The Townsend team

THE BALTIMORE SUN

GUBERNATORIAL candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend scored an impressive coup yesterday when she announced that Adm. Charles R. Larson will be her running mate. Well-known in political and higher education circles -- though a surprise choice for the Townsend ticket -- Admiral Larson brings uncommon stature, experience and credibility to her campaign.

In the enduring atmosphere of Sept. 11, his military background would lend a newly important dimension of reassuring leadership that could be more than comforting in an uncertain world. Though he has not been a political player in the Maryland Democratic Party -- an advantage in the eyes of some -- he has compiled a distinguished record of public service in the years since he retired from the Navy.

Brought back to Annapolis in 1994 to get the U.S. Naval Academy on an even keel, Admiral Larson went on to head a task force that recommended the overhaul of Maryland's higher education system. He has served recently as a member of the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents. Though education has been a priority of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, it has not been a major aspect of Mrs. Townsend's portfolio.

If there is a down side to his candidacy, it could be the absence of legislative or governmental experience. But the military always works closely with government, and Admiral Larson's resume includes a tour as the first White House Fellow from the Navy. He then served from 1969 until 1971 as President Richard M. Nixon's naval aide.

His selection does have an immediate political dimension. A Republican until a month ago, his move to the Democratic standard steals a march on Mrs. Townsend's likely GOP opponent, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. If part of his role will be to carry the fight -- not an unusual assignment for lieutenant governor candidates -- the admiral suggested he would be open to that task.

"I have watched the Republican Party drift farther and farther to the right," he said during the news conference at which he was introduced.

Admiral Larson said his transition to Townsend Democrat was not difficult. In recent years, he said, he has been at odds with his party, backing his friend, Arizona Sen. John McCain's bid for president.

Admiral Larson represented a further thrust at Mr. Ehrlich. The Republican frontrunner had considered offering the lieutenant governor spot to a Democrat, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick -- but she decided to stay on as education chief.

After presumably helping to persuade Mrs. Grasmick to stay the Democratic course, Mrs. Townsend then adroitly made a conversion of her own.

Clear advantage, Townsend.

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