President Clinton comes to Maryland tonight to collect upward of $250,000 for his 1996 re-election campaign at a fund-raiser that was arranged several months ago on a golf course.
Nearing the end of a national round of $1,000-a-plate fund-raisers, the president will be the guest of Michael G. Bronfein, president of the rapidly growing NeighborCare Pharmacies Inc. and an occasional golfing partner of Mr. Clinton.
Along with getting the campaign funds, the president is likely to hear encouraging reports about his standing among Marylanders these days.
"I'm hearing comments like 'He's gutsy' and 'He's showing some compassionate moderation vs. shrill extremism from the other side,' " said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Cumberland Democrat.
Tonight's event got the go-ahead from the president several months ago during a round of golf at an exclusive Baltimore County course with Mr. Bronfein, who first met Mr. Clinton during a lunch at the Stouffer Hotel in Baltimore about a year before the 1992 campaign.
Several hundred guests are expected at the 39-year-old businessman's home in Pikesville. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, be served in a tent adjoining the house, are to be followed by a buffet dinner.
Mr. Bronfein said he and the president agreed that an event at a private home would be an improvement over the usual hotel venue.
"People go to those events and he's just a speck in the room," Mr. Bronfein said. "They know they were in a room with the president of the United States, but they really haven't had much contact with him. Here, I expect he will greet everyone personally."
A number of Maryland political leaders, including Mr. Taylor and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, will join corporate chief executive officers and other contributors. Mr. Bronfein said he has been unable to accommodate all who wanted to attend.
An array of corporate leaders in the health care field, developers and lawyers has joined the drug company president on the host committee: developer David S. Cordish; developer Stewart J. Greenebaum; William L. Jews, president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland; builder Bill Struever and his wife, Anne; Lainy LeBow Sachs, formerly chief aide to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer; and Alan M. Rifkin, one of Maryland's top lobbyists, whose clients include Mr. Bronfein.
Mr. Clinton has been supported generously by Maryland Democrats before at similar fund-raisers and at the polls: Maryland gave him a 1992 victory margin exceeded only by his home state of Arkansas. Since then, his backing has dipped here but seems to be climbing again.
"The president is showing that he stands in the responsible middle, that he is in fact the New Democrat we thought he was and not an ultra-liberal, New Deal Democrat," Mr. Taylor said.
That assessment is amplified by recent voter surveys in Maryland and in other states.
"In the last few months, the man has rebounded," says Del Ali of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc., a polling firm based in Columbia. In state after state, he said, Mr. Clinton and Democrats are having the better of questions about which party is trusted to deal with the economy and social programs.
"A lot of it is the Republicans are falling on their face," he said. About half the improvement in Mr. Clinton's position is due to his own gains and about half to losses in support suffered by his chief Republican rivals, Sens. Bob Dole of Kansas and Phil Gramm of Texas, in head-to-head matchups.
Maryland Republicans disagree, of course, accusing the president of engaging in a "big lie."
"He didn't respond before, but now you see a lot more bashing -- and lying -- about Medicare and Medicaid. They're telling falsehoods. They're saying we're making draconian cuts and we're not," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, executive director of Maryland's GOP.
Nevertheless, Mr. Clinton's fortunes rise, his Maryland partisans say, when he skewers the GOP for insisting on tax cuts while cutting social service programs.
"When you feel that gun in your ribs," said American Joe Miedusiewski, a former Democratic state senator from Baltimore, referring to proposed program cuts, "it gets your attention."
The president's standing among his supporters improves when he steps forward to address the racial divisions in this country. In so doing, Mr. Clinton counters the criticism that he has no core beliefs.
Sharply differing reactions among black and white Americans to the verdict in the O. J. Simpson murder trial and to the Million Man March in Washington have suggested a wide gulf of misunderstanding -- and another leadership opportunity for Mr. Clinton.
Unlike his two Republican predecessors, Mr. Taylor said, Mr. Clinton is saying black and white Americans must confront racial attitudes. The subject of race has been off the agenda for too long, he said. Whether that urging will be a political advantage in the long run remains to be seen, Mr. Taylor said, but a president must find ways to refocus the nation's best instincts.
"This is something he's committed to," says Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. of Baltimore.
"It's easy for him and he looks confident doing it because he truly believes in it," said Mr. Montague.