Clinton rallies Democrats in Adelphi

The Baltimore Sun

ADELPHI -- Moments after New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton took the podium at a Maryland Democratic Party fundraiser last night, she made a very clear political promise about the state's future - before being interrupted with a question about her own.

"You're going to have a new governor and lieutenant governor," she said to a crowd of about 250 attending the event in Adelphi. "You're going to have a new senator."

Then a woman yelled from the audience: "We're going to have a new president, too."

Clinton, who is pondering a run for president in 2008 but seeking re-election this fall, would only tease about her prospects.

"Now we have a really important election this November," she said. "We've got to remain focused on that."

Though widely viewed as a polarizing figure, Clinton raises easy cash from the party faithful, and the state party was a willing recipient last night with her appearance at the Inn & Conference Center, University of Maryland University College - with tickets priced at $75 to $5,000.

Officials said the former first lady brought in up to $100,000 for a party looking to win back the governor's office and keep a Democrat in the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes. Just 43 days before the Nov. 7 election, they welcomed her enthusiastically to Maryland.

"Some people say she's controversial - they're going to see in New York state an overwhelming bipartisan vote for Hillary Clinton," said Maryland's Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House minority whip.

The Maryland Republican Party issued a statement yesterday calling Clinton one of the nation's "most partisan, divisive politicians," and noted her appearance as evidence of the state Democrats' "far-left agenda."

Still, a Who's Who of state Democrats mingled over cheese and crackers and crudites in a small ballroom to fete Clinton. The Democratic nominees for top state offices lined the dais, including Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and his gubernatorial running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown, and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the party's Senate nominee.

Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening circulated with a glass of red wine. The party's choice for Montgomery County executive, Isiah Leggett, greeted supporters, as did John P. Sarbanes, nominee for the 3rd District congressional seat that Cardin is vacating.

Democrats' picks for attorney general and comptroller - Douglas F. Gansler and Peter Franchot - also turned out, as did the elder Sarbanes and Maryland's other senator, Barbara A. Mikulski.

Mikulski implored voters to send "a Democratic partner that I can work with" to the Senate.

Senator Sarbanes said of Cardin: "Ben has the independence and the toughness and the core values to fight the president when it's necessary on behalf of the people."

Clinton and Cardin, as has become custom, thanked Cardin's Democratic primary opponent, Kweisi Mfume, who did not attend. And an unusually feisty Cardin, his voice hoarse, promised that the state would "lead the nation in taking back the Congress of the United States."

"Hillary, thank you for coming to Maryland to help us," said Cardin, who is running against Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. "We thank you, and we're honored."

All in all, the fundraiser was a party rally of the most predictable fashion. The candidates all said they like each other and that they believe they would lead more effectively and more compassionately - on the environment, stem cell research and national security, among other issues - than their Republican counterparts.

"We're not taking care of the business at hand in America," Clinton said.

She left without taking questions from reporters - but not before working a rope line, posing for pictures and waving goodbye.

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