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C. Fraser Smith: The man from Harford County

Harford County’s Republican executive, David R. Craig, is thinking about a race for governor in 2014.

Quick, somebody! Tell him he can’t win!

He needs to hear it, but not because he needs to be warned away from a quixotic tilt at Maryland’s deep-blue electoral windmill.

Not at all.

He needs the warning to keep his record intact.

“Every time I’ve run for political office, I’ve been told I’d lose. Every time,” he says.

He’s won every time.

So please, someone, tell him to stay out. He thinks the warning might keep his winning record intact.

He’s had to chuckle recently when he heard that a ranking state official warned other Democrats that there was a guy up in Harford (Craig) who was going to actually win the governor’s office. Not the negative response he’s grown fond of, but something of a tribute nonetheless.

The Democrat was no doubt needling his team — urging it not to take anything for granted — but Craig has built a solid core of backers in both parties. He’s served at every level of government in Maryland: Havre de Grace council; mayor of Havre de Grace, House of Delegates and state Senate. He’s in his second term as county executive. He wasn‘t supposed to win any of these seats.

Not yet running

He’s not running yet, he says. He’s got too much to do in his final two years in Bel Air, the Harford County seat. His recently announced two-year plan includes establishing a water and sewer authority, capital improvements at Harford Community College, improved athletic fields at county high schools and improving the county’s information technology system.

“I’m pleased with the accomplishments we’ve made, but there’s much more to accomplish,” he said.

He’s limited to two terms as county executive, so in a sense it’s up or out — he’s done just about everything else, and he’s not interested in a do-over. He’s moved to consider a run for governor by his successes, by his competitive spirit and by his commitment to public service.

A teacher early in his career, he’s a student of Maryland history. Roger B. Taney, the Marylander who was chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is among his interests. So are the state’s seven Republican governors.

When people ask why he’s even thinking about running in such a Democratic state, he first says: “You can’t win if you don’t run.”

Then he says: “I think the people of Maryland want a choice. They want to know a candidate’s values — your message and what you believe in.”

He says the power of the Tea Party is fading, though the party’s less-doctrinaire elements still have influence — and they have often derailed moderates in the past.

Another Mathias?

He thinks of himself as a Charles McC. Mathias, the late Republican senator who was one of the last moderate-to-liberal U.S. senators from any state. Craig says he’s tried to do in his career what Mathias did: work hard, reach out to various groups and compromise.

His party has not always been eager to embrace compromisers, suggesting instead that working with the other party diminishes the GOP’s ability to grow. It has been costly, though, Craig says, reducing the GOP’s ability to become a factor in state politics and government.

He’s ready for the criticism, he says.

“My mother-in-law tells me: ‘They crucified Christ, they shot Lincoln. Can they do any worse with you?’”

He’s not likely to bruise easily.

In a high school football game, his arm was broken. He came back to the huddle, ready for the next play. The quarterback stopped the game while coaches got him out of it.

What else does he remember about that incident?

“They took me to the hospital in a Corvette.”

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is