THE LATE HARRY "Soft Shoes" McGuirk might have called him Diamond Jim in the political rough.
The political ruminations of Maryland's former economic development boss, James T. Brady, remind many of 1978, when Harry R. Hughes rose from obscurity to victory by near acclamation. In the midst of a gubernatorial campaign which seems somnolent, Brady's water-testing this year is provocative.
It was Senator McGuirk of the Stonewall Democratic Club in Baltimore who, in 1978, called Hughes a lost ball in tall grass. A number of other better-known candidates seemed certain to keep Hughes, a former transportation secretary, mired in last place.
Hughes got the heartiest of last laughs, though, winning the governor's mansion that year in a walk. Marylanders apparently wanted new leadership from someone decidedly separate from the scandal-scarred Mandel administration.
Probably won't happen again, the common wisdom holds. The learning curve, the organizational curve, the fund-raising curve: All are too steep even for a man of Brady's ability.
But he might try to become an instantly credible alternative to the likely general election contenders, Ellen R. Sauerbrey for the GOP and the incumbent Democrat, Parris N. Glendening.
Brady's unofficial exploratory campaign has quite a few observers wondering if this is more than an ego trip. They see an uncaptured Democratic energy, opportunity begging to be seized. Both party's front-runners have primary challenges, both have had surprisingly high negative ratings among voters -- but their primary challengers don't seem to be taking advantage of whatever weakness may exist.
Brady's parting critique of the governor's approach to business development in Maryland might have been a campaign platform. Then, he seemed simply to be unburdening himself as if he had an obligation to say what he thought -- without thought to running himself. The response surprised him into a serious look at what he calls "the public sector" option.
By simply acknowledging this month that he's now looking at a possible run for governor, Brady has made a commentary on the political environment. If he gains any momentum, he or someone like him could become a force unto itself, nullifying the usual organizational and financial advantages of traditional contenders.
Hughes made it in 1978 with a push from a newspaper, including a page-one endorsement by the late Evening Sun, and with poll figures showing that a vote for Hughes was not merely a message vote.
Brady's dalliance with electoral politics may be regarded as something of a curiosity. But it's a mark of this campaign year that even streetwise observers are intrigued by its potential.
At a Maryland Chamber of Commerce retreat last week, a lawyer from Montgomery County was musing about potential Brady running mates. What about someone like Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, he wondered. Wouldn't a Brady-Grasmick ticket be dramatic? Then you would have a hard-driving business leader in tandem with a hard-driving educator -- both widely respected. And you'd have not one but two former Glendening administration Cabinet members opposing their former boss.
Never happen, you say? You're probably right. Grasmick has had her own gubernatorial ambitions, for one thing, and as far as The Political Game knows, she's had no conversation with Brady.
For such a combo to work outside the realm of imagination, you'd need not one but two rational, calculating people with pride and position to lose, who nevertheless risked it all on a single round of pitch and toss.
Sauerbrey remains popular in Charles County
At an old-fashioned political fund-raiser last week, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski offered one of her raise-the-roof-beam partisan speeches. Unfortunately, she was speaking to a truly bipartisan audience in Charles County -- Republicans and Democrats with Republican leanings.
Referring to Sauerbrey as a force akin to Darth Vader, she said the Democratic team should be returned to office without exception. Several members of her audience, having their beef and potato salad under colorful tents, paused just long enough to offer their thumbs down response to that reference.
Sauerbrey carried Charles in 1994 and seems likely to do so again this year, according to local political sources in both parties.
On the road with Bruce Bereano
Saturday was huge on the fund-raiser circuit with at least six events going on at various points of the Maryland compass. The front-runner among visitors was, no doubt, Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, who claimed upward of 300 miles on his odometer at the end of the day and a full summer's worth of cole slaw consumption.
Pub Date: 6/16/98