ANNAPOLIS, JULY 9 -- With everything going so well for Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, why would he want to run for president?
Maryland's top elected Democrats will meet at sunset Monday on the state yacht to talk about whether Schaefer should run in next March's Super Tuesday presidential primary as the state's favorite son, and to discuss ways to increase the state's importance in the process.
But several officials who are planning to make the cruise with the governor, including Schaefer's right-hand man Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, don't think Schaefer should try the favorite son approach.
"I think people want to vote for someone who would be a viable candidate at the convention," said Steinberg, who added that it is risky even for a popular politician such as Schaefer to get involved in the presidential primary ballot.
"If it's a real dud you lose everything," he said.
The idea behind a favorite-son candidate is that voters will elect delegates committed to someone from their state who is not actively involved in the presidential race. That person in turn could promise the support to a candidate in return for favors for the state in the event of a close race or a brokered convention.
Schaefer brought up the idea in the spring, after Gary Hart's departure from the race left the Democrats without a front-runner. Although the governor said he didn't have to be the one to run, Schaefer spokesman Bob Douglas said today the governor is not going into Monday's meeting with a "determined opinion" about what the officials should do. But he added that Schaefer "has not deviated from his original idea that a favorite son may be the best way to maximize the state's impact."
A spokesman for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said she is "all for" the idea of a favorite son, but others were more cautious. Anne Arundel County Executive O. James Lighthizer, vice chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said he doesn't favor the idea of a favorite son candidacy, although he would like to see the state's top elected officials take some sort of united stand.
"I don't see why anybody would be interested in it," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) said of the favorite son idea. "There's everything to lose and nothing to gain."
Miller noted that public opinion polls show Schaefer is extremely popular in the state, but said he shouldn't risk that by a move that "a lot of Marylanders might see . . . as an action of the governor to deprive them of their opportunity to vote for a presidential candidate."
It also could be difficult to run as a favorite son. The Maryland primary ballot will feature a "beauty contest" of the candidates, but voters will have to sift through long lists of people pledged to various candidates to select delegates to the Democratic National Convention. That means a presidential candidate would have to field a slate in each congressional district.
Officials believe Jesse Jackson would win two of the state's eight congressional districts -- the Prince George's County district represented by Democrat Steny H. Hoyer and the Baltimore district represented by Democrat Kweisi Mfume.
Mfume said he hopes to form a state exploratory committee for Jackson soon.
Some party officials also wonder whether independent-minded voters in Montgomery County would be willing to turn over their votes to Schaefer.
But many of the officials making the boat trip -- Schaefer invited the Democratic congressional delegation, a small group of legislative leaders and the executives from the state's largest counties -- like the idea of a united front.
One politico who will be left on shore is newly installed state party Chairman Rosalie Reilly, who wasn't invited. Douglas said that was because Schaefer wanted the trip to be just for the state's most influential elected officials.
"It was not an attempt to have a party meeting without party leaders," he said.