The modest way to boast about your big connections

THE POLITICAL GAME

Strategy: Townsend, Ehrlich subtly flaunt their political ties on their campaign Web sites.

July 16, 2002|By Sarah Koenig and Howard Libit | Sarah Koenig and Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

IN POLITICS, connections can be like fairy dust or arsenic and so must be used with caution. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Townsend, for example, uses her maiden name on the campaign trail just in case the dead-ringer Kennedy hair and smile fail to betray her pedigree. But she can't go around bragging about her illustrious family without risk of ridicule.

And Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., her Republican challenger for governor, can proudly note his proximity to President Bush. But if he tries to float into office on another man's record, he'll likely be torn to shreds at the polls.

So the trick is: Make it known, subtly. A mouse-clicking tour through the campaign Web sites of Townsend and Ehrlich shows the technique at work.

At www.friendsofkathleen.com, a head shot of Townsend invites the visitor to "Helpful Links" to other Web sites. The first two are about Maryland tourist attractions. Then comes a link to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, followed by the official sites for the Orioles and the Ravens.

But sixth on the list is a link whose helpfulness to the Maryland visitor is perhaps less obvious than its helpfulness to Townsend herself: The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, which connects to the Web site of the Washington-based charitable organization founded in 1968.

At Ehrlich's Web site, www.bobehrlich.com, the congressman invites you on "Bob's virtual campaign tour" consisting of six photographs - half of which have nothing at all to do with the Bob Ehrlich for Governor campaign.

Instead, they show Ehrlich - sitting, sitting, standing - with then-Gov. George W. Bush of Texas when he visited Baltimore in 1999 to campaign for president. In fact, the first two pictures are the same shot, close up and farther away, of Bush with his arm around the back of Ehrlich's neck.

Riddick denounces rumors about him quitting race

Rumors of Major F. Riddick Jr.'s departure from the race for Prince George's County executive were greatly exaggerated, it turns out. That is, if the rumors existed at all.

This is what some people were wondering last week after a confounding media performance by Riddick, who implied that mean-spirited fellow Democrats were conspiring to do him in.

On the eve of the deadline for candidates to withdraw from the race, Riddick - former chief of staff for Gov. Parris N. Glendening - faxed out a cryptic press advisory giving reporters less than two hours' notice to assemble in Landover for a "key announcement regarding the future of the Riddick campaign."

But rather than bow out of the Democratic primary, Riddick attacked "ugly rumors" that he had been hearing and denounced "people in Prince George's County and Baltimore who would like for Major Riddick to withdraw."

"Major Riddick is not a quitter," Riddick declared, as he was flanked by his wife and about a dozen supporters.

Riddick - who has struggled to carve out his identify among the crowded five-candidate primary field - refused to name which political insiders were pressuring him to quit, other than Rep. Albert R. Wynn.

Riddick conceded he hadn't actually spoken to Wynn, but had received two phone messages from the Prince George's congressman. Wynn's office denied that the intent of his phone calls was to persuade Riddick to drop out.

The former top Glendening aide also charged that he had received "a number of e-mails" saying that the rumors of him dropping out "were all over Baltimore."

Olympic medalist Dawes happy to back Townsend

At her birthday party at the Baltimore Zoo on Sunday, Townsend was joined by the creme de la creme of Maryland's Democratic Party, including Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, and Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and Steny H. Hoyer, who all spoke glowingly of the candidate.

But the young woman who took the mike first to launch the ceremony won't say whether she's a Republican or Democrat.

"I don't answer that question," said Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes of Silver Spring, who has been making appearances with Townsend since March.

Dawes, a 1996 gold medalist, says she first met Townsend years ago, and that the lieutenant governor has kept up an interest in her career. "She just seems really warm and caring," Dawes said.

Now the 25-year-old University of Maryland graduate is trying to figure out her next move. She's considering the worlds of entertainment, sports, journalism, and maybe politics. Hence her reluctance to commit to a party. "I don't want to be pigeon-holed," she explained.

However, Dawes said she is happy to help Townsend any way she can. On Sunday, she worked the crowd, signing autographs and smiling prettily. "There were quite a few fans of mine there - as well as fans of hers, too," she said yesterday.

The next athlete sighting on the campaign trail is likely to be at an Ehrlich fund-raiser in Potomac on July 25, which, according to an invitation, features "Maryland's own Dorothy Hamill."

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