Gov. Parris N. Glendening led a large contingent of Maryland Democratic leaders today in endorsing Vice President Gore's campaign for president at a time when Gore's chief rival is gaining traction in the state.
The show of support comes as former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley has begun to make inroads in heavily Democratic Maryland, establishing a grass-roots organization and lining up key fund-raisers. Former governor William Donald Schaefer, now the state comptroller, recently endorsed Bradley, and Baltimore County Executive C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger is scheduled to make a similar announcement tomorrow.
But Glendening said the dozens of Maryland elected leaders who turned out today would work hard for Gore to mobilize hundreds of volunteers for the March 7 primary.
"It's not just an endorsement," Glendening said. "We'll be out in the community, explaining to voters personally what is at stake. Right now, people aren't focused. We're going to get people to focus."
The governor cited Gore's efforts at fighting crime, supporting education, strengthening the economy and protecting the environment as the main reasons the vice president deserved support. "He has led personally on the issues we've been involved with," Glendening said.
Today's endorsement of Gore included U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, the four Democratic members of Maryland's House congressional delegation, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and many of the state's legislators and local officeholders.
It also included Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a longtime friend of Gore's who has already campaigned for the vice president in New Hampshire. Townsend organized Democratic lieutenant governors for Gore and plans a trip to Iowa on his behalf.
"This is an amazingly talented, committed group of men and women with integrity, with fantastic ability, with a record of accomplishment," Gore said in thanking the assembled throng. "I'm proud some of my closest friends are in this group. In your battles for a brighter future, you've given me a chance to help out."
Maryland Democrats have not always followed the party's establishment candidate in presidential primaries. In 1992, for example, they favored former Massachusetts senator Paul E. Tsongas over Bill Clinton.
In their comments at the rally and in later interviews, Glendening, Townsend and Duncan were careful not to criticize Bradley.
"I've got nothing bad to say about Bradley," Duncan said. "We have two very good candidates. I think Gore's experience gives him the edge. He's been tested more than Bradley. Whoever the Democrats pick, we're all going to get behind."
Glendening agreed: "There's no great emotional divide [among Democrats.] The day after the primary, it's going to be very easy to bring everybody together."
Today's announcement followed an appearance by Gore before the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, which is meeting in Baltimore this week. Bradley is scheduled to address those legislators Thursday.
In recent weeks, Bradley's backers say they have signed up 1,700 volunteers across the state with more than half of them in voter-rich suburban Washington. Key fund-raisers, including former state senator Stewart Bainum Jr. and Washington Wizards basketball team owner Abe Pollin are raising money for Bradley.
CAPTION: Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke gets a birthday cake from Vice President Gore, who was in Baltimore to be endorsed by Maryland Democratic leaders.
CAPTION: Presidential hopeful Al Gore presses the flesh with Maryland voters in Baltimore as he meets with Democratic Party leaders. Gore's main rival, Bill Bradley, is gaining in popularity in the state.