By Glynis Kazanjian
Sixth Congressional District candidate John Delaney racked up another high profile endorsement Tuesday from Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, while Rob Garagiola collected his latest union endorsement from the United Auto Workers.
Yet the race that’s been bolstered with regular negative attacks from both sides remains largely silent on policy differences between the candidates.
One political analyst said this race is not about issues, though. Rather, it’s about the candidates themselves and an anti-incumbent spirit running rampant throughout the country.
Slim differences on issues
“There aren’t a great deal of differences between the candidates on policy. The parties have pretty much aligned themselves ideologically,” said Todd Eberly, assistant professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Instead you find matters of character and personality, and who might be a better fit.”
“We are very much in a ‘We hate the system, we hate career politicians’ sort of mood as a people,” Eberly said. “Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, this is sort of ingrained in us right now. Even if you look to Obama running back in 2008, he was running against the system and the need to reform it and change it.”
Eberly said it is fair to categorize the primary now as a two-man race, and he thinks Delaney, running as an outsider, can capture that spirit. He also believes Garagiola’s failure to disclose five years of lobbying work on state financial disclosure forms will hurt him.
“It made him [Garagiola] go from being favored in the race to being a toss-up between him and Delaney,” Eberly said. “It’s not about policy. It’s about intangibles, about the candidate’s characters and personalities – things you can’t really put in a policy paper or in an interview.”
Garagiola strong in Montgomery, Delaney to the west
Eberly believes Garagiola will have more appeal in Montgomery County, but says Delaney, who lives in Potomac, doesn’t need the county to win. He believes Delaney will go after “old line” conservative Democrats in western Maryland that have traditionally voted for Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, but would vote for him in the primary.
“All he has to do is be competitive in Montgomery and win the rest of the 6th in the primary, and I think that’s what he’s positioning himself for,” Eberly said. “When you’re looking out at the 6th, you’re representing that not insignificant chunk of Western Maryland, a more rural, working class part of Maryland. You get the sense that Delaney is speaking a little bit more in a tone that connects with those folks . . . He’s running as a consummate outsider.”
“Nobody could ever describe Garagiola as somebody who’s not part of the machine in Maryland — he very much is,” Eberly said. “He is deeply steeped in Maryland politics.”
Franchot calls Delaney ‘fresh talent’
Franchot painted Delaney as a much needed fresh face in Democratic politics, calling him principled. He touted his record as a job creator.
“He represents for me fresh talent, new energy and kind of a bold new face for the Democratic party,” Franchot said. “I love my party, but there’s a lot of rhetoric about job creation. John Delaney has actually created jobs.”
Delaney is bereft of union support. Last year, the Garagiola campaign condemned Delaney for allegedly downplaying the importance of collective bargaining in a report published by BluePrint Maryland, a nonprofit group founded by Delaney to promote job growth and economic security. (The report says that Virginia may have lower unemployment rates because it is a “right to work” state and Maryland is the most southern of the states that are not.)
UAW says Delaney is anti-union
In a Tuesday press release from the Garagiola camp, UAW Local 171 spokesman David Dopp took up the attack again. “John Delaney has assaulted collective bargaining rights and he’s even indicated that Maryland should become a right to work state like Virginia. John Delaney is dangerous to working families,” Dopp said in the release.
Dopp said Garagiola can count on 1,400 union members showing up on the April 3 primary election to show their support.
“As a Maryland State Senator, Rob Garagiola has stood in solidarity with unions and working families,” Dopp stated. “He’s been a strong advocate for collective bargaining rights and ensuring fair wages for working people.”
Garagiola has been endorsed by 10 major unions so far, potentially representing tens of thousands of votes in the race. Ironically, they included three locals of the IBEW, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that Delaney’s electrician father belonged to and that gave him a scholarship to attend Columbia University.
On Monday, Garagiola was also endorsed by MoveOn.org political action committee, a national progressive organization that played a pivotal role in the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.
However, Delaney was recently endorsed by former President Bill Clinton and the Washington Post, somewhat offsetting the more numerous backers of Garagiola, including U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
Ebberly said he thinks Delaney can win.
“My gut right now is that Delaney ends up pulling this out,” Ebberly said. “I think it’s going to be an upset and it will point to what will be a very interesting 2012 for political insiders and a very strange year where conventional wisdom doesn’t quite hold.”