Duncan plans to announce gubernatorial bid Thursday

Montgomery executive says not to write off the underdog

Gubernatorial hopeful embraces underdog image


GAITHERSBURG -- Surrounded by family and friends at his annual birthday barbecue bash here yesterday, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said he'll ask Marylanders to "Think Bigger" on Thursday when he officially announces his campaign for governor. And he offered a caution: Don't underestimate him; he's been the long shot before.

"In each of those races I was the underdog," Duncan, a Democrat who served previously as Rockville mayor and on the Rockville City Council, said. "I was written off by many, but I want to thank you all for not writing me off."

Duncan, 49, will declare his candidacy Thursday morning in front of his childhood home in the modest Twinbrook section of Rockville. That day, he'll make appearances in Baltimore, Prince George's County and Annapolis before heading out on a five-day tour of each of the state's 24 jurisdictions. Duncan will travel in an RV draped in a gold "Duncan for governor" banner and will be joined by his wife, Barbara Duncan.

Duncan's announcement comes two weeks after Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, also a Democrat, declared his bid for governor. O'Malley has held a double-digit lead in early polls and benefits from the broad name-recognition that comes from being mayor of the state's largest city.

But Duncan's camp is hitting the ground hard this week. In addition to the RV tour, they've mailed about 3,000 DVDs featuring biographical information about Duncan to Democratic officials and activists across the state, said Jodi Couser, a campaign spokeswoman. The campaign also relaunched its Web site, which now features a swankier layout, photographs of the state and a message from Duncan.

Yesterday's Gaithersburg event, which was in celebration of Duncan's 50th birthday Oct. 25, cost $35 a ticket and was held at the sprawling Smokey Glen Farm. Campaign officials estimated that more than 600 people attended the lunch.

Duncan has hosted the birthday party for 15 years, but this year's event had particular meaning for him and drew colleagues from across the county - even those who aren't supporting his gubernatorial campaign.

Montgomery County Councilman Howard A. Denis, a Republican, cheered Duncan on yesterday - though he said he believes Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is doing a good job and that he wishes Duncan would run again for county executive. Denis said he respects "anyone who gets into the arena and takes a chance," and balked at suggestions that candidates from Montgomery County aren't given serious consideration when they vie for statewide office.

"Where would the state of Maryland be without Montgomery County?" said Denis, who ran for lieutenant governor in 1994. "Doug Duncan is part of that tradition."

Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Democrat whose district straddles Montgomery and Prince George's counties, said he is supporting Duncan because he offers "real leadership." In particular, Wynn mentioned Duncan's work to champion the rehabilitation of downtown Silver Spring.

"He doesn't wear sleeveless T-shirts, but I think people are interested in substance," Wynn said, referring to what O'Malley sometimes dons when his band, O'Malley's March, performs.

An O'Malley campaign official welcomed Duncan to the race yesterday, but also chastised Duncan for criticisms he's launched at O'Malley.

"We hope that he'll shift his focus from making personal attacks on different regions and groups to a positive issues-oriented campaign about Maryland's future," said Jonathan Epstein, O'Malley's campaign manager.

Duncan's "Think Bigger" campaign slogan cuts many ways. Duncan, a father of five, is a broad-shouldered man who stands 6 feet 4 inches tall. He is also imploring voters to think beyond O'Malley, the early favorite, and Ehrlich, who remains popular.

Duncan, who is serving a third term as county executive, spoke for a few minutes during the barbecue, which was sponsored by a host committee of more than a dozen individuals and groups, including Associated Builders and Contractors, Metropolitan Washington Chapter, and SEIU Local 500.

With his wife by his side, he said that it's time to leave behind regional battles of the past. "Growing up with 12 brothers and sisters, I learned early on that you have to fight for everything that you want to do and that nothing worth doing is easy," he said.

After finishing his speech, Duncan blew out two candles on a big chocolate cake and kissed his wife.


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