townsend has had one smaller $1,000 affair at a Little Italy restaurant and another with tickets costing $500.

The lieutenant governor is expected to report more than $500,000 on hand this month. But with more fund-raisers scheduled, Townsend hopes to have $1 million in the bank by the end of the year, aides said.

Townsend proved a strong fund-raiser during two campaigns as Glendening's running mate. Now on her own, she has lined up an impressive array of financial backers, including Baltimore pharmacy owner Michael Bronfein, one of the most bountiful Democratic money men in Maryland.

Familiar names

Other well-known political benefactors, including Baltimore bakery owner John Paterakis Sr., construction company owner Willard Hackerman and racetrack owner Joseph A. De Francis, have also given early financial support to Townsend.

Aides said the lieutenant governor is determined to keep the focus off her fund raising and on her accomplishments. In a brief interview, Townsend declined to discuss her fund-raising strategy or goals.

"I'm fortunate to receive support from friends across the state who believe in my work and our efforts to build a great future for Maryland," Townsend said.

Earlier than usual

The early money search by possible gubernatorial candidates has easily surpassed that of previous campaigns here.

Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, for example, did not begin raising big money this early for his campaigns in 1986 and 1990.

During the 1994 election cycle, no candidate had raised so much at this point in the race. Even by the end of 1992 -- two years into the four-year cycle -- the four leading Democrats who were weighing a gubernatorial bid had banked a total of only $1.3 million.

In 1995, three years before the most recent election, Glendening had stockpiled a little over $220,000, a figure that would put him well behind all three of the leading Democratic candidates this year.

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