Dean campaign in Maryland hopes race still on March 2

Kerry momentum may be hard to stop, rivals say

Election 2004

New Hampshire

January 28, 2004|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Howard Dean's campaign in Maryland is the best organized among all the Democratic presidential candidates, and he's won the backing of some of the state's leading politicians.

Now, the question is whether the former Vermont governor will even have a chance to put those advantages to use by the time Maryland's primary rolls around March 2.

After Sen. John Kerry's win yesterday in the New Hampshire primary - eight days after his triumph in the Iowa caucuses - Maryland Democrats said Kerry would be hard to stop as he rides a wave of momentum into the rest of the country.

"One thing that's clear is that there is a bandwagon effect. People want to be with a winner," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Baltimore Democrat who endorsed Dean last month. Dean, Cummings said, is still in the race thanks to his second-place finish yesterday, but "he has a lot of work do so."

Still, state Democrats said it is too early to say whether Kerry would be able to wrap up the nomination before Maryland's voters get their say five weeks from now. "There are a great deal of states still out there before we can see March 2 as being irrelevant," said state party Chairman Isiah Leggett.

Mayor Martin O'Malley, who also endorsed Dean last month, said Dean's second-place finish "is stronger than many expected after Iowa and shows the staying power of his message. ... He rebounded and stopped the slide tonight."

Whether Maryland's primary retains meaning will depend on whether Kerry's rivals can pick off a few states among the seven that vote Tuesday, Maryland Democrats said.

Such a scenario, said Walter Ludwig, Dean's Maryland coordinator, would favor the candidate with the money to campaign nationally, an area where Dean holds an edge, though a dwindling one.

Ludwig said Kerry could be slowed in other states as rivals and the news media focus on, among other things, his lack of legislative accomplishment in 20 years in the Senate and relative lack of charisma.

"John Kerry is the presumptive front-runner now, and with that comes all the things we got for three months," Ludwig said.

Michael P. Novelli, a leader of Kerry's fledgling campaign in Maryland, cheered last night's results but agreed that it was too early to predict Kerry would be the nominee by March 2.

New Hampshire "is a strong win and we're delighted with that. But campaigns are dangerous," he said. "Dean will go on. He has money and enthusiasm."

The race's swift turnaround has created somewhat of a disconnect in Maryland. As Dean gained momentum last year, an active following sprang up here, with a Web site and a network of organizers from Hagerstown to Ocean City.

According to state campaign spokesman David Paulson, about 14,000 Maryland voters have contributed money or registered their backing for Dean, and about 2,000 had attended monthly meetings of supporters.

Kerry, on the other hand, has yet to develop much of an organization in the state. There is no state campaign Web site, and local meetings for Kerry supporters have drawn far fewer voters than those for Dean, though Novelli said there has been a threefold increase in attendance since the Iowa caucus.

"There's no question that, organizationally, Dean has a big leg up," Novelli said. "But we're now going to be moving to get structured a little bit more."

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