In what may be an important signal or merely an act of political friendship, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is arranging a fund-raising breakfast for state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, the only one among the Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls he can stand.
Mr. Schaefer has agreed to organize the $250-a-person breakfast Aug. 9 at a private home in the Canton section of East Baltimore, which Mr. Miedusiewski has represented in the General Assembly since 1975.
"The governor likes him [Mr. Miedusiewski] personally, and he agreed to help him out, to raise some money," said Joseph L. Harrison, Mr. Schaefer's deputy press secretary. But, said Mr. Harrison, the governor's fund-raising assistance does not constitute an endorsement of Mr. Miedusiewski. "The governor hasn't endorsed anyone," said the spokesman. "He hasn't made his intentions known as far as participating in the campaign."
An endorsement from Mr. Schaefer, whose popularity has plummeted in the past year or so, could be a two-edged sword. But the mobilizing of the governor's financial backers would be a plus for Mr. Miedusiewski, who is fighting an uphill battle with limited resources.
At least for the moment, it appears that Mr. Schaefer's efforts fall short of dispatching his backers to Mr. Miedusiewski's modest bandwagon.
"This should not be interpreted as a calling out of the troops," a person close to the governor said yesterday. "He's willing to lend a hand, but that's pretty much where it stands right now."
Another person who has helped Mr. Schaefer financially in past campaigns cautioned against reading too much into the governor's participation in a single fund-raiser, saying that sending signals -- rather than directly speaking his mind -- was not his style.
"When he wants you to support someone, he calls you up and asks you to do it," the man said. Both people asked not to be identified.
Over the past year, Mr. Schaefer encouraged several Democrats and one Republican to enter the race to succeed him. Of the Democrats, only Mr. Miedusiewski did so.
For various reasons, the governor dislikes personally and politically the three other Democrats -- Parris N. Glendening, the front-running Prince George's county executive; Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County.
Mr. Miedusiewski climbed from fourth to second place this month in the latest independent statewide poll, but was still 22 percentage points behind Mr. Glendening.
The Republican favored by Mr. Schaefer, U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, enjoys a wide lead in polls over two lesser-known GOP rivals.
Mr. Miedusiewski said he was not aware of "any grand plan to call out the troops" by Mr. Schaefer but added that the governor's fund-raiser for him may have a ripple effect on his campaign.
"Everyone is looking to see what the governor does," he said. "The people the governor has a relationship with are opinion leaders, opinion makers, people in circles of influence."
A Glendening spokesman, David Seldin, said the lack of a formal endorsement of Mr. Miedusiewski did not obscure the obvious. "I think it would be unusual for a governor to hold a fund-raiser for a candidate if he was not asking his supporters to join him in supporting him," he said.
Kevin S. Keefe, Ms. Boergers' campaign manager, said it was hard to tell what the Schaefer breakfast means. "He's given out so many signals in this governor's race it's impossible to read," said Mr. Keefe.
Mr. Steinberg's spokesman, M. Hirsh Goldberg, said his boss never expected any help from Mr. Schaefer after the lieutenant governor refused to support his multimillion-dollar tax increase proposal in 1991.