Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, as has been expected for months, officially entered the Democratic race for U.S. Senate yesterday with a road show designed to highlight his accomplishments in office.
Starting the day in Denton, his birthplace on the Eastern Shore, Hughes, 59, and his wife Patricia made five stops, using each one to remind voters of what the governor perceives as his good works during nearly eight years in the state's highest office -- and of his administration's substantial commitment of Maryland tax dollars to local projects.
It was a calculated, sentimental journey that reflected the central strategy of Hughes' campaign: to improve his standing with voters by getting them to link him with the more popular programs of his administration, including education and increased aid to programs for seniors.
Hughes -- the last of four Democrats to announce formally for the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. -- invoked the name of one of his political idols as he stood on the courthouse steps and recalled his childhood there, including a job at a soda fountain and a stint as a pitcher for a Yankees farm team.
"I will conduct a campaign for this high and noble office similar to that of another Harry -- Harry Truman," said a text of the governor's speech. "I will campaign across this state to tell my story. I concede no county and no constituency."
Despite the carefully planned kickoff, it was clear that the savings and loan crisis, which has dogged Hughes' administration for nearly a year, will continue to follow him.
A small band of thrift depositors, who have made it their business to show up at public events with Hughes to dramatize their concern over their continued lack of access to frozen funds, also appeared in Denton, according to those who attended.
Hughes, who has watched his record popularity erode sharply in the 11 months since a run on a Baltimore County thrift set off a crisis in the state's savings and loan industry, vowed yesterday to "continue to answer questions and try to clear up any misunderstandings or misinformation" about the crisis.
"What my administration and I have done is save the State of Maryland from the worst financial problem that ever faced us," he said.
Hughes was greeted more cordially, if by fewer people, at subsequent stops, which included trips to a senior citizens' center in Brentwood, a special business park in Baltimore, a community college in Catonsville and a baseball game in Hagerstown.
In Baltimore, he spoke to employes at a business park located in one of the state's "enterprise zones," areas of high unemployment where state tax incentives are used to promote hiring.
In Prince George's, he met County Executive Parris Glendening, several county supporters and a group of about two dozen senior citizens at the Cora B. Wood Center in Brentwood, which houses several programs that receive state funding under Hughes' administration budget initiatives.
"He has been a good friend to the county as governor," said Glendening. "I would argue very strongly that he's been as responsive to Prince George's as you could possibly want, his environmental programs, transportation programs, senior programs -- they have all been very effective."
Though Hughes can use the platform of his office for political exposure to make his case against his three Democratic opponents -- U.S. Reps. Barbara A. Mikulski and Michael D. Barnes and Baltimore County Executive Donald Hutchinson -- the flip side is that he must continue to run the state government while campaigning for office.
After several members of a Prince George's group that lobbies on behalf of programs for seniors used a question-and-answer session to make pitches for their programs, Hughes responded with a grin. "I'm not going to ask anybody else for questions. It'll cost me $100 million just to get out of here."