By Len Lazarick
Pat Murray, the new executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, hasn’t quite put together a grand scheme for reviving a party still licking its wounds from a humiliating loss of the governorship and legislative seats last year.
“What’s the plan?” Murray asked rhetorically at the Columbia Democratic Club Wednesday night. “It’s day 3,” said Murray, who started his new job on Monday, a point he repeated several times.
But Murray, a veteran political tactician who’s worked for both House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller, has clearly given his new job and the party’s role a lot of thought.
“It’s time to look at the next election, not the last one,” Murray said. But last year’s results did point to pressing problems that need to be solved, such as low voter turnout in Maryland’s largest and most Democratic jurisdictions.
Divided government, not Republican government
“We know that state elections are tougher for us than federal elections,” Murray said.
He pointed to Parris Glendening’s close call in 1994 (his contested 6,000 vote margin leads Republicans to still call Ellen Sauerbrey “governor”), Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s loss to Congressman Bob Ehrlich in 2002, and Larry Hogan’s defeat of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown last year, continuing the curse of the lieutenant governor’s office.
“I’m not scared that we’ve turned a corner,” said Murray. “Voters chose divided government, not Republican government,” with Democrats continuing to dominate the Maryland General Assembly.
“The world we’re living in is not a Republican surge, it’s divided government,” Murray insisted.
His selection as party executive director has made a bigger splash than most who have held the job in recent years, partly because the party plays a more important role when the current governor is not its titular head and the most popular elected Democrat, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, is hanging up her boxing gloves. Murray is also well-known to State House reporters as a political operative for Miller and Busch, and for the last few years as a lobbyist for the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
Welcoming back nonvoters
Murray’s basic notion for moving forward is to “throw the door open” for Dems who have been sitting out elections. He said this can be done through better, more persistent and personal voter contact, along with better data collection and voter identification.
“Democrats in this state have a reputation for working hard three or four months every other year,” Murray said. That needs to be turned into longer and more consistent commitment, though he concedes that elsewhere in the country, “a lot of people are struggling with [voter] disengagement” as well.
Among the changes he’d like to see is keeping party campaign workers closer to home.
In national elections, “where do Maryland volunteers go?” he asked. “They go out of state.”
In the last past two presidential elections, Maryland Democrats were taken by the busloads to Virginia and Pennsylvania to knock on doors and assure victory margins for Barack Obama, since Maryland was presumably already in the bag. They also worked phone banks calling into neighboring states.
The state party need to tell the national party, “we want Maryland volunteers working in Maryland.”
But Murray also emphasized that he was interested in listening to what party regulars had to recommend, like the 40 people who showed up in Columbia on a hot summer night to hear him speak (and get free ice cream).
Nancy Yee thanked him for his new leadership, but Murray, who lost an election for delegate in his native Harford County last year, demurred. “I’m not a leader, I’m a staff guy … I’m the chief of staff for the party.”
He said the real leaders are people like Howard County Democratic Party chair Abby Hendrix, who brought to dinner with him that evening a list of party-building projects and the people assigned to carry them out.
He asked the club members to “hold me accountable. We’re not going to be judged by what we say, we’re going to be judged by what we do.”
Unlike the Republicans commenting here, my problem is with Mr. Murray’s apparent general election strategy in presidential years. Maryland is an absolutely safe Democratic state in such years and there is only one congressional district (the 6th) where a Republican might have a slight chance. Virginia, on the other hand, is a true tossup state presidentially and Pennsylvania, while it generally goes for the Democratic presidential candidate, is not nearly as safe for Democrats as Maryland. To urge that that Maryland’s Democratic campaign workers stay home and not go to help where they are truly needed is beyond ludicrous. Besides the presidential election next year, there is a hot Senate race in Pennsylvania in which Democrats may need to defeat the Republican incumbent in order to have a chance of regaining a majority in that body. That’s one more reason not to stay home and ignore these places where there is a real need. I have a hard time believing the guy said that, but I assume he was quoted correctly. To the extent that the Democratic volunteer workers follow Murray’s apparent strategy, Republicans would just love it.
While Mr. Murray seems like a decent man, he just didn’t get the message sent by voters in the last election. Remember it isn’t only about Dems or GOP, it’s the unaffiliated that politicians must convince. I didn’t vote for divided government since my vote only counts in the state election, thanks to the Dems gerrymandering. I voted for the best candidate. One that offered some relief from the 40+tax, tolls & fees passed by the Dem controlled assembly. Obviously, Murray should focus on reminding his party that above all else they work for us, the taxpayers, and the money they so frivolously overspend comes from our pockets. If they someday get the message, there might be some hope for us.
Nope, after voting democratic for many years I voted for GOP govt, not divided govt. The current crop of Dems, especially, O’Malley, Van Hollen, Miller, and Busch, have gone full blown socialist. The push to ban a meaningless list of rifles and then require fingerprints to buy pistols was retarded too.
A democrat who could get elected in Kansas I’d vote for, but in this state they would be considered an extreme right wing “teahadist.”
The legislature should be focused on the budget, taxes, fixing the regulatory environment to spur growth, education, and rolling back some of the absurd and retarded laws O’Malley pushed. Instead, the super-majority in the legislature caters to whatever the uber left wing interests want. The Dems have gerrymandered themselves into power because they cannot compete on issues.
Unfortunately, the Dems did not seem to get the message in Nov 2014.
Pat Murray is in denial, like his party…
Dems didn’t choose divided government. They simply understood their candidate didn’t have the right stuff.