Picking No. 2 Becomes No. 1 Priority

By: - March 3, 2006 12:00 am

Last December, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley (D) traveled to southern Maryland to make a major political announcement: he had chosen a running mate for his gubernatorial bid.

O’Malley’s announcement came nine months before his party’s primary, and 11 months before the general election.

Among the 36 states electing governors this year, candidates in Colorado and Minnesota also have picked running mates unusually early in the election season in order to broaden their appeal and boost their fund raising. Gubernatorial hopefuls in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York also have paired up, even though candidates for lieutenant governor are chosen separately in those states’ primaries. (Hawaii, New Mexico and Wisconsin also select candidates for lieutenant governor independently in primary elections.)

In Maryland, where O’Malley hopes to challenge Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich (R) , the mayor’s early choice gives him a partner to raise money and exposure, said political scientist Thomas F. Schaller from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

It also makes O’Malley the only candidate with a running mate because Ehrlich’s lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, is running for an open seat in the U.S. Senate. O’Malley has tapped Del. Anthony Brown (D) from Prince George’s County, the state’s second most populous jurisdiction and home to a large number of African-American voters who will be crucial in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.

O’Malley is running against Montgomery County, Md., Executive Doug Duncan.

O’Malley also has time to build party unity for his choice and heal the bruised egos of any politicians who might have hoped to join the ticket, avoiding perceived mistakes in the 2002 election, Schaller said.

Four years ago Maryland’s Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) waited until late June to announce that retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, a white former Republican, would be her running mate.

In Colorado, where Gov. Bill Owens (R) is term-limited, two gubernatorial candidates enlisted ticket partners before some undecided politicians chose whether or not to run. Democrat Bill Ritter named a running mate on Jan. 18; two-and-a-half weeks later Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) ended months of speculation and announced he would not run for governor. State Rep. Alice Madden (D) decided on Feb. 15 that she would not challenge Ritter either. Since then, state Rep. Gary Lindstrom, the other prospective Democratic candidate, also has ended his campaign.

Picking a ticket mate is just another sign that gubernatorial campaigns are getting longer and more competitive, said Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer. “It’s a big state and a long campaign. [Having a running mate] allows you to double your campaign power,” he said.

At the end of January, Colorado Republican Marc Holtzman, a political newcomer, chose former state House Speaker Lola Spradley to join his gubernatorial ticket. Holtzman faces U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez in the August primary election.

Another example is maverick Minnesota Democrat Kelly Doran, who added a party-switching state legislator to his ticket in his bid to beat Mike Hatch in the DFL’s September primary. Doran’s running mate is state Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, who has quit both the Republican and Independence parties during her 13-year legislative career.

But picking a lieutenant governor candidate so early has its risks, as Democrat Thomas Reilly of Massachusetts found out. The state’s attorney general was an early favorite to replace Gov. Mitt Romney (R) , who is stepping down after a single term, presumably to run for his party’s presidential nomination in 2008.

In late January, Reilly chose state Rep. Marie St. Fleur as his running mate — even though St. Fleur would have to win a September primary to join Reilly’s ticket in the general election.

But St. Fleur dropped out of the race after The Boston Globe revealed that she had $12,000 in unpaid federal taxes, owed another $40,000 in delinquent student loans and had lost her first home in a foreclosure.

In New York, where candidates for lieutenant governors also are chosen separately in the primaries, a strong gubernatorial candidate can clear the field for his hand-picked running mate, said Blake Zeff, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party.

But it doesn’t always work out. In 1982, then-candidate Mario Cuomo bested New York Mayor Ed Koch in the Democratic primary. But Koch’s running mate, Alfred DelBello, beat Cuomo’s No. 2. DelBello quit Cuomo’s administration two years after the pair took office.

This year, New York Senate Minority Leader David Paterson (D) joined the gubernatorial campaign of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D) after five other candidates had announced they were running for lieutenant governor. Since then front-runner Leecia Eve, a former counsel to U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D), has dropped out of the race for lieutenant governor after 10 months of campaigning.

Two pairs of Republican candidates have teamed up in Illinois, where Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) is running for a second term. Businessman Ron Gidwitz has tapped state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger to join his gubernatorial campaign. And state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka has enlisted DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett as a lieutenant governor candidate. Illinois holds its party primaries on March 21.

Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run as a team in 24 states in the general election, while 18 states elect lieutenant governors separately. Eight states do not currently have a lieutenant governor: Secretaries of state are next in line of succession after the governor in Arizona, Oregon and Wyoming, and presiding officers of the state senate are next in line in Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee and West Virginia.

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