Curran could be candidate in 1-man race No one files challenge to attorney general, who seeks fourth term; Deadline is July 6; Rappaport thought to be Republicans' best hope for office


Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who survived a serious challenge to win a third term in 1994, appears increasingly likely to get a free ride on his way to a fourth.

With little more than a week remaining before the July 6 filing deadline for the September primaries, no Republican has stepped forward to challenge the Democratic incumbent and none is known to be planning to. Neither does Curran face any announced opposition from within his party.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who faces determined foes in the Democratic primary and the general election, joked that Curran is enjoying "the luck of the Irish."

It may be as good an explanation as any for the 66-year-old Curran's lack of opposition. The veteran Baltimore politician, who has held state office since 1958, is a consistent liberal who has frequently outraged Republicans with his positions on issues ranging from tobacco to guns to abortion.

"I think he deserves a kick in the rear," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County attorney and House Republican leader. "His policies have been anti-business. He has been a very poor attorney general."

But Flanagan, like other Republicans known to have considered the race, said he has made a "pragmatic decision" not to run. "If you can locate a Republican candidate, let me know and I'll support him," he said.

Party leaders continue to express hope that some ambitious lawyer will step forward to try to become the first Republican to be elected attorney general since Alexander Armstrong squeaked by with 606 votes in 1919. They acknowledge that failing to put forward a candidate for the state's chief legal counsel would be embarrassing to the party.

"I certainly think it's imperative that we have a candidate for every slot," Maryland Republican Party Chairwoman Joyce Lyons Terhes said.

Terhes said she hopes a candidate will come forward since gubernatorial front-runner Ellen R. Sauerbrey has chosen Richard D. Bennett, the Republican nominee for attorney general in 1994, as her running mate.

But Sauerbrey spokesman Jim Dornan, who called the prospect of an unopposed Curran "appalling," was not optimistic. "We should have a full slate and I don't think we're going to," he said.

Curran said he was unconcerned whether the Republicans find a candidate or not.

"I'm just assuming there will be a candidate, and that's fine by me because it'll give me a chance to explain what we've done, where we're going," he said. The attorney general said he has $150,000 in hand and expects to raise at least $500,000.

GOP activists say they know of no Republicans who are raising money or making other preparations for a race.

Bennett, who carried 19 of 24 jurisdictions and won 46 percent of the vote in his spirited challenge to Curran, said that at this point four years ago, he had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and campaigned around the state. Before he was tapped to run zTC for lieutenant governor this year, Bennett had said he would not run again for attorney general.

Rappaport hasn't proceeded

Perhaps the best hope for the Republicans is Sauerbrey's 1994 running mate, Paul H. Rappaport, though he is not considered likely to enter the race. After Sauerbrey decided this month not to choose Rappaport as her lieutenant governor candidate, he said he was considering a run for other state or local office, including attorney general.

"I haven't ruled it out, but I haven't proceeded toward that direction either," he said yesterday.

Rappaport, a favorite of the party's conservative wing, said he has the network of contacts he needs to mount a statewide campaign, but might not have enough money. "There's not a lot of time to raise funds," the former Howard County police chief said.

Other Republicans said money is the leading reason they decided against a challenge.

"It was going to be a million-dollar race," said retiring Baltimore County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, who said he decided last fall that he wasn't ready for a statewide campaign.

Flanagan said one reason potential challengers are reluctant to run is that Republicans expect Curran to receive heavy financial support from unions and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, whose law firm was chosen to represent the state in its lawsuit against tobacco manufacturers.

Best shot was 1994

There is also a strong sense in the party that the Republicans took their best shot at Curran in 1994 and still failed to defeat him.

"Dick Bennett raised a lot of money last time and it wasn't close to enough," said Anne Arundel County Del. Michael W. Burns, a Republican lawyer who is seeking re-election.

One peril in not finding a mainstream Republican to run is that a fringe candidate could file at the last minute and claim the nomination by default, possibly putting other GOP candidates in the position of having to disavow a ticket-mate.

In past election years, with the notable exception of 1986, Republicans have usually been able to find a respectable sacrificial lamb to run in this heavily Democratic state. But that was easier when political races were less expensive.

$100,000 salary

Another downside for some potential candidates is the off-chance they could win. The attorney general's salary, $100,000 for running an agency with a $16.3 million budget, is considerably less than a prominent lawyer can earn in private practice.

But for a politician with high aspirations, the job can provide a springboard to more exalted offices. No recent Maryland attorney general has been elected governor, though Albert C. Ritchie, William Preston Lane Jr. and Herbert R. O'Conor made the jump during the first half of the century.

In other states, the record is more encouraging. The current occupant of the White House, after all, is one-time Arkansas Attorney General Bill Clinton.

Pub Date: 6/27/98

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