Playing a political version of "Beat the Clock" on the Maryland Beltway, the guy in the little Toyota zipped from Washington to Bethesda, then north to Columbia, on his mission to collect the checks made out to "Kennedy for President."
It was all a part of Maryland's effort this past week in a nationwide blitz to qualify Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) for federal matching funds in a matter of days. His Maryland backers' mission was to collect $5,000 by yesterday, and, sources said, they reached the goal.
While Kennedy backers scurried after the money this week, President Carter's supporters were engaged in an equally ardent effort to pick up political endorsements from prominent party leaders in the state.
At an unofficial kickoff dinner Wednesday for Carter's reelection campaign, the Maryland contingent included former acting governor Blair Lee III, Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist, Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, and Prince George's Councilman Francis B. Francois, who is also president of the National Association of Counties.
Guests were told their presence at the Hyatt Regency Hotel dinner was tantamount to an endorsement of the president.Still, Kennedy backers to not plan to give up on former Maryland senator Joseph Tydings, whose appearance at the Carter dinner was considered a surprise by some members of both the Carter and Kennedy camps.
"We'll get him soomer or later," said Jack Bregman, chairman of a Maryland draft-Kennedy committee, who said Tydings has always been close to the Kennedy family.
Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes had been invited to dine at the Hyatt Regency, but, according to an aide, had long ago made a commitment to attend a meeting of the Appalachian Regional Commission in Binghampton, N.Y.
"Lucky him," said one political observer, who noted that most incumbents do not want to commit themselves this early on either side of the expected Carter-Kennedy showdown.
Several Carter backers said they had noticed no organizational stirrings for the president in Maryland so far. Meanwhile, the Maryland for Kennedy folks were in a frenzy of organizing into a committee that one of them said "has more cochairmen than members right now."
These cochairmen include state legislators Edward Conroy and Robert Redding, of Prince George's County: Ida Ruben, of Montgomery County; John Quade, of the Eastern Shore; Baltimore City Council President Walter Orlinsky, and retired Machinists Union official Phillip Van Gelder.
Van Gelder has been out all week name-gathering for Kennedy in the labor movement, and has picked up the personal endorsements of some top leaders, such as Dominic Fornaro, president of the 450,000-member Maryland ALF-CIO and David Wilson, head of the largest steelworkers' local in the state.
The formal announcement of a Kennedy nation "exploratory committee," which will give the senator the legal status of a candidate in the eyes of the Federal Election Commission, is expected Monday. In as short a time as possible after that, the committee wants to come up with the federal matching funds. This will require raising $5,000 in gifts of $250 or less in each of at least 20 states. That is what the frenzied fund-raising in Maryland, led by former congressional candidate Lanny Davis, was all about this week.