Maryland Democrats pledge unity to elect Obama, retire Clinton debt

Len Lazarick

Maryland Democrats are seeking to unify the party after a bruising primary, and Comptroller Peter Franchot is ready to put his money where his mouth is.

"I?m going to write a thousand-dollar check to the Clinton campaign, and I want every Obama supporter to do it" too, Franchot told a crowd of about 250 Democrats from the Baltimore region who gathered at Benjamin Banneker Park in Catonsville Saturday afternoon. Franchot was an early supporter of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the nomination, but as part of the effort to heal the primary wounds, Obama has committed to help New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton pay off the more than $12 million in debt from her campaign.

Missing from the event were two early and prominent Clinton supporters ? Gov. Martin O?Malley and Sen. Barbara Mikulski ? but party leaders noted that both have participated in unity-building meetings and will be among the hosts of a July 30 Victory ?08 Unity fundraiser in Baltimore.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell also are scheduled to headline the unity fundraiser. Kaine and Fenty supported Obama, and Rendell backed Clinton.

Obama handily won Maryland with 60 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary and the state is generally considered safe for him, having voted Republican only three times in the past 12 presidential elections.

Sen. Ben Cardin said party resources are likely to be funneled to Pennsylvania and Virginia, which are considered crucial to a national victory for Obama. Cardin did predict that "Maryland is going to send the largest margin" of any state for the Democratic victory.

Democratic Party Chair Michael Cryor said Democratic registration was up by 100,000 voters this year, and he has committed to making that 135,000. The party will be focusing on taking the two remaining Republican congressional seats in the 1st and 6th districts.

There were some Clinton supporters at the picnic, such as Howard County Del. Shane Pendergrass and Baltimore County Del. Adrienne Jones, speaker pro-tem of the House. "When all is said and done, Democrats will put aside their differences," Jones said. Clinton "is working closely" with Obama to assure a Democratic win, Jones said.

Party Executive Director Quincey Gamble said "not once" has a Clinton supporter turned a request for help since the primaries ended, although "there was a bit of a lag" until Clinton and Obama appeared together jointly in Unity, N.H.

A number of Maryland superdelegates, such as Cardin and Rep. John Sarbanes, had not endorsed either candidate during the primaries. Cardin congratulated Clinton for "a great campaign," but said "we need Barack Obama as our leader and president."

Sarbanes said the campaign came down to "two terrific candidates" and there were times he wanted them to share the presidency, with Obama taking the beginning of the week and Clinton the end of the week.

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