Watching race for governor of Va.

Outcome will affect programs in Md.

October 21, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Va. - From the terminal at Reagan National Airport during a recent campaign stop, gubernatorial candidate Mark R. Warner has a clear view of the Potomac River. He says he'd like to think of it as something that connects Virginia and Maryland: "The river should not be this great wall that divides us."

Promises of a better relationship between Virginia and Maryland are part of the campaign platforms of both major party candidates in this state's governor's race - Democrat Warner and Republican Mark Earley.

Either one would find it easy to deliver on the pledge; relations couldn't get much worse after four years of toxic ties between Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, and Virginia's Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III.

Political pros from both parties are watching the Virginia governor's race - one of two in the nation next month - for its national implications. But Maryland leaders are especially interested in the outcome.

The two states must work together on such issues as highways, mass transit and protection of the Chesapeake Bay - issues that have provoked repeated clashes during the past four years.

Both Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is expected to run for Maryland governor, are strongly backing Warner. Glendening has raised money for Warner and contributed $10,000 from his campaign treasury. Townsend has appeared at Warner fund-raisers and praised him as an "extraordinary leader."

In all, Maryland donors have poured almost $1 million into the race, with more than 90 percent going to Warner - or between 5 percent and 10 percent of his funds.

The Democratic candidate has not called much attention to the support he has received from across the river. Nor is he likely to, because Maryland is perceived here as a more liberal state.

"Virginians have a much dimmer view of Maryland than Marylanders have of Virginia," said Larry J. Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.

Warner, a 46-year-old millionaire telecommunications entrepreneur who has not held public office, is regarded as a potential star in the national Democratic Party. With his centrist message, he has tapped into support that Republicans previously could take for granted.

He was running well ahead of Earley in polls during the summer, but the Republican has narrowed the gap in the weeks since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A recent Mason-Dixon poll showed Warner leading by 3 percentage points, 45 percent to 42 percent.

Still, to be ahead at this stage in the race is a significant achievement for a Democrat in increasingly Republican Virginia, where the GOP seized all statewide offices and control of the General Assembly during the 1990s.

Governor Gilmore, who serves as the Republican national chairman, has been directing money to his home state in an effort to keep the governorship in Republican hands. But Earley has not received much support from Maryland Republicans, who so far have given him $60,000. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Maryland GOP's most likely standard-bearer next year, has not become involved in a significant way.

Earley, 47, follows a more traditional path into the governor's race than Warner. After a decade in the state Senate, he won a statewide race for attorney general - a position he resigned in June after winning the GOP primary.

The Republican candidate has gained on Warner by hammering away at the tried-and-true issue of taxes. Earley also is emphasizing his long record - and Warner's inexperience - in public office.

Earley said there would be no hard feelings over Glendening's support of Warner. The Republican hasn't met the Maryland governor, but said he looks forward to working toward a "common agenda."

"At the end of the day, I think there are more things we can agree on," Earley said.

Sabato agreed that Earley would bring a change in tone. "He is not a confrontational sort of guy," he said.

With Warner, agreement could come even easier. Although he is more conservative than Glendening on some issues, his campaign statements on such matters as the environment and mass transit read as if they were lifted from a Glendening speech.

Warner said he has made a commitment to meet with Glendening within his first 100 days and to continue meeting regularly. He said he is confident he could get along with Glendening and any of his possible successors, including Ehrlich.

One area in which Warner disagrees with Glendening is the Marylander's support for a pro-union project labor agreement on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project. Warner says he would maintain Virginia's opposition to the pact.

But it is unlikely that either Earley or Warner would disagree with Maryland's governor as vehemently as Gilmore and Glendening have on that and other issues. The two governors' philosophical differences have been amplified by an ill-concealed mutual disdain. At one point, they went nine months without speaking.

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