For weeks, Mayor Martin O'Malley's campaign for governor has maintained momentum with a steady stream of endorsements from elected and union officials in several counties across Maryland.
O'Malley's Democratic rival, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, has not kept a similar pace. Instead, Duncan's endorsements have predominantly come from one place: his own backyard.
Political experts differ on whether endorsements matter 10 months before the September Democratic primary. But several said the statewide trend in O'Malley's support could spell trouble for Duncan, especially with a critical juncture fast approaching. In January, the candidates will file their first campaign finance reports showing who is raising more cash.
"They're trying to get endorsements from people who can influence votes and open the doors for money," said Donald F. Norris, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
O'Malley and Duncan agreed that endorsements create access to the organizations and purse strings of people aligned with those publicly announcing their support.
"The more support you have, the easier it is to raise funds," O'Malley said.
Since announcing his candidacy in September, O'Malley has been endorsed by dozens of local elected officials in Howard and Anne Arundel counties and from the Lower Shore counties of Dorchester, Somerset and Wicomico. He has also received support from the Battle Grove Democratic Club in Baltimore County and three unions with statewide presence and political muscle, including in the Washington suburbs.
Some observers say O'Malley has been able to focus on statewide endorsements because his Baltimore region support is firm. Endorsements from a large number of elected and union officials from Baltimore City and Baltimore County should roll out in coming months.
O'Malley, who held a double-digit lead over Duncan in a recent Sun poll, also appears to have an early lead in the race for union support. Though unions' sway over voters has waned with declining memberships in recent years, their support in fundraising, getting people to polls and staffing phone banks can be crucial in a contested primary.
Many observers expect unions to split between Duncan and O'Malley based on geographic loyalties. For example, 1199 SEIU, a health care workers union based mostly in Baltimore, has endorsed O'Malley; SEIU locals based mostly in the Washington area, which have more statewide members, endorsed Duncan yesterday.
O'Malley officials say that because 1199 SEIU is headquartered in New York City, it will be able to mobilize far more volunteers and other campaign resources. Duncan supporters, however, argue that the three groups endorsing him - Local 400PG, Local 500, and District 82 Local 32BJ - are more significant because they represent about two-thirds of the Marylanders who are members of the service union.
"The bus drivers, educators, building services employees and other workers of our union know [Duncan] will continue to be a friend of working men and women as governor," said Local 500 President Merle Cuttitta in a statement.
O'Malley has already landed the backing of the Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO, which is one of five regional councils of the state's largest umbrella union organization, the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO. To get the state AFL-CIO endorsement, a candidate needs to attain a two-thirds majority vote of the leaders of the group's 290,000 members.
While that support is difficult to attain, O'Malley is making early inroads. The backing of the Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO, the umbrella group's largest regional council, is an about-face for an organization that failed to provide an official endorsement to O'Malley in the 2003 Democratic primary for mayor, said Ernie Grecco, the group's president. That endorsement was scuttled by city worker unions that outnumbered the private industry laborers. Now, however, the city worker unions are throwing their AFL-CIO votes behind O'Malley, Grecco said.
The local group is not waiting for the summer endorsement vote of the statewide AFL-CIO before starting work for O'Malley, Grecco said. Instead, the group is pursuing a strategy to garner widespread AFL-CIO backing of O'Malley. That includes hosting O'Malley at a January convention in Atlantic City, N.J., and featuring him as "man of the year" at a February dinner, Grecco said.
The second-largest regional AFL-CIO council is based in Washington, and it covers unions in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. It, however, has not yet given Duncan its support despite a request from his campaign for such backing, said Scott Arceneaux, Duncan's campaign manager.
Joslyn Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO, said his group is following proper endorsement procedures and will give both candidates a hearing on issues before expressing its preference. But, Williams said, the "home favorite is Doug Duncan."