District 7: County Exec Jim Smith decides against Senate run
Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said this morning that he will not run for state Senate.
His decision, which he called "difficult" and said he reached this week, came as a surprise to many -- including, apparently, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller -- in part because Smith had been vocal for close to a year about wanting the seat. Last fall, Smith even put his longtime family home on the market and moved to Cockeysville, which is in District 7.
The Democrat said he will devote the time he would have spent campaigning for Senate to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who likely will face off with Republican rival former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. this fall. Smith must he leave his post in December because of term limits.
"I had been seriously considering a run for elected office, but this will allow me greater opportunity to support Governor O'Malley in his reelection bid," Smith said in a telephone interview. "His reelection is important for Baltimore County and for the state, and this gives me the chance to speak throughout the county on his behalf."
Smith said he informed the governor yesterday and Miller a day earlier about his change of plans. He also called House Speaker Michael E. Busch today, he said.
"The governor certainly understood, and so did the speaker," Smith said. "The president wanted me in the Senate. He was a harder sell on my decision. I'm not sure he fully appreciates it yet, but he will."
Smith, who has been county executive for eight years and was a Circuit Court judge, said he'd become interested in the Senate job because, "I thought I could work with others down there on fiscal management and the economy because of my experience in Baltimore County."
He acknowledged he would have been "a back-bencher" -- but one with considerably more pull than the average freshman legislator.
In addition to campaigning for O'Malley and running the county, Smith said he might pitch in on the county council races. Turnover means that the council will include at least four new members, he said. Smith said he has no plans to become involved in the county executive race, which includes two Democratic council members.
District 7 is the most conservative area of Baltimore County; the senator and all three delegates are Republicans. Smith was widely seen, particularly by Miller, as having the best shot at flipping the Senate seat.
The district's senator, Dr. Andrew P. Harris, is running for Congress, leaving that seat open. Del. J.B. Jennings and former state insurance commissioner Al Redmer will square off in the Republican primary. Other than Smith, no big-name Democrat had emerged as a contender.
Smith said his polling showed he could win, but he said the area's makeup could have put him in a predicament:
"Me talking about O'Malley in glowing terms gives me platform to help him, but it gives me greater challenges, too, in winning that seat," Smith said.
A Rasmussen poll out yesterday showed O'Malley in a dead heat with Ehrlich.
Smith repeatedly touted O'Malley's accomplishments as governor, saying he "has set priorities that I agree with" and reduced spending to help the state through the recession.
What else is next for Smith? He said he would be happy to serve on a state commission examining government employee benefits and pensions. And he'll keep his apartment in Cockeysville. (He said he now has a contract on the six-bedroom house he'd put on the market last fall.)
"I will have plenty to do," he said.