Larry Hogan couldn't hide it. He was enjoying the attention. Not since he gave up his congressional seat in 1974 to run in the Republican primary for Mayrland governor had he been so lovingly courted.
"Larry, you've just got to run," implored one well-wisher after another as Hogan lounged by the hotel pool at this oceanside resort where the Maryland Republican Party was holding its annual spring convention.
There was a delicious irony in the Republican courtship of Larry Hogan. Four years after he lost the GOP gubernational primary, he was actively being encouraged to run for Prince George's Country executive.
DIsplaying the politicians' uncanny knack of turning one compliment into another, Hogan bore down seriously at his flatters. "Why do you think I should get into the race?" he asked with great sincerity.
"I could beat Winny (Prince George's Democratic Executive Winfield M. Kelly, Jr.)," Hogan told a reporter, "I've had indications of support from all over the country. But I'm not sure I really want the job."
If Hogan doesn't want the job of Prince George's county executive as much as he wanted to be governor four years ago, at least he has learned how to get to first base by assuring himself prerequisite party support.
In 1974, he was agonizing over the Nixon impeachment hearings while Louise Gore made the rounds at Republican ladies' teas and local party affairs. She won the primary and lost the general election.
Today, as Maryland's Republican national committeeman, Hogan has dutifully attended GOP affairs and kept up contacts with local party chieftains. He is accorded respect not generally given to former party rejects.
Hogan has learned the critical lesson for Maryland Republicans. The party traditionally punishes candidates who ignore state and local GOP concerns - candidates who stray too far from home.
That tradition presents grave danger for statewide office seekers. In a state where three of every four voters register as Democrats, a winning GOP candidate must appeal to a wide spectrum of the voting public.
Gore upset Hogan in the primary, even though he was said to have broader voter appeal. Gore could not transfer the magic she practiced on the GOP to the general voting public and lost overwhelmingly to Marvin Mandel.
The few Maryland Republicans who have consistently won statewide office in modern times have generally eschewed the state party and instead courted the blue-collar ethnics and blacks who normally vote Democratic.
The late Maryland Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin, one of the most popular Republicans, so actively pursued the ethnic vote that he was said to have carried a rosary in one pocket and a yarmulke in the other.
Today's most prominent and popular Republican in Maryland, U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias, who always rings up a large vote in Democratic strongholds, has thumbed his nose at the state and national GOP.
The state Republican Party, aware that it was approaching the fossil stage, began reaching out a new voters a few years ago. It new slogan, aimed at black and young voters, was the "party of the open door."
The first affirmative action was electing Aris Allen, a black physician from Annapolis, as state party chairman. The party also conducted registration drives and candidates' forums to increase its numbers.
If the strategy is working, it was not evident at last weekend's convention of pary leaders. The participants were mostly white, middle-age and middle-class.
When party leaders considered a motion to provide voters the right to recall elected officials. Archie Jones, the black GOP chairman in Baltimore, where there are no elected Republican officials, said:
"I've been told if we ever elect a Republican to anything in Baltimore (where half the population is black and a large percentage is ethnic), they'd just recall him anyway. So I'm opposed to this (motion)."
The party's tolerance for diversity and its interest in viable statewide candidates will be on trail again this September when gubernational hopeful vie for the GOP nomination in the state primary.
Anne Arundel County Executive Robert A. Pascal, who is considering the race, has not been as attentive to party affairs as some would like. But he is deemed the best GOP prospect for a state election because of his potential drawing power in Democratic Baltimore and Prince George's County.
On the other hand, John hardwicke, a little-known and low-budget candidate who practices law in Baltimore has dutifully visited and counseles with local party chiefs and is well-liked for his "earnestness and hard work." But he is given very little chance in a general election.
Another gubernational hopeful, Donald Devine, an associate professor of government at the University of Maryland and a party parliamentarian, is popular with the conservative wing of the party for his past campaign work for Ronald Reagan. He is also given little chance against a Democrat.
The GOP has its best chance of capturing the State House in years. The Domocratic Party was shaken by last summer's political corruption conviction of its party leader, Gov. Marvin Mandel. The party could be further fractured by a divisive primary bout in a crowded field of hopefuls.
But the election will not be won by default. To win the brass ring, the minority party will have to shed its bias for party purity and find a candidate who can appeal to the type of voters who would feel out of place at last weekend's gathering of the GOP clan in Ocean City.