Why in the world would Maryland's lieutenant governor be dining with a former deputy attorney general?
Why would a Baltimore senator be pursued by a university professor?
Why would a Maryland congresswoman be in hot pursuit of a former prosecutor?
And why would a nursing-home owner be huddling with another law-enforcer?
Answer: It's ticket-making time. Those in the race for governor have to come up with a running mate. In Maryland, the governor and lieutenant governor must run as a team.
Picking a mate isn't easy. Geography is often a key. So is the vote-drawing power of a candidate. Sex and race are important, too. The idea is to come up with "balance" that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
This year, the ideal lieutenant governor candidate would be a popular woman prosecutor with a "tough on criminals" reputation.
Pollsters say law and order is on people's minds. So naturally, gubernatorial candidates are hot to lasso prosecutors as running mates.
At the same time, the success of women candidates in recent years has male gubernatorial aspirants eager for gender balance.
That explains why Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg was spotted at an Annapolis restaurant with ex-prosecutor Eleanor Carey, who is running for attorney general. Ms. Carey is at the top of the Steinberg short list.
It explains why state Sen. Barbara Hoffman is on the list of Prince George's County Executive (and part- time professor) Parris Glendening.
It explains why Manor Care president Stewart Bainum Jr. has met three times with Baltimore's state's attorney, Stuart Simms.
It explains why Rep. Helen Bentley now wants a tough ex-prosecutor for her ticket. And it explains why Del. Ellen Sauerbrey picked a little-known running mate named Paul H. Rappaport. His credentials: state trooper for 37 years and a former Howard County police chief.
Mr. Steinberg knows best what a strong running mate means. When he linked arms with William Donald Schaefer in 1986, Mr. Steinberg solidified Schaefer support in heavy-voting Jewish precincts. It offset the boost retired Rep. Parren Mitchell gave to then Attorney General Stephen Sachs' lagging gubernatorial bid black neighborhoods.
Four years earlier, incumbent Gov. Harry Hughes helped his re-election bid by picking then-Sen. J. Joseph Curran Jr., who hails from a popular Baltimore political family. And in 1970, Gov. Marvin Mandel of Baltimore assured his success through geographic balance: He chose Montgomery County Sen. Blair Lee III, scion of one of this country's most famous families.
But sometimes the No. 2 candidate on a ticket doesn't matter. Mr. Hughes won an upset victory in 1978 with an unknown partner, Samuel W. Bogley III. This obscure Prince George's County councilman was selected because Mr. Hughes desperately needed to fill out his ticket at the filing deadline. In that race, Mr. Hughes' anti-corruption stance easily carried the day. Mr. Bogley's presence was a non-factor.
This year, though, the second spot is a focal point of interest. It was no coincidence that just as Ms. Sauerbrey picked an ex-police chief last week, the Bentley staff zeroed in on law-and-order candidates.
Sen. John Cade had been at the head of the Bentley list, but not after his harsh anti-abortion rhetoric in the closing days of the General Assembly session. The last thing Mrs. Bentley wants is to be dragged into a messy abortion controversy. So now she is considering some prosecutor types, though she already has a tough-on-crime record herself.
As for Mr. Steinberg's pursuit of Ms. Carey, it ignores geographic balance (they're both from the Baltimore region) but creates gender balance and gives Mr. Steinberg a partner who is a former prosecutor. Yet Ms. Carey's ties to her old boss, Mr. Sachs, could pose problems if opponents tag her as an ultra-liberal legal clone.
Senator Hoffman, meanwhile, would provide geographic and gender balance for Mr. Glendening. She is popular in Baltimore's Jewish community and a fighter for women's rights. She is an effective power broker for the city but a fiscal conservative on spending excesses.
Her problem is that she has bright prospects if she stays in the state Senate. She could emerge at or near the top of that chamber's leadership next year. Should she give that up for an "iffy" run for lieutenant governor?
As for Ms. Carey, she faces an uphill battle to defeat Attorney General Curran but she has several advantages: her sex and Mr. Curran's failure to capitalize on the crime issue. If voters are truly angry about the crime wave, Ms. Carey could ride it to victory. But are her chances better in that race or as part of a Steinberg ticket?
Mr. Simms faces a decision similar to Ms. Hoffman's. He is a shoo-in for re-election as city prosecutor. He's got some controversy connected to his tenure in office that could prove a liability in a statewide campaign. And Mr. Bainum's run for governor -- despite the millions of family money he plans to
spend -- still is a longshot at this stage.
Yet Mr. Simms would help Mr. Bainum draw votes in black city neighborhoods, deny Mr. Glendening a massive outpouring of city votes that he hopes to pick up through an alliance with Mayor Schmoke's guru, Larry Gibson, and give the Bainum campaign a law-and-order element it lacks.
Does any of this maneuvering matter?
Since none of the candidates has sparked any voter interest, the selection of running mates takes on larger significance this year. Yet the governor's race is so crowded already, the fuss over ticket mates may only confuse people.
Besides, voters don't give much thought to the No. 2 candidate in the end. The choice inevitably comes down to the pluses and minuses of the guy or gal at the top of the ticket.
Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun. His column appears here each Sunday.