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Dutch Ruppersberger has a major decision to make. Will the former Baltimore County Executive, who represents much of this area in Congress, run for governor?

It won't be an easy call for the five-term Democrat.

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Ruppersberger has broad name recognition in the Baltimore region. That's something Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Montgomery County Del. Heather Mizeur lack.

He's the most moderate of the bunch. Everyone else is left or far-left of center.

He would benefit from a split vote in the Washington suburbs - Gansler and Mizeur are from Montgomery County and Brown is from Prince George's County. Ulman may opt for second spot on a ticket in coming months, leaving Ruppersberger as the lone Baltimore-area candidate.

As a congressman on the armed services committee, he can tap a wealth of defense-industry donors for a gubernatorial race. Money, and the ability to raise millions, will play a key role in his choice.

If Ruppersberger were to win he would be the third recent-Baltimore County politician to sleep in the governor's mansion.

Republican Spiro Agnew did it in 1966 and then vacated the post in 1969 to become Richard Nixon's vice president. Republican Bob Ehrlich decided to leave Congress and run for governor in 2002. It proved a wise move.

Every other county executive that eyed the governor's mansion failed.

Longtime Reisterstown resident Jim Smith thought hard about running for governor but never jumped in the shark tank. Dennis Rasmussen lost a reelection bid and eventually ran a forlorn race for the U.S. Senate. Don Hutchinson ultimately ran for the Senate, too, and lost. Ted Venetoulis ran for governor in 1966 after one term as county executive. He lost to Harry Hughes. Dale Anderson expressed a wish to be governor but instead he went to prison for extortion, tax evasion and conspiracy.

Ruppersberger's decision may boil down to whether he is willing to give up his seat in Congress.

Right now, he's an important figure because he's the top House Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. That gives him prestige, media attention and overseas trips.

But he's term-limited and must give up his prestigious seat on the panel next year. Then he becomes an unimportant minority member of Congress.

Commuting to Washington isn't enjoyable. Nor is running for reelection every two years. Ruppersberger can escape the congressional craziness by becoming a candidate for governor.

That's a big move few have taken.

But he loved his eight years as county executive, where he proved effective in managing a county of 800,000.

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Ruppersberger is the presumed favorite if he runs. If he stays in Congress, Brown and Gansler will fight for the Baltimore area vote. It's a tough choice for a politician who has taken a few chances in his long career.

Barry Rascovar is a Reisterstown resident, political columnist and communications consultant. He can be reached at brascovar@out

look.com.

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