Running mate speculation percolates


Maryland's 2006 primary election is nearly a year away, but attention is already focusing on potential running mates for the gubernatorial candidates.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan - and possibly Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - will have to decide who will be the No. 2 on their gubernatorial tickets.

Although the July 3 deadline to enter the Sept. 12 party primaries is still far off, O'Malley's decision to officially enter the race last month - and Duncan's expected announcement this month - is fueling earlier speculation than in past campaigns.

Calculations could be complicated because the list of potential running mates might shorten if other top state offices open up and become competitive in 2006.

And if Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, as expected, decides to run for the open U.S. Senate seat, Ehrlich will have to find someone else to join his re-election bid.

Several Democratic leaders across Maryland have said that O'Malley and Duncan will be under intense pressure to pick a black running mate - especially one from Prince George's County, home to the state's largest number of registered Democratic voters.

O'Malley - who is widely known in the Baltimore metropolitan media market - seems more likely to pick a running mate from the Washington suburbs, while Duncan has more flexibility to choose from there or from the Baltimore area. Some suggest Duncan - looking ahead to a general election match-up against Ehrlich - could focus his search on a black running mate from Baltimore or Baltimore County.

Frequently mentioned as possible running mates for Duncan or O'Malley from Prince George's are county State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey; former County Executive Wayne K. Curry; and Del. Anthony G. Brown.

In Baltimore, Duncan might consider such well-known figures as state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, city Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, state Sen. Verna L. Jones, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and Jessamy's predecessor, Stuart O. Simms.

"In my conversations with both O'Malley and Duncan, they both assured me that certainly minorities and women would be highly considered," said Isiah "Ike" Leggett, former Maryland Democratic Party chairman. "I think, when you look back at what the party did in the 2002 race, it was a stinging blow in not getting a minority on the ticket. That mistake will not happen again."

In 2002, the Democratic candidate for governor, then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, picked as her running mate retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, a lifelong Republican who switched parties.

Ehrlich, meanwhile, picked Steele, an African-American who was state GOP chairman.

"I was working some of the polls in Baltimore, and older blacks were hard-pressed to vote against a black lieutenant governor possibility," said Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who is second vice chairman of the state Democratic Party. "They were skipping the top of the ticket. It definitely impaired us."

Although political observers agree voters don't usually decide based on who is No. 2, many, like Mitchell, believe that Larson was a drag on the ticket, helping Ehrlich to become the first Republican elected governor since 1966.

Mitchell said the party needs to work hard in 2006 at pushing its talented black elected leaders to try for statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller.

"We have a good talent pool out there," Mitchell said. "It's imperative for us Democrats to put them on a pedestal, or else we're in danger of, if not losing them to the Republican Party, then of having them cross over with their votes."

To win the Democratic primary, according to several political observers, a choice from Prince George's could play a significant role.

"A strong running mate can help," said James Gimpel, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, who has consulted for national Republicans.

Kevin Igoe, a GOP strategist, said O'Malley might be forced to pick from Prince George's.

"He has such an identity in the Baltimore media market that a lieutenant governor choice from the D.C. market helps him more," Igoe said. "Duncan has to make a judgment: if being from Montgomery County gives him enough strength in neighboring Prince George's and if there's a bigger payoff in going to the Baltimore region."

Ivey said he has had conversations with Duncan and O'Malley about his interest but that those decisions usually are not made until the spring. He did, however, say he would not be surprised if Duncan or O'Malley bucked tradition.

"If the primary doesn't move [to June or July], we'd be looking at a May or June pick - if tradition holds," said Ivey, who did not attend O'Malley's campaign kickoff but who went to lunch with the mayor this past week in Largo. "Someone might try to do something earlier to try to shake things up."

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