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Is Schaefer endorsement kiss of death? Clinton campaign seems to think so


Before questions about marital fidelity and draft status slowed his campaign, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton seemed capable of driving his opponents out of the race in New Hampshire -- so Gov. William Donald Schaefer wanted to endorse him.

"He thought Clinton would be the nominee and felt very comfortable with that," one of the governor's advisers said. "As good Democrats, he thought we ought to get behind him and stop bashing each other."

But the Clinton campaign, dreading Mr. Schaefer's call, took its time getting back to him. It already had looked at polling data from a variety of sources and concluded that the Maryland governor's support might hurt more than help.

"The best thing [Mr. Schaefer] could do for us would be to stay out of it," said a member of the Clinton team in Maryland who admires the governor and did not relish the prospect of ducking him.

Once achieving popularity ratings so high and so enduring that one pollster termed them "godlike," Mr. Schaefer's standing has fallen sharply under the weight of severe budget problems, a penchant for sharp-tongued letters to constituents and construction projects that to some have seemed extravagant.

The governor and the Clinton campaign recently were spared an awkward conversation when the White House announced a presidential trip to Maryland. Not wishing to endorse a Democrat while President Bush was here with federal money for Maryland, Mr. Schaefer did not pursue his endorsement plan.

Asked last week if the Clinton campaign wanted Mr. Schaefer's support, Mr. Clinton's Maryland campaign manager, Jay Rouse, said, "I don't think we've really focused on that. I don't think the campaign has made a decision on that. If there's an anti-incumbency thing out there, I wouldn't want to run into it."

That concern did not get in the way of soliciting endorsements from a Who's Who of Maryland state legislators, more than 70 of whom signed on with Mr. Clinton.

And today, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, and Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, will endorse the Clinton campaign.

Endorsements traditionally bring organizational help and perhaps some news media attention -- important advantages in a short campaign. But they might have another level of importance for the Clinton campaign this year.

Joel Rozner, co-chairman of the Clinton campaign in Maryland, said, "What it says is that Clinton's support is not only holding, it's growing."

Meanwhile, Mr. Schaefer appeared at a rally last week for Paul E. Tsongas, the former Massachusetts senator who scored a solid victory over Mr. Clinton in New Hampshire.

At the rally, Mr. Schaefer showed he knows well enough what has happenned to his standing in Maryland. Asked if he was endorsing Mr. Tsongas, Mr. Schaefer said he wouldn't want to do anything that would cause problems.

"He's my man," the governor said at a news conference the next day. Of all the candidates in the race, he said, he likes best what Mr. Tsongas is saying.

He was asked if he'd like to be vice president. (A year ago, there was talk in Schaefer circles of a run for the White House.)

"I could get elected," he said, "except in this state."

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