July 21, 2010

Analysis: Crabs and candidates get steamed in Crisfield

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By Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com

CRISFIELD, Md, — The weather was hot and humid, the crabs were warm and spicy, and the politicians and their supporters were sweating buckets.

It was a typical annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake, named for the Maryland governor who hailed from this little town on the Lower Eastern Shore. The big name politicos spend most of the time reaching out to voters and posing for photos, rarely touching a crab or clam.

“Once Tawes is over you know the general election is not far away,” said ex-Gov. Bob Ehrlich. Ehrlich was clearly ebullient in an unguarded moment, saying he couldn’t believe how well the campaign was going and how “lousy” was the campaign of the incumbent he hopes to unseat, running “six negative ads in a row.”

That incumbent, Gov. Martin O’Malley, had strolled through the corporate tent area of Tawes at least half an hour before Ehrlich arrived, and was surrounded by young campaign workers with signs that often blocked the view of O’Malley. But as if he was taking a cue from Ehrlich, as the crab feast was going on, the O’Malley campaign released four new TV ads, all of them emphasizing a positive record of job creation, and none of them slamming or even mentioning Ehrlich, as the earlier ads had done.

The crowded, centrally located tent of lobbyist Bruce Bereano was the hopping place to eat, drink and be merry in the company of strange bedfellows: O’Malley cabinet secretaries (at least three of them) and their aides; the chair of the state GOP; senators and delegates of both parties, with a big contingent from Baltimore; bloggers, reporters, other lobbyists and fellow travelers of every stripe. Even O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown stopped by, though O’Malley scooted before the once-banned Bereano could shake his hand.

Bereano may no longer be the top grossing lobbyist, but he certainly seems to have the most fun.

Comptroller Peter Franchot dropped by so Bereano could show off the big Franchot campaign sign he had hanging from the tent.

Don Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee and chair of the handsomely named Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, was hanging outside Bereano’s tent with former Sen. Bobby Neall. Neall said he resigned from the slots commission after taking a trip to Pennsylvania to find out how their lottery commission operated. How much do you make? the Pennsylvanians asked. Oh, we’re not paid, Fry and Neall said. Not so in Pa. The chair gets $175,000 a year and car, and the other commissioners get $150,000. Fry and Neall gaped.

“We felt like a couple of country hicks,” Neall said.

Local races on the Shore drew the biggest groups and most persistent candidates. Democratic Del. Jim Mathias and Republican hotelier Michael James had the most campaign T-shirts on supporters in the Senate race to replace Lowell Stoltzfus, the former GOP leader. Stoltzfus is leaving after he serves out his term.

“I would be highly disappointed if Del. Mathias took the seat when I vacate it. He’s not conservative,” Stoltzfus said.

Julie Brewington is a freshly blossomed candidate for the House seat now held by Del. Carolyn Elmore, the widow of Del. Page Elmore who died last month.

“I’m not a politician but I’m fighting against second and third generation politicians,” said Brewington, who said she was a co-founder of Americans for Prosperity on the Eastern Shore and a tea party organizer. She wants to put the House “back in the hands of the people” and also keep a woman delegate in there.

GOP State Sen. Andy Harris and his yellow-shirted backers were visible all over Tawes. Nowhere to be found was Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, who narrowly beat Harris for the 1st Congressional District seat two years ago, since Congress was in session.

“They better be in Washington trying to fix the mess they’ve made,” Harris said.