Maryland Republicans assembled in Houston for the Republican National Convention have their minds focused on an election -- not so much the election of 1992 as the election of 1994. It is then that the Maryland GOP hopes to discard its loser image at last by winning statewide office for the first time in 28 long years.
Any thought of capturing Democrat Barbara Mikulski's U.S. Senate seat in this year's election is pretty well dismissed (and in some instances undesired) within the 42-member Maryland delegation. The party's nominee, right-winger Alan Keyes, enhanced his unpopularity among GOP regulars last week by charging that the Republican national leadership was ignoring his campaign. An eloquent black conservative, Mr. Keyes intimated racial bias was the reason.
If Mr. Keyes' alienation from party regulars is one reason for the Maryland focus on 1994, President Bush's low standing in the polls is another. Delegates fervently want him to win, of course, not least because it might help Republicans hoping to capture two Democratic-held House seats and thus a majority in the state's congressional delegation for the first time in decades.
But the major interest is on the governor's slot to be vacated two years hence by Democrat William Donald Schaefer and the U.S. Senate seat long occupied by low-profile Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes.
Anne Arundel Executive Robert R. Neall, a major prospect for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 1994, is a no-show in Houston. Very much in evidence, however, is William Shepard, the party's losing candidate for governor in 1988, who is eagerly available.
The strongest potential opponent of Senator Sarbanes is 8th District Congresswoman Constance Morella, but delegates wonder whether she will give up a safe House seat to run. Her decision may rest on whether she accepts the common wisdom in Maryland political circles that Mr. Sarbanes is more vulnerable than Ms. Mikulski.
Without doubt, the dominating personality in the Maryland delegation is 2nd District Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley. Decked out in campaign buttons, jauntily wearing a black and yellow cap embellished with more decorations, she personifies a willingness to fight and an ability to win that has long been lacking in the party as a whole. But when it comes to speculation about Ms. Bentley's running for statewide office, such talk is generally regarded as mainly a ploy for strengthening her control of the party organization.
The parochial preoccupations of the Maryland delegation in Houston are by no means unusual in any national convention. Rather, they are a reminder that all politics is local, as the old saying goes, and must be nourished at the grass roots.