ANNAPOLIS Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and GOP rival Richard D. Bennett may hold the key to the governor’s mansion, political analysts say.
The candidates for the often-slighted office of lieutenant governor could give their running mates the winning edge if the gubernatorial race is as close as it was in 1994, when less than 6,000 votes separated the candidates, analysts say.
“Ninety-eight percent of this is between [Parris] Glendening and [Ellen] Sauerbrey,” said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research. “But having an attractive candidate on your ticket does help.”
“A good lieutenant governor can give you a little bounce,” said Herbert C. Smith, a political scientist at Western Maryland College. “It’s a marginal difference – one or two points either way. … [But] this could be the difference between winning and losing.”
By giving the popular Townsend a prominent role in his campaign, analysts say, Glendening is rallying Democrats and independents who might not otherwise support him. “They’re using her to try to appeal to women,” said Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc.
Glendening and Townsend have often campaigned together, her name appears in large print on his signs, and she appears in some of his campaign commercials. She is an enormous asset “in terms of her performance and her national network and her symbolic value as the first female lieutenant governor,” Smith said.
Likewise, Sauerbrey, the GOP nominee, is courting the state’s swing vote and centrist Republicans with the moderate Bennett, analysts and officials from both parties say.
“Obviously he casts a different shadow” than Sauerbrey, said Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. “He’s there to give the ticket some balance.”
“He takes some of the rough edges off the Sauerbrey image,” said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George’s County Democrat, who described Sauerbrey as a “hard- line, radical, right-wing Republican with a very pleasant disposition.”
There’s just one problem: Only 43 percent of the 1,204 voters polled this month by Potomac Survey Research recognized Bennett’s name. By contrast, 88 percent of those polled recognized Townsend’s name.
Bennett, a 51-year-old Baltimore lawyer, is a former chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Party and was the U.S. attorney for Maryland from 1991-93.
He lost a 1982 race for state Senate and a 1994 bid for Maryland attorney general. In 1997, he became the chief counsel for the congressional committee investigating possible campaign finance abuses by President Clinton.
“He’s run before, but he hasn’t been in the limelight like Townsend has,” Haller said.
Supporters say Bennett is one of the Maryland’s best unknown Republicans, an easy-going guy who can smooth over differences in the GOP and could help ease Sauerbrey’s agenda through a Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
“You can’t govern in a vacuum,” said Michael Steele, who lost the Republican primary for comptroller. “You have to be able to govern across ideologies. And you have to start with your own party. If you can’t do it within your party, you can’t do it across party lines.”
But key Democrats say Bennett will have little clout with lawmakers. “He doesn’t know Annapolis and he doesn’t know the elected officials,” Miller said.
“It really doesn’t matter who the messenger is,” said state House Majority Leader John A. Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat. “What matters is the substance of the agenda.”
Lieutenant governors have often been a footnote of Maryland politics. They have no official duties – the state Constitution puts them at the governor’s disposal – and have often been relegated to inane tasks.
But Glendening has let Townsend use the office as a bully pulpit for public safety issues and lauded her anti-crime efforts during Friday night’s televised gubernatorial debate.
Townsend, an assistant Maryland attorney general from 1985- 86, has promoted “smart” guns, which would fire only in the hands of their owners. She credits her “HotSpots” program, which targets the state’s high-crime areas for community policing, with helping reduce reports of violent crimes by 9 percent last year.
Bennett says he’ll do even more if Sauerbrey is elected, promoting statewide crime initiatives and a juvenile court system overseen by Maryland’s district court judges.
Like Bennett, Townsend was largely unknown when she was nominated for lieutenant governor four years ago.
The eldest child of Robert F. Kennedy, the 47-year-old Baltimore resident had made only one other bid for public office, unsuccessfully challenging Republican Helen Delich Bentley for the 2nd District congressional seat in 1986. In 1993, President Clinton made her a deputy assistant U.S. attorney in charge of $1 billion in community policing grants.
Some Republicans still say Glendening chose a Kennedy over quality. “We have many outstanding women here, but Glendening chose her for the name and the money,” said Joyce Lyons Terhes, who chairs the Maryland Republican Party.
But Townsend says the voters see her as more than a gimmick. “I think people respect what I’ve done as far as the anti- crime efforts and engaging citizens in the decisions that affect their lives,” she said. -30-