Politics 2002Week of October 14


The state that has gone the longest of any save Georgia without electing a Republican governor may finally make political history next month by doing precisely that. Thirty-six years after Republican Spiro Agnew took the governorship of Maryland, a just-completed Baltimore Sun shows a standoff in the race between Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and four-term GOP Rep. Robert Ehrlich.

According to the Sun’s "Maryland Poll," Townsend-eldest of the 12 children of the late Robert F. Kennedy and lieutenant governor under liberal Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening for eight years-holds a wafer-thin 45%-to-43% lead over Ehrlich, well within the poll’s margin of error.

More important to the GOP, the "Maryland Poll" indicates the momentum is with Ehrlich (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 82%). In August, the same survey showed Townsend leading Ehrlich 47% to 44%. In January, her advantage over the Republican was 15 percentage points statewide.

It was unclear whether the lieutenant governor choices of the candidate, who were listed in the polling questions, affected the top of the ticket. Townsend’s running mate is retired Adm. Charles Larson, onetime superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, classmate at the academy of Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), U.S. Navy liaison in the Nixon White House, and, until weeks before his tapping for the ticket, a registered Republican, albeit of the liberal stripe. Ehrlich turned to State Republican Chairman Michael Steele, attorney and graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where he was student body president, and of Georgetown University Law School. Should the Ehrlich-Steele ticket win, Steele will become the highest-elected black Republican in the nation.


Two Republican-held congressional districts that Democrats in Annapolis and Washington, D.C., had counted on picking up may just stay in the GOP column. In the 8th District (Montgomery County), reapportionment-enhanced Democratic numbers had made liberal Republican and 16-year-Rep. Connie Morella appear a goner after 16 years in Congress.

But the "Maryland Poll" showed Morella (lifetime ACU rating: 21%) in a dead heat with Democratic State Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who won the U.S. House nod in an upset over fellow state legislator Mark Shriver, nephew of John F. Kennedy. Von Hollen, according to the survey, leads Morella by a narrow 43% to 40%, again within the poll’s margin of error. Strapped for cash after the primary, von Hollen has been forced to devote much of his campaign time to dialing for dollars. In recent weeks, he has been helped by the endorsement of the AFL-CIO (which backed Shriver in the primary) and a campaign appearance by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.), which raised more than $250,000.

Even more surprising were the results of the "Maryland Poll" for the 2nd District (Baltimore County), which Ehrlich is vacating to run for governor. Even though reapportionment increased Democratic voter strength in the Baltimore, Anne Arundel, and Harford county district, and the Democrats have a very well-known candidate, Republican nominee Helen Delich Bentley is narrowly leading in the survey. The 78-year-old Bentley, a feisty, stevedore-tongued former reporter who represented the 2nd from 1984-94, edges out Democratic nominee Dutch Ruppersberger, the Baltimore County Executive, by 42% to 40%.

These surprising polling results are due largely to the fact that machine Democrat Ruppersberger had to go through a bruising primary battle with "reform" candidate Oz Bengur, while Bentley was unopposed for the GOP nomination. In addition, Bentley’s blue-collar appeal and the warm residual feelings many district residents have about her earlier tenure in Congress strengthen Republican chances of holding the district. As Bentley herself told me before filing for the seat, "The old gray mare is what she used to be!"


Four years ago, Republican Jim Geringer was re-elected governor of Wyoming by about 56% to 40% of the vote-convincing, but not awe inspiring. Because the 40% showing was achieved by an under-financed Democratic nominee who had lost two previous bids for statewide office, Wyoming Democrats are optimistic about their chances of taking Cheyenne this year, when Geringer must by law step down as governor. Like taking the governorship in George W. Bush’s Texas, winning the governorship in Dick Cheney’s Wyoming would be a major blow to Republicans-one that national Democrats would love to deliver.

No one doubts that Democratic nominee Dave Freudenthal will have all the resources he needs to wage a strong race this fall. A longtime associate of former Democratic Gov. (1974-86) Ed Herschler and scion of a prominent Democratic family, Freudenthal served as Bill Clinton’s U.S. attorney in the state. In the recent Democratic primary, he handily defeated John J. Hickey, Jr., namesake-son of the Democrat who served as governor from 1958-61, U.S. senator, and a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Republican nominee has an interesting background. State Rep. Eli Bebout was once a rising Democratic legislator who switched to the Republican Party during the Clinton presidency. "And the reason for changing parties really says something about Eli-he changed because he couldn’t stand Bill Clinton," his longtime friend, Republican National Committeeman Diemer True, told me last week.

A graduate of the University of Wyoming and a former speaker of the state house, the 46-year-old Bebout is well connected statewide through his leadership in the Wyoming Business Alliance. Earlier this year, he won a crowded gubernatorial primary with a handsome 49% of the vote over four opponents.

In that primary, the conservative Bebout-who is pro-life and takes conservative stands on other cultural issues-had a televised endorsement from none other than former Sen. (1978-98) Alan Simpson (R.-Wyo.), who is widely known for his pro-abortion stance, his support of the pro-homosexual Republican Unity Coalition, and his acidic remarks about the Christian Coalition and like-minded groups.

Also in Wyoming: George W. Bush’s choice for U.S. attorney in Wyoming has a notable heritage. Matthew Mead, a onetime assistant federal prosecutor, is the son of the late State Sen. Mary Mead, 1990 Republican nominee for governor, and his grandfather was revered conservative Republican and former Gov. (1962-66) and Sen. (1966-78) Clifford Hansen.


Two weeks ago, I reported that the nomination of Dan Grabauskus as the Republican candidate for state treasurer of Massachusetts was the first time avowedly gay Republican had been nominated anywhere for statewide office. Not so.

One sharp-eyed reader from the Bay State pointed out that, four years ago, Michael Duffy was nominated by Massachusetts Republicans to make an eventually unsuccessful run for state auditor in 1998. Duffy, who had served as chairman of the state commission on human rights and discrimination under Republican Gov. William Weld (1990-96), thus was the first open gay nominated for state office anywhere on a GOP ticket-or so it seems until I hear from another sharp-eyed reader.


Even before the elections that will decide whether he can return to Springfield next year as speaker of the state house of representatives or again as minority leader, Illinois State Rep. Lee Daniels announced last week that he will relinquish the leadership position he has held since 1983-the longest-tenure of any Republican legislative leader anywhere.

Personally liked by all factions of the party, Daniels occasionally caused disappointment on the right with some of his political decisions and his choices of where to send campaign money. But now, whatever Daniels’ apostasies, conservatives may look to his years at the party helm as "the good old days" if liberal GOP Rep. Tom Cross of Kendall County is elected leader.

A strong pro-abortion Republican (he actually opposed parental notification), Cross also opposed local standards for obscenity and introduced legislation to increase the number of slot machines allowed at the state’s biggest casinos. Nonetheless, he also has a close relationship with U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.).

Cross’s opponent for the leadership position is conservative State Rep. Art Tenhouse, who takes opposite stands on abortion, gaming, and pornography legislation. At this point, Cross reportedly has 22 present House Republicans committed or leaning his way, while Tenhouse has 24. Pre-election, the breakdown of the Illinois House is 62 Democrats and 56 Republicans.