Three potential rivals for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2002 are off to a jack-rabbit start in the money race, raising more than $2 million this year with three years to go before the election.
Fund-raising figures released yesterday by campaign committees for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan showed that Townsend led the field by raising more than $900,000 in the first 10 1/2 months of the year.
Ruppersberger raised just over $600,000, while Duncan brought in slightly more than $500,000, according to reports to be filed today with the state election board.
Political consultants were impressed by the early show of fund-raising muscle.
"It's quite extraordinary for this kind of money to be raised this early in a gubernatorial cycle," said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research, a Bethesda polling and consulting firm. "It says that one needs to raise, at a minimum, several million dollars to be competitive."
Kevin Igoe, a Republican political consultant, said the numbers show that "you can't let the fund-raising go to the election year, or even the year prior."
Igoe said there has been little fund-raising activity by possible Republican candidates for governor.
Ruppersberger, who carried over $530,000 from his 1998 re-election campaign for county executive, had the most money on hand as of the Nov. 16 closing date for the reports -- just over $1 million.
According to a preliminary summary of her report, Townsend had more than $863,000 in cash on hand. Duncan, who started the four-year cycle with $11,000, had almost $445,000 in the bank.
Townsend, who is still taking in contributions generated by a Nov. 17 fund-raiser, is on a pace to have more than $1 million on hand by the end of the year, her campaign said.
The sums being raised this early are unprecedented in a race for governor in Maryland.
During the 1994 gubernatorial election, no candidate had raised as much at this point in the race. Even by the end of 1992 -- two years into the four-year cycle -- the four leading Democrats who were weighing a gubernatorial bid had banked a total of only $1.3 million.
Ruppersberger said heavy fund-raising has become a necessity in Maryland politics.
"In order to run statewide, you must have the money for TV," the county executive said. He noted that unlike Townsend, he has little name recognition in the Washington suburbs and Southern Maryland.
He said he is undaunted by Townsend's fund-raising prowess. "The issue's not raising the most money. It's raising the money that you need," Ruppersberger said.
Townsend treasurer Jeffrey Liss said it is no surprise that all three campaigns are raising impressive sums.
"It's unusual that you see such popular leaders, but these people are perceived as doing a good job at what they do, and so I think their supporters are eager to get in early," Liss said.
Lee Friedman, a Duncan political aide, said he was not concerned that the campaign had less than half as much money in the bank as Townsend or Ruppersberger.
"We are keeping up with them in the fund-raising department," Friedman said.
Duncan's report showed that big-money donors are continuing their prominent role in Maryland politics.
Of Duncan's 493 givers, 110 contributed $1,000 or more. Among the biggest givers were four members of the Magruder grocery chain family who each contributed $4,000 -- a total of $16,000.
Duncan also received $12,000 from entities controlled by the Rickman family, which owns the Delaware Park racetrack and is seeking to build another in Western Maryland.
The report also showed that Duncan is picking up support from two of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's challengers for the Democratic nomination in 1998. Businessman Raymond F. Schoenke gave $1,000, while former Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's political committee gave $500.
Ruppersberger received several $4,000 contributions from people affiliated with MBNA Corp., the Wilmington-based credit card company.
Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.
Three potential candidates for governor in 2002 have already raised substantial sums. Figures show the total each had raised as of Nov. 16 and how much each had left to spend.
................................................Total raised .........................Cash on hand
Douglas M. Duncan ...................$524,788 ................................$444,332
C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger ...$1,184,913* .............................$1,047,984
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend ..$908,594** ................................$863,744
NOTES: * Ruppersberger carried forward $529,624 from his re-election campaign last year. ** Townsend's total does not include contributions received Wednesday at a major fund-raiser.
SOURCE: Candidates' reports to be filed today with the state election board