Only 27 months till the gubernatorial primary, and the state is already littered with budding candidates. Yet in the wacky world of Maryland politics, there is no front-runner.
Under ordinary circumstances, Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg would be the odds-on choice to succeed his boss, Gov. William Donald Schaefer. But Mr. Schaefer has disowned his running mate, cutting him totally out of his political will. The lieutenant governor has been removed from all important decision-making and has been exiled to Mr. Schaefer's version of political Siberia.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Steinberg has used all his free time to campaign unofficially for governor. And in a way, Mr. Schaefer has done him a big favor by casting him out of the inner circle. Mickey Steinberg is a popular guest speaker across Maryland: He's funny, he's no longer connected to the much-maligned Schaefer regime, and he had nothing to do with the fiscal mess in Annapolis or the large tax increase approved this year.
That leaves the lieutenant governor free to run a campaign as an "outsider" with the legislative smarts and track record to restore some sanity to the governor's office.
But the lack of a Schaefer endorsement has its down side, too. The vast Schaefer fund-raising apparatus has been denied Mr. Steinberg. The governor often sounds like Shakespeare's King Lear in expressing his feelings of betrayal toward the lieutenant governor. ("How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!") He has gone to great lengths to try to punish his errant running mate.
At first, it looked like Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening would be the recipient of Mr. Schaefer's nod. But then, the governor got mad at Mr. Glendening, too. Fie on both their houses!
The Prince George's executive, though, has charged ahead with a fund-raising drive and a campaign plotted by veteran political strategist John Willis. Mr. Glendening, too, is posing as an outsider, untouched by the unpopularity of the State House crowd. He is counting on a big turnout in the Washington suburbs, capitalizing on the growing sentiment there that the time has come for that part of the state to exert its growing political clout.
Yet Mr. Glendening's base is hardly secure. He's at odds with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a potent player in Prince George's with a fat campaign kitty of his own. Compounding the problem is a gubernatorial bid launched by Winfield Kelly Jr., now the secretary of state and one of Mr. Glendening's predecessors as P.G. executive. An added concern comes from talk of a bid for governor from either former Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer or influential budget chairman Sen. Laurence Levitan.
A splintered Washington-area vote might be offset, however, by an equally divisive split in the Baltimore area. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran would love to run for governor as the quiet, sensible, non-involved insider. If he does, he'll take a substantial slice of the Baltimore City vote. There's also a real possibility Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke might be persuaded to run for governor, hoping for a lopsided vote in majority-black Baltimore City and majority-black Prince George's County.
Further compounding matters is the governor's latest trial balloon: boosting education secretary Nancy Grasmick as his choice for chief executive. She would be assured of heavy support from teachers' unions and substantial sums of campaign money from associates of her husband, Louis Grasmick, a longtime Schaefer fund-raiser and a politically active Baltimore businessman.
So far, no one has generated much excitement. That has led to speculation of a new ticket melding the interests of Baltimore and Washington area politicians: Rep. Benjamin Cardin for governor and Mr. Glendening for lieutenant governor. It would take some powerful convincing by business and political leaders to persuade Mr. Cardin to give up his seat on the Ways and Means Committee in Washington. But he's always wanted to be governor and is widely viewed as the most capable and one of the brightest individuals to have graced the Annapolis scene in recent decades.
Meanwhile, waiting in the wings for the Democrats to carve up one another is the GOP's best hope, Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall. He's smart, tough, well liked in the State House, a veteran legislator who has made a smooth transition to the executive side of government. If the battling Democrats turn off voters, Bobby Neall could be the people's choice.
Much hinges on the attitude of voters by the fall of 1994. Right now, Marylanders are teed off at everyone connected with the bumblings in the State House. They aren't too fond of their county executives and county council members, either. The problem is that none of the candidates or potential candidates for governor are true "outsiders." They are all part of the system. Choosing among them could prove just as vexing as choosing TC president this November.