WASHINGTON -- Louis Goldstein, Maryland's 81-year-old Democratic comptroller who has held the post since 1958, is expected to win reelection this fall despite a shifting political order in the traditionally Democratic state.

Goldstein, who has one Democratic and two Republican opponents, is the longest serving statewide elected official in Maryland's history. A hallmark of his tenure has been to maintain the triple-A bond rating enjoyed by the state since the 1940s. Goldstein, along with the state's treasurer, is in charge of Maryland bond sales.

"We don't think there's anybody out there anymore who is comparable; we think everybody's either dead or retired," said Marvin Bond, chief spokesman for Goldstein, in his contacts with organizations like the Federation of Tax Administrators, the National Association of State Budget Officers, the National Governors' Association, the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers.

Polls by Mason Dixon Campaign Polling & Strategy Inc., a nonpartisan polling firm with media clients in 50 states, show Goldstein will have no trouble winning the Democratic primary on Sept. 13 and the November general election by luxurious margins.

"Louis is going to be re-elected," said Del Ali, vice president for Mason Dixon. "If he's not defeated in the primary, which he won't be, he sure as heck ain't gonna lose in the general."

Mason Dixon's July 15-17 poll of 839 likely voters in the general election showed 50% favoring Goldstein, 14% supporting Republican attorney Richard Taylor, and 36% undecided. A poll of 422 Democratic primary voters showed 61% for Goldstein, 9% for attorney James Moorhead, and 30% undecided. A poll of 239 Republican primary voters showed 19% favoring Taylor, 7% supporting banking executive Tim Mayberry, and 74% undecided.

A key sign of vulnerability would be if an "unknown" like Moorhead pulls the incumbent below 50% in the primary, Ali said. "Louis is in pretty good shape ...Louis is an institution."

However, one Maryland political source said that this could be a "classic surge race" that is decided in the final days of the campaign. The state is undergoing a political shift because of numerous retirements and redistricting, and more Republicans and minorities are expected to win office at the state and local levels, the observer said.

Moorhead, a former principal in Miller, Miller & Canby of Rockville, Md., is expected to significantly step up radio and television campaigning in the final Week or two before the primary.

Taylor, a longtime Maryland political activist and partner with Steptoe & Johnson in Washington D.C., said he was asked by Republican party members to run in a year when the party has "a strong team ... It looks like-a very good year."

Mayberry, who has extensive federal and Maryland banking experience, most recently advised the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. under special contract.

Each candidate says he brings extensive financial experience to the job and that it is time for Goldstein to retire. "I don't intend to make this a May-December race," Mayberry, 38, said in a statement. But he said Goldstein will be 85 by the end of another tenn, "and that is more service than should be asked of anyone in the state."

The biggest factors in Goldstein's decision to seek another term are his good health and the continuing perception that he is making "a tremendous contribution," Goldstein's spokesman Bond said. "In addition, he has begun a major reorganization of the comptroller's office along functional lines, and a major re-engineering of our computer system, which is about halfway complete."

The need for change is a bigger campaign issue than state finances. Eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse "is the only ... even tangential financial issue that has been brought up as far as state finances are concerned," Bond said. "Maryland remains only one of five states to come out of the recession with a triple-A from all three major [rating] agencies," he said.

But Democrat Moorhead said is he "running to be the taxpayer's watchdog in Annapolis. The state went through a very rough recession and hasn't fully recovered. We need to follow other states and be much more aggressive in cutting waste out of state government," especially as the federal government -- with, a large presence in the state -- continues downsizing.

Bond said Moorhead's stance shows a lack of understanding of the Maryland comptroller's job. "Looking for economies and efficiencies and waste, fraud, and abuse, and that kind of thing ... is not a comptroller's responsibility." Under Maryland law, the legislature has reserved that function for itself through a designated "legislative auditor" who audits state agencies at least every two years, Bond said. "The legislature is not about to give up something like that."

Maryland's comptroller "is a little bit unique," Bond said, noting most state comptrollers are not elected. Goldstein "wears three hats, which is somewhat unusual. He is the revenue commissioner for the state; he collects the taxes, which most comptrollers do not. He is the state's chief accountant and the person responsible, with the state treasurer, for the bond sales ... And he also chairs the board of revenue estimates," which provides estimates to the governor for formulating the budget, Bond said.

But Moorhead said audits of state agencies every two years is not enough and that he wants to work with the legislative auditor to do more intensive performance reviews of every agency. "The danger if you don't cut waste is that you repeat the cycle of higher taxes and cuts in essential services, and ... Maryland is facing a $1.2 billion budget deficit over the next four years, and that's a very serious matter," he said. "In that kind of environment, you have to be very aggressive in doing more with less."

Bond said that the $1.2 billion deficit forecast was made by analysts working for the legislature and simply represents "a trend line" for the governor to take into account in balancing the budget.

Taylor said that revenue estimates have not been accurate and need to be improved. But Bond said Goldstein began revising the estimates more frequently when the recession hit, a move wrongly perceived as indicating inaccuracy.

Taylor said he wants to make the comptroller's office more activist in fiscal matters. "The comptroller doesn't have any authority to actually make the budget or to make changes in the tax laws, but he certainly has the ability to influence change," he said.

Taylor said he intends "to be active in proposing budget changes, in proposing changes in the tax structure to make the state more pro-business ... I'm going to do everything I can to maintain the state's very high bond rating and to make sure that the whole fiscal picture of the state is improved, which should help our situation in the bond market."

The main issue on which Mayberry said he is running "is just the overall confusion [in the comptroller's office] that has become apparent to me in talking to people across the state ... A lot of people don't realize the authority that the comptroller does have with fiscal matters, how much input is put into budgets and taxes and proper money management."

Mayberry said his background "is primarily going into troubled banks and fixing the problem." The comptroller's office has "developed a little bit of stagnation, if you will," and has had trouble making timely payments to contractors and others, he said, attributing much of the problem to the new computer system.

"It was a wonderful administration" under Goldstein "when the state of Maryland had an expanding revenue base due to expanding federal employees, but now post-recession... that expanding base has been curtailed and it takes someone now who knows how to go and fix problem situations," Mayberry said.

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