WASHINGTON – Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend stepped back into the national spotlight Thursday when she spoke at the National Press Club on ways state government can increase effectiveness.
It was only the second time in press club history that a lieutenant governor has spoken at one of the group’s luncheons, said NPC officials. For Townsend, it was also the latest in a string of public appearances that experts say are meant to position her for the 2002 governor’s race.
“She’s clearly been raising her profile,” said Brad Coker of Mason- Dixon Polling & Research. But, he emphasized: “This isn’t out of the ordinary for her.”
Townsend has recently made higher-profile appearances, including visits to “Larry King Live” and a speech at this year’s Democratic National Convention, Coker said.
Carol Arscott of Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications Inc. agreed that Townsend has been keeping an unusually high profile for a lieutenant governor.
“I doubt there are many lieutenant governors asked to address the National Press Club,” Arscott said.
A researcher at the NPC library said that, based on available files, the lieutenant governor to speak at an NPC luncheon was Georgia Lt. Gov. Lester Maddox, who spoke in 1971.
In contrast, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening has yet to appear as a luncheon speaker at the press club, said the NPC’s Melinda Cooke.
Recent polls make Townsend the definitive Democratic front-runner for the 2002 gubernatorial race. In an August poll by Gonzales/Arscott, 49 percent of registered Maryland voters polled favored Townsend, compared to 12 percent for the closest likely Democratic contender, Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan.
But the same poll showed that 21 percent are undecided on the 2002 governor’s race. Although Townsend has a commanding lead now, Arscott noted that the election is still a long two years off.
And Towsend has at least one historical impediment to overcome: Only two lieutenant governors have ever tried to succeed their bosses in Maryland, and both lost, said Arscott.
But a political scientist at Towson University thinks Townsend may be looking beyond the governor’s mansion.
“National figures speak at the National Press Club,” said Griff Hathaway, noting that Thursday’s appearance would do little to boost Townsend’s profile at home. “It’s an attempt to heighten one’s visibility.”
Hathaway contends Townsend is continuing her introduction to the country, which began with this summer’s Democratic National Convention. He said she could be angling for a presidential or vice-presidential nomination in the future.
“If it doesn’t confirm the speculation, it implies that the speculation isn’t wrong,” Hathaway said about Townsend’s visit to NPC.
But when asked after her speech Thursday to address her political plans — including one question about who she might choose as her vice president — Townsend was coy.
“I enjoy serving the citizens of Maryland and I intend to be in politics a long time,” she said.