A group of Montgomery County Democrats, led by long-time party activists, is building a statewide organization designed to surface with a show of power if Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D.-Mass.) enters the 1980 presidential race.
After meeting with aides to Kennedy, the group, led by former county Democratic central committee chairman James F. Doherty and party activist J. I. Bregman, is staging a series of what they call "Kennedy Conversations" with other party leaders in Maryland.
"What it boils down to is that we're developing the guts of an organization around the state," Bregman said. "The minute he announces, it will become a formal organization, and there are very few people in the party who aren't going to jump in.
"It will be an avalanche for Kennedy in Maryland."
Some of those who have had at least some role in the organization, however, were careful not to commit themselves when contacted by a reporter yesterday. And the most support the organizers said they received from Kennedy's office was that his aides "didn't say no."
"Most of the Democrats in Montgomery County already support Kennedy," said county party chairman Stan Gildenhorn, who supports the movement himself. "We're all just waiting on the senator."
Kennedy's own non-candidacy, however, has been something of a problem for his would-be campaign leaders.
"All I agreed to do," said Baltimore City Council President Walter Orlinsky testily, "was give [the group] the names of people I ran across who were interested. I've made maybe one phone call for them."
"I may be ready to jump on the bandwagon at any moment, and I may be ready to jump off the bandwagon at any moment," said state delegate Ida Ruben, who helped host a "Kennedy Conversation" in her home district.
"We have had a lot of prominent people say to us, 'Don't name me, but I'll help you,'" said Bregman, "Their problem is, they don't want to be out on a limb and have it be sawed off behind them."
Bregman said he and Doherty approached unnamed members of Kennedy's staff to seek blessings for a Kennedy-for-President organization in Maryland. "It was their feeling that Kennedy would come to a decision by early fall," Bregman said. "They didn't encourage us, but they didn't say no.
"So we decided to be low-key and develop an informal organization in Maryland. We knew that if we established a committee, then Kennedy would have to deny responsibilty for it, and it would create problems that we won't have if he formally announces."
Sine then, Democratic workers in four of Montgomery's state legislative districts have been called together to discuss a possible Kennedy candidacy, and more meetings are scheduled for September. A similar grass-roots effort is being organized in Howard County, according to Bregman.
About 50 precinct chairmen and party workers showed up for the last meeting in Kensington. "We discussed everything from Joe Kennedy to Chappaquidick to the litany of Carter's problems," said Gary Hong, who helped organize the gathering. "Then we asked volunteers to sign a list."
So far, Bregman and the other Kennedy supporters have yet to organize on a large scale in the Baltimore area, where most party leaders are focusing on the upcoming city elections. "I advised them to wait until after the city council primary in September," said Orlinsky. "Until then, most party people would look on presidential politics as a dilution of whatever they are doing."