O'Malley Plays as Maryland Guesses

By Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 5, 2002; Page C03

Martin O'Malley will be in a sleeveless black T-shirt tonight, swigging pints of Guinness stout and fronting his Irish band at a Bethesda pub.

But publicity for the gig doesn't focus on his music or the band's latest CD. It poses a question about the future of O'Malley's day job: "Will he make a big announcement?"

Everyone in Maryland's political world is asking the same question: Will O'Malley, in his first term as mayor of Baltimore, jump into the Democratic primary for governor and upset the
carefully laid plans of the frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend?

No one is expecting an answer tonight, but throughout state political circles, a guessing game is being played.

"It's the big question mark -- will he or won't he?" said GOP pollster Carol Arscott. "There are people all over the state hoping he'll get in the race for the entertainment factor if nothing
else. The primary would be just so damned entertaining."

Young, brash and, thanks to his band O'Malley's March, an actual rock star, O'Malley is a startlingly good campaigner. He is charismatic and handsome, and more than one analyst has
declared he can "out-Kennedy a Kennedy" if he decides to challenge Townsend, the eldest child of Robert F. Kennedy.

Townsend, who will formally declare for governor this afternoon in Annapolis, has carefully nurtured her support among party leaders in an effort to run unopposed. O'Malley's entrance
into the race would be a bold move, changing the dynamics of state politics in an election year.

Since the beginning of the year, O'Malley, 39, has been teasing Democrats about whether he'll enter the race. He has accused Townsend of not showing leadership during the last General
Assembly session. He also decried legislative leaders who instead pushed through a final phase-in of an income tax cut, saying the money should have been used for state services, a
move that appeared designed to appeal to liberal Democrats who tilt primary elections.

O'Malley has been conducting fundraisers for himself -- not only in Baltimore but also on the Eastern Shore and in Washington -- though he doesn't face reelection for two more years.
And he has been appearing on behalf of Democratic candidates throughout the state, including Del. Sue Hecht of Frederick County, who is running for the state Senate.

In an interview, O'Malley said he would be listening closely to Townsend's speech this afternoon. "I'm anxious to hear what she stands for," he said.

Taking on Townsend would mean taking on the establishment, running against a nationally famous name and starting late in a campaign that Townsend has spent years preparing for.
Still, many believe O'Malley is just impetuous enough to do it.

In the meantime, his indecision leaves U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the GOP gubernatorial candidate, unsure whom his opponent will be in November. It also leaves some potential
contributors unsure whom to back. Ehrlich said he believes he is the second pick of some Baltimore business leaders and that O'Malley is their first choice for governor.

Townsend campaign spokeswoman Kate Philips said, "We are looking forward to working with Mayor O'Malley to make Baltimore the best city it can be." Asked if that would also be
true if he became an opponent in the primary, she said, "That is a decision the mayor has yet to make."

For his part, O'Malley says only that he'll decide "sometime between now and July 1," the filing deadline for this year's election.

Townsend, who has been fundraising for her race for three years, has an enormous head start with nearly three times as much money as either O'Malley or Ehrlich.

Polls show she starts with virtually complete name recognition throughout Maryland. The most recent survey for news organizations was a Mason-Dixon poll in late March that showed
Townsend leading O'Malley 48 percent to 34 percent among Democrats. The poll of 625 people found Townsend leading Ehrlich 49 percent to 36 percent among all registered voters

O'Malley has a long way to go to raise his profile, especially in the voter-rich Washington suburbs. And though he raised $1 million in a single night last month, O'Malley will need lots of
cash for television in the expensive Washington market.

Similar gulfs in fundraising ability and name recognition deterred Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger from
challenging Townsend.

But whoever is mayor of Baltimore has a platform that attracts media attention and political speculation that could resonate in the Washington suburbs.

"I think O'Malley would be a very formidable candidate. If he wanted to do this, he could have quite an appeal locally," said Montgomery County Council member Blair G. Ewing (D-At
Large). "People are for Kathleen because she has the money and the endorsements. But he has the opportunity to present himself as a can-do candidate."

                                                 © 2002 The Washington Post Company