By Barry Rascovar
Now the race for Maryland governor starts for real. The two main contenders are in the ring for what promises to be an aggressive contest race that has no precedent in Maryland history.
What makes the 2014 gubernatorial election so unusual is the timing.
Rather than holding the primary in September as is traditional, this one takes place June 24. That early date will cut down substantially on turnout, play havoc with fundraising and compress the full fury of the campaign into about 80 days once the General Assembly ends its session on April 7.
It’s also unusual in that the leading contenders hold two jinxed state offices.
No lieutenant governor has ever been elected to succeed his boss in Maryland. Blair Lee III, Sam Bogley, Joe Curran, Mickey Steinberg, Kathleen Kennedy Towson and Michael Steele all had dreams of sitting in the governor’s chair but never did.
No attorney general has won election to the state’s top office in 75 years, either. Most settled for prestigious judgeships but a few considered running or failed trying — Tom Finan (1966), Bill Burch (1978) and Steve Sachs (1986). None made it past the primary.
(The last attorney general elected governor was Herbert O’Conor in 1938. Ironically, he was succeeded eight years later by William Preston Lane, who had been attorney general just before O’Conor.)
So Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler not only are battling against each other but also battling against history.
They are far and away the ones to watch.
Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County is a peripheral issues candidate who is making this high-visibility campaign her political swan song. Republican candidates can’t come close to winning in Democratic Maryland unless there’s a inside-the-party revolt against the Democratic primary winner.
That’s not likely to happen.
Even worse, Republican candidates are taking extreme positions to appease Tea Party voters, thus eliminating their already slim chances. (More in a future column.)
Brown prematurely kicked off the campaign by declaring in May — a stunningly early announcement.
He followed by making an early choice for a running mate and announcing a slew of endorsements meant to show his bona fides. Yet few voters pay attention so far from Election Day.
Now, though, the media has turned its sights on the gubernatorial race because a second heavyweight, Gansler, has announced. He’s running as “the outsider” against the “entrenched political establishment.”
It’s an apt description given that Brown had been running a “coronation campaign” stressing the inevitability of his elevation.
Gansler wasted little time debunking that campaign myth. It’s now a two-person race with Mizeur providing intriguing side-commentary.
Brown is Gov. Martin O’Malley’s anointed choice. The governor will work hard to get his No. 2 elected. Why not? Brown claims credit for all of O’Malley’s achievements and then promises voters he’ll “do more.”
In fact, Brown was not a major contributor to most of O’Malley’s legislative successes and only played a role on a few issues late in the administration’s second term.
But O’Malley is joined at the hip with Brown and will push hard to make his No. 2 look good in the next legislative session. It’s the best way for the governor to ensure his legacy is embellished and extended.
Gansler the outsider
Gansler had even less to do with O’Malley’s achievements so he can rightly claim the title of outsider. Indeed, the more endorsements Brown announces, the more Gansler can rail about the political establishment’s cabal to keep control of the state’s highest office.
Brown’s approach is to lock in all the top Democratic endorsements and ride to victory on the strength of O’Malley’s liberal record, the political establishment’s clout with voters and the unified support of Maryland’s large African American community, especially in Prince George’s County.
That leaves Gansler room to appeal to moderate and conservative Democrats who have been largely abandoned by O’Malley and Brown and to his strong base in Montgomery County.
The attorney general has staked out positions slightly to the right of O’Malley — opposing the gas tax increase, criticizing the governor’s embrace of a “zero tolerance” arrest policy, proposing a corporate tax cut, urging steps to bolster manufacturing and criticizing O’Malley’s prison policies.
At the same time, Gansler isn’t abandoning his long-standing liberalism. (He was, for example, one of the first state officials in Maryland to endorse Barack Obama’s candidacy and to endorse gay marriage). He spoke out before others on raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 an hour. He proposes legislation to protect women from domestic violence and implement transparent policies for state government.
Two big tests
The next General Assembly session will test both candidates. Gansler will pick and choose where he wants to attack the O’Malley-Brown administration. Conversely, Brown has to show success in getting administration bills enacted. Much of what transpires for those 90 days will be colored by the campaign for governor.
Gansler has the clear edge in fundraising at the moment. If that’s still true come May, he will have the upper hand in advertising his name and face on local television. At a time when neither candidate is a well-known commodity, that’s a big advantage.
What may settle the race are the campaign debates. Gansler is quick on his feet and a fierce advocate; Brown can be an impressive speaker when reading from a script. How they match up on issues voters care about and how they come across to a large debate audience could determine the outcome.
Rascovar has been reporting and commenting on Maryland and national politics and government since 1971, first for the Baltimore Sun, then the Gazette of Politics and Business and The Community Times. You can read more of Barry Rascovar’s columns at www.politicalmaryland.com