KATHLEEN KENNEDY Townsend wore a pink suit to announce her running mate last week because now she can. She stood there in the sunlight outside the State House, and she could show off her femininity, and nobody with a sexist impulse could see it as a sign of softness. She had an admiral at her side. If Townsend in a pink suit is tough enough for Charles R. Larson, she should be tough enough for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Where do the Republicans go now? Their intention was to paint Townsend as a weak-kneed liberal. But Larson, a retired four-star admiral, the former superintendent of the Naval Academy, the only person ever to receive seven Navy Distinguished Service Medals, pulls her to the moderate middle to which Ehrlich has been trying to swim.
And then Larson, the military lifer, goes further: "I have watched the Republican Party drift farther and farther to the right," he said. He didn't mention Ehrlich by name. But he knows his voting record from the time Ehrlich rode Newt Gingrich's coattails into Congress.
Where do the Republicans go now? Two weeks ago, Ehrlich tried to stage a raid on the Democrats by plucking Nancy Grasmick away. She said no. Now Townsend raids the Republican Party for Larson. And he says yes. For Republicans trying to hustle bumper stickers reading "Another Democrat for Ehrlich," it's tough to mutter, "A Republican for Townsend."
At Larson's introduction Thursday morning, many in the crowd noted the post-Sept. 11 atmosphere. It's tough, as part of a political campaign, to criticize a military career man in a time of national trauma. But the Republicans waited about 10 minutes after Larson's appearance before issuing a response noteworthy for its gracelessness.
GOP State Executive Director Paul Ellington called the Larson choice "a careless ploy designed to prop up a lightweight candidate. ... Not only did [Townsend] go outside Maryland to find a running mate, she went outside her own party. In a state with this many Democrats she apparently is in real trouble. No one else must have wanted to run with her."
Leave aside Ehrlich's highly publicized attempt to go outside his party for a running mate. Leave aside the remark about going "outside Maryland" - Larson, who spent eight years running the Naval Academy, settled into retirement about 15 minutes from the State House. And leave aside, for the moment, the statement's snide tone.
No one else wanted to run with her?
For six months, House Speaker Cas Taylor held his breath that he might be asked. At the Larson announcement, Taylor graciously said, "I can serve better where I am."
Then there was Jim Mathias, the Ocean City mayor who was mentioned as a possible running mate.
He got a call the night before the Larson announcement.
"We'd like you to stand with Kathleen tomorrow," he was told. Not as her running mate, just as a loyal Democrat. "I'm part of the team," Mathias said, as he watched the Larson announcement. But there was disappointment in his voice.
For the Republicans to say "no one else wanted to run with [Townsend]" is just silly and mean-spirited.
In attempting to demean her, they demean themselves. And they ignore the very real issues at hand.
The state faces a $900 million shortfall. On one hand, the Republicans wish to blame Townsend, who was the No. 2 person in state government. On the other, though, they have Ellington charging last week that she "has no experience beyond sitting idly by Parris Glendening as they bankrupted Maryland by raising spending over 60 percent in eight years."
Which is it? Active partner, or "no experience?" Co-conspirator, or one who sat "idly by"? The Republicans should choose one, and stick with it. Last week, Townsend issued a 31-page declaration of intent if she gets elected governor. Unless the state's fiscal outlook improves, she said, she would freeze spending (except for education and public safety) and review employment at all agencies.
Clearly, that's an attempt to answer criticism of the $900 million shortfall. But it doesn't. It only leads to questions of philosophy about the role of government. The Democrats throw money at problems; the Republicans think, too much money.
That's worth talking about. It's worth talking about Townsend's lack of a resume leading up to the last eight years. It's worth talking about failures in the criminal justice system under her watch.
But the demeaning attitude toward Townsend, and the casual use of the word "liberal" as an implicit sneer, gets us nowhere. She's got an admiral standing next to her now. He makes her look tougher than previously suspected. Even in a pink suit.