Townsend enjoys luxury of crowd-drawing name

The Political Game

Power: The lieutenant governor hasn't announced her candidacy for governor in 2002, but the turnout at a weekend fund-raiser shows why she is intimidating to other contenders.

May 15, 2001|By Jeff Barker and Michael Dresser | Jeff Barker and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

THE PARKING lots were filled to capacity, traffic was backed up nearly to the Capital Beltway, and thousands of participants and musicians were drenched in a downpour.

It sounds like Woodstock, but it was a Saturday afternoon fund-raiser for the unannounced 2002 gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend -- an event that showed why she is such an intimidating candidate for would-be challengers.

The fund-raiser -- billed as an early birthday celebration (she turns 50 on July 4) -- was held at the Potomac estate of her uncle and aunt, Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

The drawing power of the Kennedys and Shrivers provides Townsend a luxury few other candidates enjoy. Rather than focus exclusively on high rollers for her campaign cash, she can go for volume: large, family-oriented events that look more like concerts or fairs than political gatherings.

Saturday's shindig was a case in point. It cost $10 for individuals to attend and $25 for families.

Attendees gathered on the lawn to listen to a Latino band and an African-American choir and watch a Korean dance troupe. Kids ate popcorn and played volleyball, and some -- including Townsend's daughter Kerry, 9 -- got their face painted.

Her mother, Ethel, and husband, David, were among her family members in attendance. Townsend is planning a similar event July 8 at the Baltimore Zoo.

No official attendance was provided for Saturday's affair. Parking was available for a few thousand, but the lots reached capacity, and traffic backed up several miles. A midafternoon rain sent many parents, some with crying children in tow, to their cars.

But the sun came out again, and guests formed makeshift receiving lines to greet or obtain autographs from Townsend and her cousin, Del. Mark K. Shriver, who is running for Congress.

"It's an American phenomenon," said Allan Lichtman, an American University historian who attended. "Not too many people in American politics can draw a crowd. The Kennedys can do it, Jesse Jackson can do it, and Bill Clinton could do it."

The event drew Gov. Parris N. Glendening and two dozen state legislators, including Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., vying with Shriver in the 8th District Democratic primary.

Townsend is collecting contributions through her committee, Friends of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, which has reported raising more than $2 million. On the Republican side, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says he won't decide until summer whether to run.

Sen. Mooney may receive opposition from Del. Hecht

State Sen. Alex X. Mooney, the freshman Republican from Frederick, has been giving Democrats hell since his surprising election victory in 1998. Now they're thinking of giving him Hecht.

Leading Democrats are encouraging Del. Sue Hecht of Frederick to challenge Mooney for his 3rd District seat. She said she's considering the idea. While Hecht's voting record is more liberal than other Western Maryland legislators, Democrats believe Mooney's conservatism puts him to the right of his constituents.

Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a big Hecht fan, said Mooney's "extremism" could put his seat in jeopardy.

Mooney, 29, earned statewide attention with his fierce opposition to the gay rights bill that passed the General Assembly. He's capitalized on that publicity in his fund-raising letters, using fire-breathing anti-homosexual rhetoric that has made him a hero to the Christian right.

Hecht has been grinding away on the House Appropriations Committee -- gaining projects important to the growing county.

Mooney has received criticism in the press for skipping a hearing on his local bond bills -- a move that might have contributed to their Senate defeat. He said he made a mistake in missing the hearings, but attributed their failure to his vote against the state budget.

Former Sen. John W. Derr, the Republican Mooney beat in the 1998 primary, said Hecht is highly regarded in Frederick -- even in Republican business circles. He gives her credit for getting back in the House some money Frederick County lost in the Senate. "Were she to run against him, she would stand a good chance," Derr said.

Mooney said he would welcome a spirited campaign.

Hecht said her decision would be influenced by the way the district is redrawn. She'd like to see Democratic districts from around Brunswick added and has a good chance to get what she wants.

Redistricting is largely controlled by the governor, and Hecht was one of the few elected Western Maryland Democrats who didn't shy away from his 1998 campaign.

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