AS LT. GOV. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and others sponge up money for next year's campaigns, one winner is already evident: television stations.
Candidates for governor, Congress and county executive in Maryland could easily spend more than $10 million on television advertising next year - probably more than half the money they raise. The reason: They need to build name recognition and get out the message crafted by advisers.
The mid-Atlantic region is no stranger to expensive ad wars. Recent figures published by the Alliance for Better Campaigns show that U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes spent $1 million on broadcast advertising last year even though he had no serious challenger.
In Delaware, incumbent Sen. William V. Roth Jr. spent $2.2 million on television ads to fend off challenger Thomas R. Carper, who spent $1.5 million. Virginia's two major-party Senate candidates, Republican George F. Allen and Democrat Charles S. Robb, wrote checks worth $10.2 million to television stations.
"Last year the broadcasters used the public's airwaves to gouge candidates and profiteer on democracy," writes Paul Taylor, executive director of the alliance.
Taylor waged a battle this year to close a loophole in a federal law designed to allow candidates to buy ads at the cheapest rates. The law is ineffective, Taylor says, and candidates wind up paying much more than they should.
Legislation to ensure low-cost ads was proposed by New Jersey Sen. Robert G. Torricelli as an amendment to the failed McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill. With few broadcast stations based in New Jersey, candidates from the Garden State must buy time in either the costly New York or Philadelphia markets.
Maryland candidates face a similar problem. If Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger wants to become better known in populous Prince George's and Montgomery counties, he must turn to District of Columbia stations, which also broadcast in Virginia. That expense could keep Ruppersberger and others out of the governor's race.
Television stations vehemently opposed the Torricelli proposal, which helped kill campaign finance reform this year. For now, the law remains the same. And station owners can only salivate as candidates brag about how much money they've raised.
Redistricting map plan highlights feud in the city
The public unveiling of a proposed legislative redistricting map in Baltimore last week unveiled something else: a bitter feud between two city lawmakers.
Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chair of the House Appropriations Committee and the leading force behind the proposal, said his desire in crafting the map was to create five African-American senatorial districts in the city - preferably without one senator, Clarence M. Mitchell IV.
"I want to make it clear that he is the most despicable senator we have," Rawlings said. "I am not arguing to save Mitchell, I am arguing to save a district."
In an interview, Rawlings criticized Mitchell's vote on a racial profiling bill last year and said his meddling in a Baltimore County judicial election helped unseat the county's first black Circuit Court judge. Rawlings also said Mitchell blocked legislation two years ago allowing public defenders to be present at bond hearings.
Mitchell brushed off Rawlings' comments, saying the powerful legislator did not like him because he voted his mind.
"It's really more comical to me than anything else," he said of the criticism. "I am not, and have never been, a sycophant."
He said he did not like the racial profiling bill because provisions for penalties had been taken out, and suggested he traded his vote on bail hearings for a strong civilian police review for the city.
Mitchell said his support of Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert N. Dugan, who is white, was rooted in family loyalty: When his grandmother was an NAACP chairwoman, Dugan used to drive through poor black neighborhoods to ensure that police were not abusing people's civil rights. "If people are upset with me, then they are upset with four generations of Mitchells," he said.
Political observers say that the redistricting proposal bears several of Rawlings' fingerprints, and would create districts where his allies would have an easier time. In Mitchell's district, observers say, Rawlings would like Del. Verna L. Jones, a fellow Appropriations Committee member, to run for Senate.
But Rawlings' map has only a small chance of becoming reality; Gov. Parris N. Glendening and his closest advisers have the final say on legislative redistricting.
He's ready to dip a toe in congressional waters
Just as there are Republicans waiting to run for governor in case Ehrlich seeks re-election to Congress, there is a now a Baltimore County Republican waiting to run for Congress in case Ehrlich goes for governor.
State Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a doctor who teaches at the Johns Hopkins University, has formed an exploratory committee to look at a congressional race. "I would not run against Bob Ehrlich," he said.
Harris is serving his first four-year term in the legislature. Asked if he feels he has mastered the job well enough to move on, he said: "I think professional politicians is not what America is all about. I'm not sure that's the best thing."