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Disappointed in Glendening Democratic cabal: Will disaffected state officials rally around a single challenger?


PARRIS GLENDENING derisively called them "gubernatorial wannabes." One of his lobbyist-supporters termed them "traitors." But most Marylanders look upon them as their elected leaders. What they have in common is keen disappointment in Governor Glendening's performance so far and a gnawing fear he could be easy pickings for a Republican challenger in two years.

Such worries prompted these unhappy Democrats to set up a meeting. Among those invited: the House speaker, a Baltimore-area congressman and the executives of Harford, Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties. There may be some no-shows, since taking on a sitting governor this early could have negative political consequences.

What the invited guests want to discuss is the highly unorthodox strategy of challenging an incumbent Democratic governor in the 1998 primary. Discontent with Mr. Glendening has reached the point where a number of business and political leaders are pTC openly ruminating about such a possibility.

The major complaint concerns the "trust" issue. Time and again, these officials say, Mr. Glendening makes commitments to them but fails to follows through. Politically, these officials note Mr. Glendening was elected by only 6,000 votes and may actually have lost popularity. A series of embarrassing disclosures -- county pension scandal, questionable campaign fund-raising tactics -- also has hurt Mr. Glendening. One fear is that he could be routed in 1998 in a Republican tidal wave that sweeps out other Democratic office holders, too.

These elected leaders want to see if there is common ground in a primary challenge, and who among them will make the risky run. Given the ambitions of those in the room, finding a consensus might prove hopeless. But the fact that such a meeting has been called reflects widespread unease among Democrats.

Still, as Mayor Kurt Schmoke -- no friend of Mr. Glendening in recent months -- notes, the governor has two years to regroup. It may be premature to begin a Democratic insurgency.

This kind of open opposition among top Democrats has to be troubling to the governor. Still, toppling an incumbent in a primary hasn't happened in modern state history. It might occur, though, if Mr. Glendening doesn't start mending fences with both Democratic politicians and Maryland voters.

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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