Hoping to Recapture Some of 2000's Luster
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2004; Page A20
At home, Maryland Democrats have been struggling with internal squabbles and an inconsistent message in the two years since losing the governor's mansion. But in Boston this week, several of the state's top Democrats will be thrust into the national spotlight at the party's convention.
Democratic leaders are hopeful that prime-time speaking roles for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer and Elijah E. Cummings will showcase Maryland's influence in national politics and help the state party regain its footing.
"Maryland is a relatively small state, but these people play very large roles within the Democratic Party and within the Congress, so it gives Maryland an outsized role in importance at the convention," said Mary Beth Cahill, campaign manager for Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), who will accept the party's presidential nomination on Thursday.
Although Maryland's influence in the national Democratic Party has grown since the last presidential election and party leaders said there is unprecedented enthusiasm for Kerry's campaign, the state's political landscape has shifted since the last nominating convention.
Four years ago, when Parris N. Glendening was governor and rising star Kathleen Kennedy Townsend his lieutenant governor, they led the state delegation at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles. But this year, the delegates and elected leaders at the convention are without a leader after Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. broke the Democrats' three-decade hold on the governor's mansion in 2002.
"I think the Democratic Party in Maryland is really in suspended animation," said Matthew Crenson, chairman of the political science department at Johns Hopkins University. "The party really has no statewide voice. No single person speaks for the Democrats in Maryland these days."
The leadership vacuum has led to a public feud between the state's top two Democratic legislative leaders, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, over Ehrlich's plan to bring slot machines to Maryland. And it is becoming increasingly difficult for state Democratic leaders to keep the various wings of the party happy.
One of the state's most recognizable Democrats, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, has become cozy with Ehrlich and does not plan to attend the convention. Schaefer said he was not invited because of his support for Ehrlich. But state Democratic Party Chairman Isiah Leggett said Schaefer declined his invitation.
The situation surrounding Schaefer, who no longer speaks to Leggett, is representative of the belief by some conservative Democrats that they are ignored by party leaders. And liberal Democrats are frustrated as well; a group met recently to discuss how to shape an agenda for the party.
Even with the internal divisions in Annapolis, Maryland Democrats remain a potent force in national and statewide politics, and most strategists expect Kerry to easily win the state's 10 electoral votes. In 2002, Democrat Al Gore beat George W. Bush in Maryland by 16 percentage points.
"We're going to win. The question is the size of the victory and the momentum we'll carry into 2006," Miller said.
In all, Maryland will be represented by 113 delegates, including most of the state's Democratic leaders, the entire Democratic congressional delegation and both U.S. senators.
Glendening, Townsend, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson are also delegates.
Kerry campaign officials and state Democratic leaders said it is the first time in recent memory that so many Maryland elected officials have prominent roles at a convention.
Hoyer, the House minority whip, will serve as the convention's parliamentarian, assuring him a speaking role and other stage appearances throughout the week.
Also tomorrow, Mikulski will represent the nine Democratic women in the Senate when she delivers a speech honoring the senators' commitment to increasing opportunities for women.
Cummings will speak Wednesday in his role as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Later that night, O'Malley will deliver a seven-minute speech on homeland security.
National Democratic officials have described O'Malley as the kind of leader who could one day land on the Democratic presidential ticket.
But with both O'Malley and Duncan eyeing a run for the party's nomination for governor in 2006 -- and both attending the convention -- state Democratic leaders are playing down the potential impact of the mayor's speech on his career.
"This is one event, and one event will not be the determining factor in who the party's nominee for governor will be," said Leggett, a former Montgomery County Council member. "We had Townsend highlighted last [presidential] election, and that did not serve her as well as we would have thought."
Staff writer Amit Paley contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company