By Barry Rascovar
Is Democratic gubernatorial nominee Anthony Brown about to blow a “sure thing” in Maryland?
On the eve of the first governor’s debate, is the lieutenant governor “pulling a Townsend” similar to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s implosion in the 2002 governor’s race that gift-wrapped the election for Republican underdog Bob Ehrlich?
To date, the answer is “yes.”
The Brown campaign is badly off-track.
In a cocoon
Its professional staff has hermetically sealed their candidate in a tight cocoon, isolating him from the media and all voters except the most loyal Democratic groups.
They’ve picked the wrong issues to run on. Abortion rights and gun control laws are settled matters in Maryland. Even Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan Jr. agrees on that.
The pocketbook issues will decide this election — or as advisers to Bill Clinton put it in the 1990s, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
According to Patrick Gonzales’ latest poll, the most pressing matters for voters — by far — are the economy and taxes. These are precisely the themes heavily promoted by Hogan and ignored by Brown.
That’s a huge mistake, a giant failure to understand what’s troubling Marylanders.
Brown hired national campaign specialists when he should have turned to local pros. While abortion and gun control still might be dominant issues in Kansas or Georgia, they aren’t in Maryland. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.
Meanwhile, Brown’s handlers have isolated him from the public at large.
While Hogan is happy to talk with reporters, Brown runs from them. He’s shielded from the media by his aides.
His handlers even hide Brown from the public in the campaign’s media messages.
And, oh, those dreadful commercials. Harsh. Negative. Hostile. Incendiary. The sky is falling if you vote for Hogan!
It’s a gigantic turn-off for Maryland voters. This is an intelligent electorate. These folks aren’t fooled by misguided campaign propaganda.
Larry Hogan isn’t “dangerous” and he isn’t “radical.” He comes across as a likeable, engaging and gregarious fellow with a simple message — let’s get a handle on excessive government spending and then let’s see if we can lower taxes.
Compare that with the Brown campaign’s near-hysterical messages on abortion and gun laws.
During the 2002 campaign, then Lt. Gov. Townsend seemed to get into trouble every time she opened her mouth. Apparently, Brown’s handlers are worried he’d do the same thing if given a chance.
So they’ve sealed him off from the outside world — except for appearances before adoring Democratic crowds where he delivers a stock speech or reads from a prepared text.
With Brown, there’s no sense of humanity, no sense he’s a flesh-and-blood candidate with emotions and feelings. He comes across as stiff, robotic, programmed and unable to think on his feet or engage voters in ad-lib conversations.
With Brown, there’s no innate connection with voters, particularly in the all-important Baltimore region.
Despite serving eight years as lieutenant governor, Brown remains a mystery man to Metro Baltimore residents. He’s the invisible candidate — never seen, never heard from and never known.
Combine that with his lack of a specific program voters can grasp for fixing the state’s economy and averting future tax increases and you can see why Hogan is running close to Brown in the Gonzales poll. (Brown’s government efficiency proposal announced Sunday contains more empty promises: pie-in-the-sky projected savings, sweeping assumptions and few realistic numbers.)
If Brown is going to re-gain the initiative, he needs to do more than take wild, roundhouse swings at Hogan that aren’t coming close to hitting their target.
Brown needs to deliver positive reasons why he’s the best candidate for governor. So far, he’s been a silent campaigner in TV ads, letting others do the talking for him.
That’s not good enough this year.
By all measures, Brown ought to win easily in November. Maryland is a deeply Democratic state.
But if he continues to come across as arrogant, aloof and unwilling to speak directly to ordinary voters and to the media, Anthony Brown could, indeed, “pull a Townsend.”
He might end up handing the governor’s mansion to Hogan.
Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.