Eberly Commentary: Does the Md. GOP have a deep bench?

MarylandReporter.com welcomes Todd Eberly as a regular contributor. Eberly is associate professor of political science and Coordinator of Public Policy Studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. We will be publishing his columns simultaneously with his own blog, The FreeStater.

Professor Todd Eberly of St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Professor Todd Eberly of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

By Todd Eberly

For MarylandReporter.com

In a recent interview about the open seat for attorney general, I was quoted as saying:

“It speaks to the sorry state of the Republican party in Maryland… You’re not going to have Doug Gansler … you’ve got an open race, the potential for a divisive Democratic primary. If they want anyone to ever take them seriously, they’ve got to win some statewide offices every now and then, which means trying to build a bench instead of running these throwaway challenges.”

Apparently this annoyed Red Maryland’s Greg Kline. After taking the obligatory GOP talking point swipe against college professors (for the record, no one who knows me would ever think I read the Huffington Post) he suggested that the MD GOP has a significant and impressive bench of potential candidates.

Says Kline: “The good assistant professor [actually I’m an associate professor] is right that a lack of a candidate even being discussed does reflect poorly on the MDGOP but he is so wrong about the state party not having a bench or plenty of qualified, potential candidates…. Any potential AG candidate knows that they would be on their own running statewide.  The state party is too much focused on creating a list of people to call and too little focused on what they are going to tell the person on the other end of the phone.”

Kline then goes on to explain why the MD GOP cannot get potential candidates to agree to run for office in the state.

“Candidate recruitment, like recruiting for a college football team, is about selling the experience and making someone want to be a part of something. This is exactly what the party isn’t doing.”

Kline then rattles off a list of what the MD GOP must do if it wants to recruit candidates. And Kline is spot on. Where Kline and I actually disagree is on just what constitutes “a bench of candidates.”

What makes a strong bench

To me, a strong bench consists of candidates preferably with some degree of name recognition and a clear willingness to run if asked. Even better are candidates already holding office. The party would be best served if they were able to tap candidates from among the swelling ranks of elected GOP officials at the county level.

Kline argues that the party has a deep bench simply because there are a lot of qualified potential candidates in the state – but these folks aren’t willing to run. To me, that’s not a bench. At best it’s a two-legged stool.

In 2010 the state GOP let Doug Gansler run unopposed for AG. Nationwide, 2010 was a fantastic year for the GOP — Maryland was a glaring exception that didn’t need to be. In the U.S. Senate race Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Eric Wargotz scored the highest level of support against Sen. Barbara Mikulski in two decades. With very little money and no debates, Wargotz neared 40% of the vote.

As I have argued in prior posts, Maryland is not a 2-to-1 Democratic state. If you look at actual election results it’s closer to a 60/40 state. Credible GOP candidates are able to hit that 40% mark, stronger candidates are able to exceed that share. But such strong candidates are rare in Maryland.

Michael Steele and Bob Ehrlich were each able to top that 40% mark. William Campbell and Anne McCarthy were quality comptroller candidates in 2010 and 2006. In 2014 the state GOP has the potential to have strong candidates for governor, and Campbell is likely to run again for comptroller.

Though I consider Harford County Executive David Craig to be the strongest gubernatorial candidate, Del. Ron George is a solid candidate as well and either could give the Democratic nominee a real fight. Assuming Craig or George actually campaign for the job (as opposed to Ehrlich’s lazy mess of a campaign in 2010), they should have no problem topping Ehrlich’s 42% from 2010 and could even achieve victory.

Quality candidates needed for all offices, but gerrymandering hurts

It’s important that the state GOP have quality candidates running for all statewide offices. Yes, they’d all face an uphill battle to win but a strong top of the ticket can boost turnout and help candidates down ballot cross the finish line in races for the state Senate, House of Delegates, county commissioners, or other local offices.

These down ballot winners then become the MD GOP’s real bench. Because of redistricting and Martin O’Malley’s political gerrymandering of state legislative districts, the MD GOP is going to have a tough time holding onto its meager 12 seats in the 47-seat state Senate. Falling below 12 seats would be a devastating blow to the morale of any already suffering party. The GOP needs to reach 19 seats in the Senate to truly have an impact as that’s the number needed to filibuster.

Gerrymandering makes that a tall order, improbable but not impossible — especially if the top of the ticket is strong. But at present, the state Republican party is just a mess. And so long as it is a mess the bench of candidates will be thin. Folks like Red Maryland’s Greg Kline, Mark Newgent, and Brian Griffith have been offering the state GOP a lot a free and good advice, but I’m not sure the state party is organized enough to listen.

Breaking the one-party monopoly

Though Kline may think that I’m some left-wing Huffington Post reading academic, the reality is that I’m an unaffiliated voter who would very much like to see Maryland’s one party monopoly broken. I may disagree with the GOP on a host of issues, but the same can be said of the Democrats. I have no preference for one party over the other.

What I do want is a vibrant and open debate of the issues, I want deliberation and not one-party hegemony. I want the 40% of Marylanders who consistently vote against the Democrats to have a voice equal to their numbers, instead of the gerrymandered mess that has effectively held the GOP to less than 30% of the seats in the General Assembly and only one seat among the state’s congressional delegation. Republicans have figured out how to win and be relevant in states like New Jersey and Massachusetts.

There simply is no excuse for the party’s continued problems in Maryland.


About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. higgy01

    The GOP party hierarchy seems to have no more interest in Maryland than the democrat party. The difference is the democrat party has brainwashed the central population to the point they think the democrats take care of them. I say central because the plantation mentality only has to exist in Baltimore City and two or three of the counties for the democrats to control the state. Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore don’t count which is probably why they would like to secede. We need people like Bongino to help put the Md. GOP back in the race. Back Bongino over Delaney. Keep Harris in the House and put a known candidate against Ruppersberger. Both Md. senators are vulnerable for different reasons. Maybe, in ten years, the Md. GOP could become a force.

  2. karolh

    I think the MD GOP does not truly accept anyone that is not within their idea and mold. I see that Dan Bongino is having problems getting the party behind him in a majority. That is really to bad, Dan is a wonderful choice of candidate. He would be a good choice for governor. What we really need is get Sarah Palin or someone with her insight and courage for the MDGOP. Sarah should be invited in to teach our GOP how to get behind a candidate properly and teach how the party members how to get the message out, create excitement for our candidates. She could certainly teach our candidates a few things about making their presentations and exciting the people to the point they like what they hear and are willing to get out and work for the votes. We could increase the Republican base by a large margin with the help of Sarah Palin.

  3. joe

    Breaking Maryland’s one-party Democratic monopoly in the legislature says it all!

  4. boomlikethat

    Part of the real problem the GOP (and especially the MD GOP) faces is the establishment idea that they are all seeing, all knowing, etc., and choose to support only candidates they deem worthy but saying it’s their “turn”. I wanted to run for a higher office, but was largely ignored because I didn’t “fit their mold”. The voters around me thought otherwise, but it would have been very difficult to get a populist message out.