No one has ever confused Maryland with New Hampshire when it comes to significance in choosing a presidential nominee. After all, former California governor Jerry Brown won Maryland's Democratic primary in 1976 and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was the state's Democratic choice in 1980.
It is probably fair to say the presidential candidates are not losing any sleep worrying about who will carry the state next May. With the new primary system, which chooses more than half the delegates during the first several weeks of the primary season, it is quite possible that the nomination will be a lock for someone by the time the Maryland primary is held.
Nevertheless, in a year where only members of the House of Representatives in the state must run for reelection, the presidential primary can be significant politically to those in Maryland who have movement on their minds for 1986.
Since almost all the top names in Maryland politics appear to be thinking about early advancement, the next 11 months should be interesting. At the very least, the presence of presidential candidates--or, more often, of their representatives--in the state should keep the politicians busy.
Early this year, there was reason to think the Maryland primary would be no contest, a quick walkover for former vice president Walter F. Mondale. After all, Maryland was one of six states that went for Carter-Mondale in 1980 and Mondale made a campaign swing through Maryland last fall on behalf of the state's top Democrats.
Thus, it came as no surprise in March when Gov. Harry Hughes, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Lt. Gov. J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs enthusiastically endorsed Mondale when he made another trip to Maryland. That was when Mondale was riding high, the clear front-runner.
Mondale is still the front-runner, but the Wisconsin straw ballot, along with a growing perception that he is weakening, has convinced some Maryland politicians that it is worth taking a flyer on another candidate even though Mondale is still the favorite to win here.
Most notable among those looking beyond Mondale is Baltimore County Executive Donald B. Hutchinson, who 10 days ago threw in with Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio). Hutchinson waited in March while everyone else jumped on the Mondale bandwagon. Now, some of his colleagues are grudgingly mumbling that he might have been the smartest of all. With Mondale, Hutchinson would have been just another face in the background. Now, he is the Glenn person in Maryland and probably will use that role to advantage.
It should be remembered that Hutchinson began to build his strength in Baltimore County in 1972 when he worked for George McGovern and built much of the coalition that got him elected executive in 1978 during Jimmy Carter's 1976 campaign. Now, given statewide control of a campaign, he will undoubtedly be out there organizing with his eye on 1986.
Hutchinson, who cannot run for a third term as executive under county charter, probably will run for governor if both Sachs and Benjamin L. Cardin, speaker of the House of Delegates, stay in the race, figuring the two of them would split the Jewish-liberal vote.
It isn't bad strategy. If that doesn't work out, he may run for Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr.'s seat. But if Mathias runs for reelection (as most people anticipate), Hutchinson might want to avoid the race because he probably would have to face Hughes in the Democratic primary and, if he won there, Mathias in the general election seven weeks later. That kind of challenge might be too expensive.
But for the next 11 months, Hutchinson will be out front for Glenn. Already, some of the early Mondale supporters are bemoaning their fate. Recently, when Sachs was asked at a forum who he thought would be the Democratic nominee, he hemmed and hawed, practically mumbled that he had endorsed Mondale and finally said he thought it would be Mondale or Glenn.
Sachs was noticeably more subdued than in March when he declared himself more enthusiastic about the Mondale candidacy than he had been about any presidential candidate since Robert F. Kennedy.
And what of Cardin? The ever-cautious speaker has thus far remained above the fray, largely because of a friendship with former Florida governor Reubin Askew, a declared candidate. If not for Askew, Cardin probably would have jumped on board with Mondale early. Now, Hutchinson has beaten him to Glenn. Cardin might want to take a flyer on Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), who might run well in Maryland or on Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), the dark horse making the most noise in the early straw polls.
One thing is certain: Cardin needs to get involved with someone because everyone else who is jockeying for statewide position will be out there stumping for someone next winter. Perhaps, in the long run, the jockeying will be meaningless, but as one politician put it: "We need a presidential primary. It keeps us all out of trouble when we haven't got anything else to do between elections."