ANNAPOLIS – It’s not just Republicans buzzing about U.S. Rep. Connie Morella’s possible run for governor: Some Democrats sound pretty positive.
Blair Lee, a Montgomery County Democratic insider, thinks the eight-term Bethesda Republican would be an excellent candidate and the GOP’s best shot.
“Connie is the Maryland Democratic Party’s worst nightmare,” Lee said. “She basically runs as a Democrat in Maryland.”
Morella has broader experience than the likely Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Lee said. Morella served eight years in the Maryland House of Delegates and was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986.
Townsend has served six years as lieutenant governor, her only elected position in the state.
Morella has proven to be an effective debater and campaigner in some tough races, Lee said, a fact that could also hurt Townsend.
The lieutenant governor would not comment on rumor and speculation, said a spokesman.
Other Democrats are considering running for governor, including Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan and Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
There also may be an aversion in Maryland to what Lee calls Townsend’s celebrity status as the eldest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy – an “anything but Kennedy attitude.”
Allan Lichtman, an American University history professor, disagrees, saying Morella would have a hard time attracting necessary Democratic and independent votes in the rest of the state. There’s no guarantee Morella would even win in her home district in Montgomery County, Lichtman said.
Montgomery is a must-win for Democrats, and a strong showing there is key to any statewide Republican victory. Republicans hope Morella’s strength in Montgomery, the state’s most populous county, could swing the election her way.
While Morella’s victories in Montgomery usually topped 60 percent, the 2000 election was a scare. She managed just 52 percent against Terry Lierman, running for Congress for the first time and weakened by allegations of an improper loan to another congressman. In 1994, Gov. Parris N. Glendening defeated Ellen Sauerbrey by less than 6,000 votes – winning in only Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore.
Still Morella’s strong showings in Montgomery make her tough competition for the other Republican long mentioned as a likely gubernatorial contender: U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich Jr., R-Timonium.
Ehrlich would have to make a case for himself there, said Sen. Jean Roesser, R-Montgomery, while Morella is a proven winner.
Sen. P.J. Hogan, D-Montgomery, chairman of Morella’s 2000 campaign, also said Morella had a good chance in the governor’s race. “She’d probably be very attractive statewide, she’s a good, moderate representative.” Hogan changed his party affiliation this year. Morella is popular among the large media outlets, which are likely to give Morella equal time with Townsend – something Ehrlich is less likely to get, Lee said. Ehrlich openly admits an interest in the position, though he will wait until late spring or early summer to make his plans clear. Maryland Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, indicated earlier this week, he would like an announcement from Ehrlich by the time the session ends in early April. One of Steele’s goals is to have a single, strong front-runner early on to build name recognition, and avoid the possibility of a primary.
But Steele modified that statement Thursday, saying he hopes a candidate emerges in the next 60 days – a timetable closer to Ehrlich’s.
Steele said he still believes Ehrlich is the “go-to-guy,” but said he was glad there may be other strong candidates.
Ehrlich’s response to a possible Morella candidacy has been muted. He and the other three Maryland Republicans in the House will resolve the issue of a gubernatorial candidate “amicably and to everyone’s satisfaction,” without the pressure of a deadline his spokesman said.
Morella has not confirmed any future intentions – and may not anytime soon. But she has not denied a run for the governor’s seat is a possibility, and her vagueness is fueling speculation. Democratic hopefuls are starting to line up for the next shot at Morella’s seat, including Delegate Mark Shriver, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Montgomery. Shriver, a cousin to the lieutenant governor, said he would make his decision regardless of Morella’s plans. In addition, Glendening and the Democrats in the General Assembly will soon redraw the boundaries of state and congressional districts, making it more difficult for many Republicans. Morella’s 8th District could be shifted to include parts of the heavily Democratic 4th District, both Democrats and Republicans say, making it harder for her to win there. Morella makes her decisions on principle, not on partisan politics, said Delegate Jean Cryor, R-Montgomery, who spoke to her Monday about running for governor. “It won’t be a calculated, insider thing.” – 30 – CNS-3-9-01