Joe Curran vs. Dick Bennett


No rest for the weary. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., having swept to an impressive re-nomination victory in Tuesday's Democratic primary, now faces a much tougher challenge -- Richard D. Bennett, regarded by many as the best Republican attorney general nominee in 40 years.

Mr. Curran did surprisingly well on Tuesday. He easily carried the city and every county. In a three-candidate race he got a respectable 53 percent.

One opponent, Patrick J. Smith of Rockville, was a novice with few resources. But Eleanor Carey of Baltimore is a former deputy attorney general with a reputation for good legal and management skills. She ran a thoughtful campaign, with adequate finances and many high-profile, high-powered supporters, including a former Maryland attorney general, Stephen Sachs, and a former U.S. attorney general, Benjamin Civiletti.

That Mr. Curran defeated her by a better than 3-2 margin shows that his eight years in the office and earlier political achievements have earned him widespread affection and respect.

Now he takes on Mr. Bennett, his Republican opponent who was nominated without opposition. The day after the primary, Mr. Bennett threw down the gauntlet with a television ad that may well set the campaign's theme and tone. The Republican candidate, who lives in Ruxton, is a respected former U.S. attorney for Maryland. He is described in his first commercial as "the only experienced crime fighter seeking statewide office . . . the right man at the right time, with a plan to get violent criminals off our streets, reduce domestic violence and crack down on violent juvenile crime."

Marylanders want to hear more about that plan, just as they want to hear more from Mr. Curran about his plans (and his record) in using the attorney general's office to deal with the state's and nation's No. 1 issue. It is true the office is not primarily a prosecutorial operation in Maryland, but an attorney general has a good deal of latitude in re-defining the job to fit the times.

Both candidates must also address the other responsibilities of the attorney general -- advising and, if necessary and appropriate, restraining state officials, handling appeals, protecting consumers, etc. -- but dealing with crime is uppermost in most citizens' minds. Crime-fighting politicians can produce irresponsible government and politics. It has, as we have seen in Washington and elsewhere in recent years. Messrs. Curran and Bennett are not the sort of men who descend to such, and we anticipate an enlightening and responsible debate on crime in the eight weeks ahead.

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