Blaine Young isn't exactly a household name in Maryland, but the prospective contender for the Republican GOP nomination has to be a bit better known in political circles after the splash he made at the annual political rite of passage known as the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield Wednesday.
Young, president of the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners, brought a busload of supporters to the Eastern Shore fishing port to promote his increasingly credible candidacy. He estimated that about 80 of his supporters -- many of them decked out in hardly subtle Blaine Young for Governor T-shirts -- made the trek to the far end of Somerset County for the annual celebration of seafood and politics. Alone among the gubernatorial hopefuls who attended, Young rented his own tent with a banner proclaiming a candidacy that is still officially an exploratory venture.
"We're serious. This isn't a joke. It isn't just talk," said Young, who led a conservative insurgency that brought about a GOP sweep of the five Frederick commission seats in 2010. While he has yet to file his candidacy papers, Young said his campaign committee is open and operational and raising money. He said he hopes to hagve $300,000-$500,000 in the bank by the next reporting period early next year. He estimated it will take a total of $1 million to make a serious run in the GOP primary.
In many ways it was typical Tawes festival. The weather was blistering hot, with an intense sun and temperatures that challenged the 100-degree mark. Lobbyist Bruce Bereano presided over the largest tent, providing shade in which politicians of both parties could pick their crabs in relative comfort.
Despite the heat, dignitaries and ordinary folks seemed to find common ground as they swilled beer, gorged on crabs, clams and fish sandwiches and listened to country music.
While Young flooded the festival with his supporters, some other likely gubernatorial contenders took a cooler approach and a few decided to pass up the event altogether.
Harford County Executive David Craig, considered a strong contender for the GOP nod, showed up with about a dozen supporters and a few signs but didn't put on much of a display. "Maybe in the future we will," he said.
Craig denied it was important to put on a big demonstration of support 2 1/2 years before the gubernatorial election. And he said he was there as much for the social aspect as the political.
"I've been coming ever since I was a delegate and senator -- very rarely do I get to eat crab or clams," he said. "I see people I haven't seen for a long time, like (Sen.) Mac Middleton (of Charles County) and some of the senators and delegates."
Also taking a more low-key approach was Larry Hogan, another Republican who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor. The former appointments secretary to former Gov.Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.stopped by Young's tent to talk about their potential candidacies.
On the Democratic side of the gubernatorial field, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman made the rounds with one aide and no campaign paraphernalia. He said he was playing it low-key this year and "just making friends."
"We've still got an important election in November," he said. "After that, I think you'll see more real campaigning."
Comptroller Peter Franchot said that other than the Orioles' opening day at Camden Yards, the Tawes feast is "the most important day of the year to me" -- in part because of the magical combination of crabs and beer.
"I get to see my friends -- both Republicans and Democrats," he said. "It's the beauty of Tawes."
Like Ulman, Franchot kept the entourage to a minimum, saying it was "too early" to mount a highly visible campaign effort.
Two of the other leading prospective Democrats in the 2014 race apparently were no-shows. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown had a schedule conflict, while a reporter saw no sign of any campaign on behalf of Attorney General Douglas Gansler.
The two contenders in this year'sU.S. Senaterace, incumber DemocratBenjamin L. Cardinand Republican challenger Dan Bongino, did pull out all the stops -- flooding the festival with dozens of volunteers. Likewise the two candidates in the First District congressional race, incumbent Republican Andrew Harris and Democratic hopeful Wendy Rosen.
Rosen, considered a long shot in the heavily conservative district, contended that voters are looking for a new face because of what she called Harris' unpopularity.
"They're looking for solutions and they are not looking for someone who's just 'cut the deficit, cut the deficit, cut the deficit' without looking for solutions," she said.
Harris was unable to attend because of congressional business in Washington, but his campaign manager, Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga of Harford County, was working hard on his behalf.
Szeliga said the Harris campaign had 30 volunteers working the crowd, adding that she's taking nothing for granted.
"As a Republican in Maryland, I don't think you can ever be too confident," she said.
But beyond the campaigning, Szeliga said she was just enjoying the Tawes scene.
"How can you get better in Maryland -- politics and crabs on a black asphalt parking lot. It's Maryland at its best," she said.
At top, prospective Republican gubernatorial candidates Blaine Young (center), president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, and Larry Hogan (right), former appointments secretary to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., talk with Washington County Commission President Terry Baker. At right, lobbyist Bruce Bereano holds court in the tent he rented.