Top Md. politicians line up behind the front-runners

Most hope support will be noted later if candidate wins

March 07, 2000|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Top officials in Maryland's Democratic and Republican hierarchies have lined up behind their parties' front-runners in today's primary -- hoping that if their candidate becomes president, their loyalty will give them a pipeline to the White House.

Most of the state's elected Democrats are supporting Vice President Al Gore, while on the Republican side, most have followed the lead of Ellen R. Sauerbrey in backing George W. Bush.

Gore supporters believe that if he wins, the largess Maryland has enjoyed for the past eight years under President Clinton will continue.

"A number of times I have called this administration and asked for help, and they have almost always come through," said Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

He ticked off a list of recent federally funded projects, including $900 million to replace the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, $200 million for farmland preservation and $10 million to add a second track to much of Baltimore's light rail line and extend the Washington-area Metro system to Largo in Prince George's County.

Many Republicans are backing Bush because of his proposals for tax cuts and education reform -- and because they think he can win in November.

"I got behind Bush because what he demonstrated in Texas I would like to see happen in Maryland and the rest of the country," said Sauerbrey, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994 and 1998. She is the state's GOP national committeewoman.

A Bush presidency, she said, "would mean that Republican candidates running in 2002 would have a friend in the White House, and since we're a hop, skip and jump away, we'd have a shot at getting a president to come into Maryland and help build the party."

But for many of the officials, observers say, the motivation is much simpler.

"Both party establishments have invested themselves in the front-runners, seeing the roses at the end of the campaign," said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research, a Bethesda polling firm.

"There are any number of plum assignments -- politically career-making jobs -- that a president of the United States can remind people about to get the establishment excited and engaged to do whatever it takes to ensure victory," Haller said.

Sauerbrey, along with Richard D. Bennett, the state party chairman, corralled the support of more than 300 elected Republicans across Maryland for Bush, including three of the four Republican representatives to Congress.

By contrast, just five elected officials are backing Sen. John McCain of Arizona, including Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore and three of 49 Republicans in the Maryland General Assembly.

"Everybody lined up behind Bush early. The name brought in the money, the money brought in more names, and the circle kept getting larger," said Kevin Igoe, a GOP political consultant.

"And what began to form around the circle was the aura of inevitability."

Democrats backing Gore over former Sen. Bill Bradley include Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, and the state's four Democratic congressmen.

Bradley, however, does have support among some name Democrats.

Among them are Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. of Allegany County, Del. Howard P. Rawlings of Baltimore, State Treasurer Richard N. Dixon and Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley has declined to say whom he is supporting.

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