Townsend's campaign bus stops in Western Maryland

Gubernatorial candidate completes first leg of tour

Election 2000

July 09, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Buttressed by a jolly entourage of campaign staff and volunteers, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend boarded a large blue bus in Baltimore yesterday morning and headed deep into Republican country.

But the daylong tour of Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties in Western Maryland, the first leg of a statewide swing, wasn't designed to win over new voters. Rather, it was an opportunity to check in with people who already admire her and to let them get a close-up look at her running mate, retired Adm. Charles R. Larson.

"This is basically saying, `I've traveled and worked across the state for eight years, and we're seeing some of the fruits of what we've done and what we've accomplished.' And it's introducing Admiral Larson," Townsend said when asked the purpose of the journey. "It's really seeing many old friends, people with whom I've worked over the years."

Townsend sidestepped the notion that in the future she might need to aggressively campaign among less friendly faces in these counties if she wants to win them. She is expected to face Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the November election for governor.

"I go everywhere," Townsend said. "So my point is I've got support widely throughout the state."

Larson, whose face showed a grin all day, shook many hands, saying, "Chuck Larson, how are you?" Townsend supporters either said he was a good, if surprising, addition to the ticket or that it was too early to tell, but that he seemed nice.

"He's a former admiral, right?" said Alan Levin, a Townsend activist in Hagerstown. "I am sure that she's wise enough to pick someone who'll complement her."

Larson said the day was probably less strenuous than what he was used to as commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, when he sometimes attended six or seven political or military events by suppertime.

The trip also showcased Townsend's campaign style that seems to drive home the idea that everyone should be having fun. The nearly three-hour bus ride to Cumberland was something of a variety act, more akin to a cruise than a political campaign.

Aides passed out miniature plastic maracas and tambourines to encourage participation in the standards sung into a microphone by Townsend's friend Maria Pica ("Anchors Aweigh," "Hunka Hunka Burning Love," "That's Amore").

Someone read a few poems aloud, and a volunteer's 15-year-old son conducted a trivia contest ("Who is the host of The Price Is Right?) for prizes such as blow bubbles.

The tradition, Townsend said, began in her family. Whenever they traveled on vacation or even just to church, she and her siblings piled into a station wagon and sang. The repertoire included Army and Navy fight songs, Frank Sinatra hits and show tunes.

"So my sense is that whenever you travel somewhere, you sing. I think singing brings people together. It builds teamwork and camaraderie," she said.

Townsend sang along and clapped on the bus, but at her campaign stops, she talked little. She didn't really need to say much. Everywhere she went, she was greeted by clusters of cheering Democrats with pro-Townsend stickers on their lapels.

Her message for the day seemed to be: "We are here. Don't forget about us between now and November."

In cities like Cumberland, which is struggling to climb out of an economic depression, mere presence goes a long way. Mayor Lee Fielder, a Republican, offered his support for Townsend's candidacy yesterday, stressing that she was no newcomer to the city. She had talked to officials about how to create jobs and helped them install the HotSpots crime-fighting program.

"She has rolled up her sleeves and helped," Fielder said.

After a quick tour of what will become Cumberland's revitalized canal area, Townsend had lunch with supporters at a nearby deli. Only one person in the restaurant, Jon Ketzner, was not connected to the campaign. Ketzner, a registered Democrat, was uninterested in meeting the lieutenant governor.

"I've met her before," he shrugged. "We love anybody who pays attention to us, who knows that there's something west of Frederick."

Would he vote for her as governor?

"I haven't really thought about it," he said. "It would be, I guess, a bit of a kick to have a Kennedy connection."

Ehrlich's candidacy will likely prove attractive to many voters in rural Western Maryland, not just because he's a Republican more likely to sympathize with the concerns of gun owners and social conservatives, but also because he supports raising money for the state by installing slot machines at racetracks. The idea is popular among many officials here who believe the revenue is needed. Townsend is opposed to legalizing slots.

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