Smith, Gansler well-off

The Baltimore Sun

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. are starting the year flush with seven-figure campaign coffers, while Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's roughly $2 million political bank account dwarfs that of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, who has just $152,000.

Annual campaign finance reports, due by midnight yesterday to the state Board of Elections, provide some insight into the political standing of the state's most prolific Democratic fundraisers, while raising questions about the statewide ambitions of Maryland's best-known Republicans.

With more than $1.25 million in his campaign account, Gansler is in strong shape for his planned re-election effort in 2010 - and could have a head start if he decides to run for governor in 2014.

Gansler said yesterday that he was not planning to run for governor in 2014, but he did not rule it out. He said his track record of having consistently "shattered" fundraising records was noteworthy because his office does not have a "natural constituency" of donors.

Smith, who cannot run again for county executive in 2010 because of term limits, has raised about $634,000 since January 2008 and has about $957,000 in his political treasury - suggesting that he could be a force in picking his successor, or in a run for statewide office. He has been mentioned widely as a possible challenger to Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Smith, a Democrat, dismissed speculation that he might run against Franchot as mere "rumors," but he allowed that "I certainly want to be prepared to consider my future."

Franchot's filing was not available last night, but a campaign spokesman said he has about $283,500 on hand, though he spent much of the year focused on raising money for the anti-slots campaign.

Campaign filings by Republican former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele show that the first African-American elected to statewide office in Maryland transferred more than $110,000 in campaign funds to more than 40 Republican senators and delegates last month. That Christmas gift may indicate that Steele - who lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2006 - is focused on seeking the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, which elects its leader at the end of the month, rather than running for office in Maryland again.

A spokesman for Ehrlich did not return a call yesterday.

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