Governor Next? With the Name, the Money, and the Aura of Virtual Incumbency, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the Odds-On Favorite to be Elected to the State’s Top Job 12 Months From Now. Or Will She Pull a “Steinberg”?

By Van Smith

Published in Baltimore Magazine, Nov. 2001

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Remember Lieutenant Governor Melvin “Mickey” Steinberg? Eight years ago, he was a shoo-in for governor in the 1994 election, the man whose race it was to lose. By the July 1994 filing deadline, Steinberg was already dead in the water. He ended up finishing third in the Democratic primary.

And remember City Council President Lawrence Bell? Three years ago, he was far and away the favorite to win Baltimore’s mayoral election. He, too, collapsed down the stretch and came in a distant third in the primary.

So, sometimes, being the early favorite isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But don’t tell that to Lieutenant Govenor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. She’s sitting pretty in the polls, has tons of money, and enjoys near-universal name recognition in Maryland. As the daughter of Robert Kennedy, a martyred national icon, she also benefits from a nationwide political organization that isn’t shy about getting more Kennedys elected.

Kennedys know what to do in her situation: Clear the field of all potential rivals. Just impress them right out of the race. And, to date, Townsend’s done just that. No one’s announced they’re running against her.

Yet.

But there’s plenty of time – and several key people who haven’t taken themselves out of the running. In the general election, U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich (2nd District) is the only high-profile Republican to express interest in running for governor.

Three Democratic county executives – Wayne Curry of Prince George’s County, Douglas Duncan of Montgomery County, and C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Baltimore County – are regularly mentioned as potential Townsend rivals n the primary, as, increasingly, is Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. Some of these men have more to lose than others by challenging Townsend, but none of them has explicitly ruled out doing so. They’re keeping us guessing.

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No guesswork is needed when it comes to Townsend, though. She has been running for governor for years. The expectation that she’ll be a candidate in 2002 to succeed Parris Glendening has been around since at least 1998, when she was showcased during the campaign to shore up eroding support for the governor’s re-election effort. In recognition of her crucial help, Townsend was given an administrative portfolio that, over the past three years, has strengthened her claim to have executive experience, her network of statewide contacts, and her name recognition. In an open-seat governor’s race such as this, she’s as close to an incumbent as you can get, and the power of incumbency is a proven electoral asset.

Right now, this one-candidate race is a guessing game watched mostly by insiders and political junkies. It’s likely to stay an insiders’ game until early next year, when the Governor hands a new electoral map to the General Assembly. That’s when next year’s prospects for candidates across the state will be altered – including for some who are weighing a challenge against Towsend. The voting public isn’t likely to pay close attention until next spring, as jockeying ahead of the July 1 filing deadline raises the debate to a more fevered pitch.

Between now and then, anything could happen – or nothing could happen. The state’s economy could head south with the nation’s – or not. The new war on terrorism could change the state’s mood from relatively liberal to moderately conservative – or not. A strong new contender could capture the public’s imagination, swinging voters away from the early favorite – or not. Nascent criticism of Townsend – that she’s not enough of a heavyweight for gubernatorial contention, that she’s overprivileged with out-of-state money, that she’s mishandled her key administrative assignments – may get the attention of the public – or not.

Whatever happens, the state’s top job is up for grabs next year, and as lobbyist Bruce Bereano, a longtime insider in Maryland politics, says dryly, “There certainly will be a gubernatorial race. … Any time you have a vacancy because the current office-holder is termed out, you are going to have serious people vying to fill that vacancy. So it’s going to be a very exciting year, a race of national attention – the stakes and the dimensions will be that significant.”

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Frederick, Md., is only an hour west of downtown Baltimore, but its politics are light years away. Its soul is more rural than urban, and Republicans rule the roost. Still, Democrat Martin O’Malley, Baltimore’s first-term mayor, got a warm receptiopn there in August when he addressed a meeting of the Plowmen and Fishermen Club, a group of local Democrats.

In the brick-walled, tree-shaded courtyard of Tauraso’s Restaurant in the heart of Frederick’s historic district, a white-whiskered Frederick transplant from Baltimore, John Norman, cries out to O’Malley: “Hey, you’re doing a great job with my city!” The mayor beams happily for the cameras, gripping and grinning among 100 or so well-wishers.

Susan Leigh-Nelson, a local cable-television reporter, grills O’Malley about speculation that he might run for governor in 2002 against Townsend, but he refuses to discuss the matter. “I don’t waste any time exploring running for something else,” he says as the camera rolls. “I’m too busy doing what I’m doing.” He praises Glendening and Townsend for having “made a lot of wise investments in Baltimore” and declares he has “a very good relationship” with the administration in Anapolis.

Thomas G. Slater, who chairs Frederick’s Democratic State Central Committee, says O’Malley’s invitation to speak tonight has nothing to do with the 2002 election. “He’s young, he’s new, he’s exciting, and we want to get a look at him – especially early on,” Slater explains as he peruses a table of hors d’oeuvres. He’s an old hand in Western Maryland politics, and he simply doesn’t foresee an O’Malley challenge to Townsend. “It’s too soon” after his 1999 election as mayor of Baltimore. Besides, he says, Kathleen’s “got it.”

Frederick County’s only elected Democrat, State Delegate Sue Hecht, steps up on a low stone wall to introduce Martin O’Malley to the assembled partisans. “This is our star,” she gushes, “our rising star in Baltimore, and we’re going to see him and hear about him for many more years.” O’Malley takes the stage and, in his usual unscripted oratorical style, cajoles his fellow Dems to focus on results-oriented governance, does Bill Clinton impersonations, and ticks off his every-ready list of upbeat trends in Baltimore.

Afterward, the gathering turns informal. The mayor ends up chatting with Jeb Byron, the evening’s host and the son of former U.S. Representative Beverly Byron. With them is Brent Ayer, a sandy-haired long-distance runner and Bevery Byron’s former chief of staff.

Ayer tells O’Malley about big public events in Frederick County that draw large numbers of people – mass gatherings where statewide political candidates can reach a broad audience. He touts Colorfest, an October crafts fair in Thurmont – “You can get to 60,000 at that alone,” Ayer explains. The mayor introduces Ayer to his brother, Peter. “Take one of his business cards,” O’Malley tells Peter. “He’s the numbers guy for Western Maryland.”

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O’Malley, like all the undeclared, potential candidates, is interested in numbers – including the 400,000 potential voters in Western Maryland.

The numbers that got the attention of a lot of politicos last May were those turned up in a public opinion poll conducted by Gonzales-Arscott Research & Communications, which showed Townsend leading O’Malley in a head-to-head primary race by only 47 percent to 40 percent – a surprisingly close margin since O’Malley had not been campaigning. What was strikingly embedded in the poll numbers as that O’Malley’s 67-percent name recognition was far below Townsend’s 95 percent, indicating that those who did know his name tended to favor him over Townsend.

Some of the buzz about O’Malley subsided a bit in July when a head-to-head poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research showed him trailing Townsend by 49 percent to 28 percent, but Carol Arscott finds “his name recognition creeping up on hers, and his negatives are very, very low.”

So, O’Malley goes to Frederick for a little politicking. As State Senator Barbara Hoffman (D-42nd District) says of the visit, “He’s smart to do that – you build up credits for the future, create a little profile for yourself. It will come in handy some day.”

The question is, “When? There are some who think that next year – while he’s still perceived as a “rising star” and is still relatively unscarred by the years in office any mayor endures – may be O’Malley’s best chance to become governor. But if he runs, he risks losing and becoming damaged goods – a brash youngster who misjudged his moment and shot too high too early in the game.

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Opinion, of course, is divided over O’Malley’s 2002 gubernatorial prospects. “It still remains a long shot for him,” says Western Maryland College political science professor and columnist Herb Smith. “He could win, but the chances are he won’t. What does he gain by losing? An enemy in the governor’s mansion and a long-term negative in terms of his ambitions for any other statewide office.”

“If he runs for governor, I think it is his for the taking,” says Anirban Basu, director of Applied Economics at Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute. “I pray, as a Baltimore City resident, that he does not run for governor. We need him much more than the state needs him, but I think it is his – if he wants it.”

Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler can’t see O’Malley or anyone else beating Townsend. “I don’t think anybody can come close to Kathleen in a race,” he muses, “so I don’t know why the Martin O’Malley thing is out there.”

“I personally don’t think he’s going to run,” former State Senator Julian “Jack” Lapides says of O’Malley. Townsend already has lined up too much of the city’s power structure, he explains. “I don’t see it shifting. First of all, African Americans will be overwhelmingly for her, and she certainly will have a significant percentage of the white vote in the city. So who’s O’Malley going to get from the city? Any votes he does get will be offset by the Kennedy name and mystique” elsewhere in the state.

“There are only so many Irish-American politicians from Maryland that the nation can absorb,” quips Arscott. A showdown between the two – Townsend, a blue-blood Kennedy, versus O’Malley, an in-law of the Curran dynasty of Maryland politicians, who have been dubbed “the brown-bag Kennedys” – could be an eventuality. Maybe not next year, but some day.

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Chuck Goldsborough is a race-car driver, a Baltimore boy who’s stayed true to his roots. Since 1999, he’s been the president, owner, and driver for Team Lexus, the luxury-car marker’s only racing team in the country. He’s been running the operation out of a large, immaculate garage with adjacent offices in an industrial complex in Arbutus. On a Tuesday morning in early September, Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger comes over to see Team Lexus firsthand, meet Goldsborough, and offer the county’s help and support.

Rupperberger, a large man, dons a Team Lexus shirt (“You got XXL?” he asks Goldsborough) and manages to squeeze himself into the cramped driver’s seat of one of the Team Lexus race cars. And there he stays for a good 20 minutes or more, asking Goldsborough question after question. How often does Team Lexus race? Who does the body-work on damaged cars? And so on. Finally, what happened to Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt?

Earnhardt was the NASCAR driver who died in a fiery crash at the Daytona 500 in February. Goldsborough explains that Earnhardt was a risk-taker in the extreme, habitually refusing to use standard safety gear that probably would have saved his life. But his son, Dale Jr., isn’t as reckless – in fact, he’s a natural and is already showing himself to be a great driver. “There are legacies in every sport,” Goldsborough explains, “including racing – the Earnhardts, the Andrettis.”

“Just like Kennedys in politics,” Ruppersberger interjects.

“That’s right,” Goldsborough agrees, laughing. “Just like Kennedys in politics.”

Ruppersberger laughs, too – masking what must be a certain amount of jealousy. He comes from a family of local meat merchants, far from the Camelot of the Kennedys, and has succeeded in Baltimore County politics the hard way: eight years as a prosecutor and nine years on the County Council before becoming executive in 1994. Now he’s term-limited out of running for a third term. After winning every precinct in 1998 – a reward for his having turned around the county’s once-failing budget and economy during his first term – he was widely considered prime gubernatorial material. But he’s in the shadow of a Kennedy. Now he might run for Congress rather than confront Townsend in the governor’s race.

This is a man in the throes of political agony. He wants to be governor so badly he can taste it, but the Kennedy factor is only part of his problem. His political disability is largely his own doing. It happened in 2000, when he quietly ushered an eminent-domain bill through the General Assembly – and ran headlong into an indigenous dislike for government incursions into private property rights. The reaction started in Essex, which was the bill’s main target for redevelopment, but spread countywide and was defeated by referendum. On top of this, Ruppersberger’s plans to expand the county jail have caused a damaging level of public furor. His political base – the solid ground from which every statewide candidate must launch a campaign – has been badly shaken.

In Team Lexus’ conference room, Ruppersberger settles in to talk about his options. “A lot of people are telling me,” he says, “’Dutch, I know you would be the best governor, but I don’t think you can beat Kathleen, so let’s find another alternative.’” When friends urged him to consider a congressional bid instead, he at first rejected the notion. “I want to be governor,” he says. “I want to do for the state what I did for Baltimore County. I love my state. I’m homegrown. But in the end, they say, ‘We’re telling you as friends, she’s got name recognition everywhere. How are you going to do it? People don’t know who you are. They know Kathleen.’”

Governor Glendening – who controls the redistricting process and therefore has a lot of say over Rupperberger’s congressional aspirations – has asked him to consider a run for Congress, too, he reports. “So, I think at this point I’m keeping those options open because I do love public service and I think I can make a difference wherever I go,” Ruppersberger declares. “But I want to make a difference. I don’t want to be in just for the sake of keeping my name alive. That’s not me. I want to do something. I want to be active, and I want to count for something.”

Since the height of the eminent-domain acrimony, Ruppersberger claims to have recovered a good measure of his support in Essex – but it’s conditional support. “They were even going to have a fundraiser for me,” he says, “until the word got out that I might be looking at Congress. They are all supporters of Ehrlich, and so they said, ‘Well, you run for governor and we’ll do it, but you gotta tell us that you are not running for Congress.’ And I said, ‘I’m not going to say that.’”

Ruppersberger’s hesitation is understandable; he knows the deal. “The voting profile in the Democratic primary goes to Kathleen’s advantage,” he explains. “She comes from a well-respected family, she probably has 100-percent name recognition. She will have a tremendous amount of money, and she will be able to send her message out on a regular basis on TV – in both of Maryland’s media markets, Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs.”

The money disadvantage is difficult, he says, but not insurmountable. “You don’t have to have the same amount of money as her, but you have to have enough money to cover her,” Ruppersberger explains. “In other words, when she has five ads, you need to have one to get your message out. And TV in the D.C. market is so much more expensive, because you also are buying coverage for Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia.

“But that doesn’t mean that you don’t consider running,” he declares hopefully as he changes back into his suit, preparing to head out to lunch with O’Malley. “I mean, Im still keeping all of my options open now. A couple of months from now, we can sit down and talk about issues. It’s just too soon. My first priority right now is running this county.”

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Down in the D.C. suburbs, O’Malley and Ruppersberger are largely unknown quantities. This is crucial statewide electoral territory. Political power in Maryland, along with its population and economic clout, has shifted southward over the last 20 years – it’s no mistake that our current governor hails from Prince George’s County. Today, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties together are home to nearly a third of Maryland’s voters. Most are middle-class Democrats. Spawned from this rich territory are two potential players in the governor’s race: Doug Duncan and Wayne Curry, two-term county executives in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, respectively.

Duncan has paid his dues in county politics. He’s been county executive since 1994, and had been Mayor of Rockville, and a Rockville City Councilmember before that. Montgomery County has been booming during his tenure, as the I-270 corridor has become the state’s main high-tech hub and Silver Spring has come back to life. Crime is low and the schools are good. There’s just not much to complain about in Montgomery County.

Except the traffic. “The biggest issue in Montgomery County is transportation,” says State’s Attorney Gansler. “People sit in their cars too long, and they get frustrated and angry and they blame the person in charge for that.” In this case, not Duncan. The Governor instead gets blamed for blocking a popular plan for the Inter-County Connector (ICC), a highway connecting I-270 and I-95. “It’s an incredible hot button of an issue,” says Gansler. “And Doug Duncan is on the right side of that issue.”

Duncan campaign consultant Colleen Martin-Lauer (who also raises funds for Martin O’Malley) agrees that transportation is “a key issue in the Washington suburbs.” Given that Glendening has been defiant in opposing the ICC, she says, “I think people who sit on the Washington Beltway everyday will question the accomplishments” of his administration “when it comes to transportation issues.”

Here, then, is a weak point for Townsend in the D.C. suburbs – some of the anti-Glendening sentiment on transportation issues is bound to rub off on her, giving Duncan and others a stick to poke her with. But Gansler doesn’t see it that way. “She is the Lieutenant Governor,” he explains. “She needs to be loyal to the governor and his position. That’s her job. People understand that.” Later on, closer to the election, she’ll have to take an independent stance, and at that point, says Gansler, “she’s going to be acutely aware of the need to address the transportation issue here.”

Duncan, like every other potential rival, faces an intimidating challenge in taking on Townsend’s already established electoral might. He, like Ruppersberger, suffers from a shaky political base. Key Montgomery County politicians, such as former County Executive Sidney Kramer, say he’s not ready to be governor.

“There’s a perception out there that Doug has drifted away from his base,” explains Gansler. “He has alienated many political people in the Democratic Party in Montgomery County. Unlike [Ruppersberger], there really isn’t anything tangible you can point to with Doug. I think there are those who see it as political arrogance. Its much more of a personality issue than a substantive issue.”

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Like Ruppersberger, Wayne Curry can’t run again for county executive. Yet he has eight years under his belt of running the Prince George’s County government. At a fundraiser he held at his home in May, he announced his intention to travel the state and “listen to what people have to say” about a statewide bid for something – governor, attorney general, or comptroller. But his schedule since hasn’t borne out that vow. He’s been busy tending to his police department, which has been jolted with a series of disturbing and embarrassing scandals that have hurt him at home. Few seem to think he’s got the legs for a gubernatorial bid – especially in light of Townsend’s popularity among Curry’s potential base of African-American voters.

John McDonough, a Prince George’s County attorney and political operative, believes Curry is most attractive as a lieutenant governor’s candidate, teaming up with Duncan, Ruppersberger, or O’Malley, should one of them choose to take on Townsend. “If one of the county executives or the Mayor actually does declare – and there’s only room for one opponent – then it will be a competitive primary,” says McDonough, making Curry “somewhat of a wild card” because he “could successfully cut into Townsend’s base among African-American voters.”

 

One person who appears increasingly willing to match Townsend’s bet in the governor’s stakes is Republican Robert Ehrlich. This fall, the U.S. Congressman announced to supporters that he’ll run if they can raise $2 million for him by the end of the year. Only one other Republican, Prince George’s County Councilwoman Audrey E. Scott, has expressed interest in entering the race, but only if Ehrlich doesn’t. “I know he can raise that money,” Scott told the Washington Post after the September 21 announcement, “so in my mind, Bobby is the candidate, and I’m supporting him.”

Whether he ended up facing Townsend or another Democrat, Ehrlich’s task would be daunting. Among registered voters, Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. And in the most recent statewide general election – the 2000 presidential race – Maryland voters overwhelmingly preferred the Democrat, Vice President Al Gore. Ehrlich’s poll numbers in a face-off with Townsend are low – in the 30 to 35 percent range, versus about 50 percent for her – and about a third of the voters don’t even know his name, while Townsend enjoys 95 percent name-recognition.

“The odds against Republicans in Maryland are very steep – any Republican,” sums up Carol Arscott. “You begin with a base vote about half the size of your opponent’s base vote. And to chip away that much at someone’s natural base is a very difficult thing to do.”

The last time a Republican made a strong challenge to the Democratic hold on the Governor’s Mansion (Spiro Agnew was the last Republican governor of Maryland, elected in 1966) was in 1994, when then-State Delegate Ellen Sauerbrey came within 6,000 votes of victor Parris Glendening. That was the same year as the Republican takeover of Congress – and also the year 2nd District voters sent Ehrlich to Washington.

But Ehrlich’s 2nd District base, which spans parts of Baltimore, Harford, and Anne Arundel counties, isn’t reflective of Mayland as a whole. If he tosses his hat in the ring, Ehrlich will run up against the political reality that Sauerbrey saw so vividly in the 1994 returns – that without successfully swaying a large number of left-leaning voters in Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties away from the Democratic candidate, a statewide Republican candidate has precious little chance of claiming victory. Voters from those three jurisdictions combined provided Glendening with more than half of his winning statewide vote. Those are tough numbers to crack.

Ehrlich has gradually softened his sharply conservative edge over the years. When he first gained office in 1994, Ehrlich was a freshman in what was hailed at the time, by Republican activist Vin Weber of Empower America, as “the Rush Limbaugh Congress,” a reference to the right-wing radio-talk-show host. In 1995, Ehrlich stood on the Capitol steps with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich to unveil the “Contract With America,” a 10-point conservative agenda the new Congress planned to push.

Since then, Ehrlich has slowly gained a reputation as a more moderate Republican: He doesn’t like gun control and he voted to ban partial-birth abortions, but he generally backs abortion rights, supports stem-cell research, and enjoys a measure of support from labor unions.

Ehrlich’s perceived moderation as an incumbent has helped him win re-election four times in a majority-Democrat district. He could have a safe seat for another term, depending on how Glendening redraws his district’s boundaries this coming winter. But, if he runs for governor instead, he’s going to need Democrats from all over the state to cross party lines and vote for him.

Early indications suggest he’ll use at least three anti-Townsend themes in appealing to voters – incumbency, out-of-state money, and upper-crust privilege. In a Washington Post interview, he called the Glendening/Townsend forces “a dominant and entrenched monopoly, run by the most petty politicians you’re ever going to see,” and flogged Townsend for relying on family connections to garner fundraising support from outside Maryland. “I grew up in a rowhouse, not a castle in Camelot,” he wrote in a fundraising letter.

If Ehrlich enters this race, it’s going to be a bruiser.

 

Though Townsend’s strengths as an early favorite appear overwhelming, things can change.

Maryland’s economy has been surprisingly resilient to the downturn nationally, but increasingly that is projected to change. “People like how the economy has done” under Glendening, says Basu, and that success is expected to rub off well on Townsend at the polls. But “the economy is not going to be as strong going into the election,” predicts Basu, pointing to various declining indicators and the immediate after-effects of the September terrorist attacks. An increasing number of jobless voters also generally means trouble for incumbents, and Townsend has long been trying to project an image of being partly at the helm of Maryland’s ship.

As the state economy goes, so go state revenues – and if the expected slow-down is bad enough, then the state government could see a budget crisis next year. If that happens, voters will be reminded that the 2002 state budget was extraordinarily generous on the spending side, chewing prodigiously into a much-touted surplus, despite predictions of declining tax collections and calls for fiscal prudence. This, of course, would do further damage to Townsend’s reputation, allowing opponents to charge her with budgetary irresponsibility.

As for wartime politics, that could swing either way for Townsend. The tendency, says Herb Smith, is for voters to “rally ‘round the chief” in times of national crisis – and today that chief is a Republican, President George W. Bush. “It makes it more difficult for a Democrat to criticize Bush as a way of getting at a Republican opponent,” Smith explains. On the hand, adds Basu, because of the crisis, “Townsend can come off as looking prepared, professional, dignified, courageous under fire – she can gain a pulpit that her opponents won’t have.”

Townsend’s opponents, though, will have another sort of pulpit – to criticize her record. Her duties, which under the state constitution are assigned by the governor, have been extended significantly during Glendening’s second term. Economic development, transportation, juvenile justice, the state police, corrections, and parole and probation are all in her portfolio of responsiblities. These are rich territories for political foes to mine for weaknesses. In addition to the Glendening/Townsend administration’s opposition to the Inter-County Connector, voters are likely to be reminded of scandals that erupted during Townsend’s watch involving juvenile justice and parole and probation. With a little of what’s known in the trade as “opposition research,” challengers may turn up other potential embarrassments lurking in the agencies that fall under Townsend’s purview.

“I have been saying all along to her people,” says Baltimore City State Senator Barbara Hoffman, “you have got to be able to address the successes and/or failures in the portfolios to which she’s been assigned.”

Alan Fleishmann, Townsend’s chief of staff, is happy to defend her administrative record. Speaking about the bootcamp scandal – in which The Sun exposed beating of incarcerated juveniles by guards in 1998 – he explains that Townsend reacted to the crisis well. “She does not get ruffled easily,” he says. “She took responsibility for it and she took command.” In particular, he notes, Townsend put in place accountability mechanisms to ensure that bad news travels up so she can correct such problems before they blow up in her face. “What she does when she hears about it is how she wants to be judged.”

Townsend is also likely to be judge by where her political support comes from. As a Kennedy, she’s in a unique position to raise prodigious sums across the country. An analysis of her November 2000 campaign finance report (the most recent available at this writing) shows that less than half of her funds at that point had come from within Maryland, with the rest coming mostly from Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C. Duncan, O’Malley, and Ruppersberger, meanwhile, had each raised between 80 and 90 percent of their money from in-state. This disparity is likely to come back on her during a competitive campaign.

Townsend’s money and her status as a virtual incumbent may appear daunting to challengers at first glance, but they may be double-edged swords. Even her Kennedy name – often considered an unmitigated plus – cuts both ways. “There are people who are just awed by the Kennedy mystique,” explains Hoffman, “and at the same time there are people in the state who hate her because she’s a Kennedy. That’s quite a burden.” Combine this with the uncertainties of the economy and the political impact of the war on terrorism, and Townsend’s seemingly indomitable position starts to look somewhat weaker. Given time, money, and a lot of hard work, a strong challenger could undermine her early lead.

“Right now you have a number of people who have said they might run, and who want to,” Prince George’s John McDonough says. “But basically they don’t want to run into a buzz saw. I think people are sitting around waiting for something bad to happen to Townsend. And that’s always a possibility. All the cards are pretty much turned up, so people are either going to bet on them or fold. Right now, she’s showing four-of-a-kind. Do you want to bet or don’t you?”

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