Maryland House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) today added some financial credibility to what many observers regard as his uphill battle to capture the governorship in 1986 by pulling in about $300,000 at a fund-raiser at the Baltimore Convention Center.
"This is what we've been waiting for," said Del. Larry Young, one of Cardin's committee chairmen in the House of Delegates. "A lot of people have been concerned about Cardin's charisma and his ability to go toe to toe with other candidates, but before that, you have to prove organization and resources. This shows he has those. This makes it tight and interesting."
Cardin, 41, who has won widespread respect during his seven years as speaker for his ability to run the House and for his knowledge of state government, nonetheless suffers from a lack of statewide recognition compared to his most likely Democratic opponents, Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs and Baltimore Mayor William D. Schaefer.
Twenty months before the 1986 Democratic gubernatorial primary, Cardin is still regarded as a long shot to replace Gov. Harry Hughes, who under the state constitution cannot run for a third term. Cardin's chances are considered particularly slim if Schaefer is in the race. The Baltimore mayor has repeatedly dodged questions about his possible candidacy but is seen as a likely contender if Cardin fails to build up a head of steam in the next year.
Cardin has repeatedly insisted that he will remain in the race even if Schaefer declares his candidacy, and he steadfastly maintains that he can overcome his lack of statewide recognition and the perception that he has neither the star quality of Schaefer nor Sachs' statewide organization and flair for publicity.
"We exceeded our goals here today," said Cardin as he greeted some of the 5,000 people who paid $60 each for tickets to the event at the Convention Center. "We just have to get the Ben Cardin record before the people of Maryland. The rest will take care of itself."
The after-expenses total raised at today's event exceeded $250,000, said Cardin spokeman Maxey Irwin. Cardin has raised a total of about $500,000, a figure about equal to the amount raised by Sachs, who last year raised about $250,000 at a similar Baltimore fund-raiser. Neither Cardin nor Sachs has officially declared his candidacy.
The crowd attending Cardin's fund-raiser today was made up predominantly of the people who spend every winter in Annapolis attending the General Assembly's 90-day sessions, prompting one legislator to comment that "this is speaker's money, not governor's money."
The fund-raiser was the first step in broadening Cardin's base of support, said Irwin, a media specialist recently hired by the Cardin campaign along with pollster William Hamilton.
Irwin said that Cardin's name recognition problems may actually be a blessing for the type of campaign being mapped out now, one that will use "state-of-the-art" voter targeting methods to boost Cardin's chances.
"Sometimes it's an advantage to have a low recognition, because as you build it up, you can build up your favorable rating at the same time," said Irwin. "It's very difficult to change an unfavorable rating. Name recognition is not the critical factor it was 20 years ago. Now, you can build it overnight.