With more than three years to go before the next statewide election, County Executive Ken Ulman is starting to look outside Howard for cash.

On Tuesday, he will hold a $1,000-a-plate dinner at the Maryland Club in downtown Baltimore, a move that could suggest Ulman is broadening his political reach with an eye toward the governor's mansion.

Ulman played down the significance of the event.

"We have a number of events throughout the state," Ulman said, but he stopped short of saying what he was raising money for.

"I'm keeping my options open as long as I feel I have more to give to public service," he said. "We consistently continue to raise money. It's flattering that folks offer to have events for us."

Although Ulman minimized the meaning of the event, some say it's not an illogical step for a possible gubernatorial contender.

Though Ulman has managed to raise a sizable amount of cash — nearly $440,000, according to his most recent campaign finance report in January — some of his potential Democratic contenders had raised more by that date. State Comptroller Peter Franchot reported more than $515,000 and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler reported about $2.9 million. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown had just under $130,000.

Republican Harford County Executive David R. Craig had close to $65,000 on hand in January.

Baltimore is "a bigger playground, isn't it?" said Donald F. Norris, chairman the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who lives in Howard.

"For all intents and purposes, it's the center of Maryland," he said.

Norris said Ulman's major handicap is that he's not well-known outside Howard, which, by comparison, is relatively small and does not carry a large electoral base. Ulman has also worked primarily on the local level, while some of his potential competitors hold statewide positions.

But, Norris said, by making public appearances around the state each weekend, Ulman is trying "to get his name out in front of local notables."

While Ulman is the president of the Maryland Association of Counties, Norris said, that only makes him known to other county executives. One advantage Ulman does have, Norris said, is that he's relatively popular — "from what anybody can tell, … he's done a good job in Howard County."

State Sen. Allen H. Kittleman, a Republican from West Friendship, said Ulman "certainly is a contender for governor. He's been around the state," from Baltimore to Ocean City to Washington County, Kittleman said.

While he said, "I don't agree with him on a lot of issues," he praised Ulman's abilities, noting that the two served two years together on the County Council.

He agreed that Ulman's weakness might be that he's up against several candidates who currently hold statewide offices.

But he added that Ulman is "capable of raising a lot of money, and he's the leader of one of the best counties in the state."

In March, Ulman held a $1,000-a-ticket gathering at Turf Valley in Howard County.

That fundraiser added more than $200,000 to Ulman's treasury, according to Ulman's campaign manager, Colin O'Dea. In a relatively small county, Ulman reported raising a total of $1.4 million over the past four-year election cycle.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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