Gov. Harry Hughes, the somewhat reluctant leader of Maryland's delegation to the Democratic National Convention, had just finished delivering a strong but rather wooden endorsement of President Carter this morning when he was asked if he is looking forward to next week in New York.
The governor paused, then smiled ruefully. "Actually," he said, "I don't naturally like conventions." He then added, perhaps only half-jokingly, "I'd love to go the ball games" while in New York but "I don't want to leave [U.S. Rep.] Barbara [Mikulski] and [State Sen.] Rosalie Abrams, the delegation co-vice chairwomen, behind to argue about who takes my place."
Although he later cheerfully hosted a reception for his fellow delegates outside his statehouse office, Hughes remarks seemed to capture the spirit of the Maryland delegation as it prepares to leave for the convention.
With their chairman and governor reluctant to lead them aggressively or plunge himself into procedural disputes and platform debates, Maryland's 59 delegates have spent the hot weeks before the convention in a state of relative calm.
Divided by a margin of 32 to 26, Carter over Kennedy, with one uncommitted, most of the delegates so far seem unshaken in their pledged commitments. Meanwhile, their various coordinators and leaders, rather than taking up the slack left by Hughes, have occupied themselves with petty, if sometimes bitter, squabbles over minor questions of leadership and privilege.
Many delegation coordinators and leaders -- particularly those in the Kennedy camp -- are actually delighted at the prospect of a partisan but unforceful Hughes at the head of the delegation.
"Gov. Hughes, unlike some of the other Carter people, is trying to understand our positions and be fair and equitable," said Ann Lewis, a top aide to Mikulski, who leads the Maryland Kennedy delegates and will deliver Kennedy's nominating speech. "He's been fine, gentlemanly and perfectly sportsmanlike. He understands that it's better for all of us to come out of the convention united than angling for small advantages."
"I've been able to make peace on a lot of our problems by sitting down and talking with the governor," said Del. Charles J. Ryan (D-Prince George's), the delegation's secretary who has emerged as an organizer of the Kennedy forces."He's going to make sure that everyone is treated well, which is the best thing he can do."
Before the convention is over, however, Hughes may be upstaged by several of the more politically active and agressive Marylanders at the convention -- in particular Mikulski and U.S. Rep. Mike Barnes, who has become a spokesman for the "open convention" forces in Congress.
Although Barnes is not a Maryland delegate and will be occupied to a large extent with congressional meetings, he says he plans to concentrate on lobbying Maryland delegates to vote against the proposed rule binding delegates to vote for the candidate they are presently committed to on the first ballot.
"I'll be going from one state caucus to another to explain our position [on an open convention] and try and get support," Barnes said. "But I've already been talking to some of my friends in the Maryland delegation and I'm going to be doing whatever I can to further the effort there."
In any case Barnes and Mikulsi, who was asked Wednesday by Kennedy to deliver his nominating speech are likely to be the focus of national attention when they arrive in New York.
Mikulski, an energetic, sometimes feisty congresswoman from blue-collar East Baltimore, also will be in the center of the politicking within the Maryland delegation. Already, she was a principal in an acrimonious squabble that developed between Carter and Kennedy leaders in the state earlier this summer.
The dispute arose at the first caucus of the delegation in June when Mikulski and Abrams, the state party chairwoman and majority leader of the state Senate, were named co-vice chairwomen of the group behind Hughes, Abrams, the ranking Carter supporter in the delegation after Hughes, attempted to get the delegation to agree that she would have higher standing than Mikulski, and would be first in line to take over the delegation in Hughes' absence.
After much debate, the delegation finally voted to give Mikulski and Abrams equal status, but bitter feelings still linger in the two camps.
"Some of the Carter people expect to go from top to bottom and have everything their way and then get together the day after the convention and be friends again," said Lewis, Mikulski's aide.
"When you have everything to gain and nothing to lose you do things you might normally not," Ed Crawford, a Carter campaign coordinator for Maryland, said of the Kennedy leaders. "The Kennedy people are the ones fanning the flames and putting out the bad information."
Nevertheless, all sides said today that the tensions between the opposing campaigns were lower in Maryland than in other states, and that harmony eventually would prevail.
"This is not going to make us enemies," Abrams said of Mikulski and her followers. "We've had some hostility, but it's dropped off, and I don't sense that it's there anymore to the extent it is on the national level."