By Len Lazarick
By the end of the month, Democratic primary voters will make a fundamental choice: Should Maryland have four more years of Martin O’Malley’s policies carried out by his lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown, and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman? Or should the state shift directions to another course?
As much as Republicans, Tea Partiers, some independents and members of the business community despise the O’Malley-Brown administration, there is no indication that average Democrats are deeply dissatisfied.
An April poll from St. Mary’s College of Maryland showed 46% of 945 respondents thought the state was headed in the wrong direction, but 41% said it was on the right track. That significant minority are almost entirely Democrats.
A February Washington Post poll showed Democratic voters gave O’Malley his highest approval rating of his seven years in office, 79%. Among independents, O’Malley got 46%, but among Republicans, O’Malley got only 18% approval.
If the bulk of your friends and colleagues are conservative or Republican, these numbers might strike you as outlandish. But their political reality has been confirmed for over a year, as Brown and Ulman have fully embraced the record of the O’Malley-Brown administration.
Late last month, the annual Democratic Party gala turned into a love fest for O’Malley. Speaker after speaker to about 600 guests praised O’Malley’s tenure, including all the Democratic members of Congress. That even included Congressman John Delaney, whose opponent O’Malley and Brown had supported in the 2012 Democratic primary.
Praise for O’Malley Record
O’Malley was praised for the passage of the increase in the minimum wage, same-sex marriage, the lid on university tuition hikes, the Dream Act for immigrant tuition, the abolition of the death penalty, good public schools and even the fairly anemic job growth. His 40 increases in taxes and fees went unmentioned, except in connection with more spending on schools, roads and mass transit.
This is the record the Democratic establishment has embraced, just as the bulk of Democratic office holders have embraced the Brown-Ulman ticket. About the only speaker at the Democratic gala that was supporting Gansler for governor was the attorney general himself, who had to sit there and listen as others praised the record he’s found fault with. In his closing remarks, O’Malley shared credit for his achievements with Brown. (Pay no attention to that little health benefit exchange fiasco, the corruption at the Baltimore City jail or the numbers showing high earners moving out of state.)
Recent polls also confirm that Brown himself and Attorney General Doug Gansler have stirred little passion or excitement. Only the supporters of Del. Heather Mizeur, who avoided the gala, seem fired up, but her policy positions are likely even too far left for most Democrats.
Primary turnout will be low, meaning an upset could potentially occur. That could mean Mizeur beating Gansler for second place. The fundamentals still support a win by Ulman-Brown, as long as they can bring their voters to the polls. That includes African-Americans in Prince George’s County, Brown’s home turf, and in Baltimore City, and a strong showing in Howard County for Ulman.
The Republican Side: Craig, Hogan
Polls show a similar lack of excitement on the Republican side. The frontrunners are Harford County Executive David Craig and Larry Hogan, an Annapolis real estate executive who was Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s patronage chief and founded the Change Maryland organization.
Craig has by far the most government experience of any candidate in either party. A former middle school teacher and administrator, he has been mayor of Havre de Grace, a member of the House of Delegates and of the state Senate, as well as Harford County executive for nine years.
This long experience gained him the endorsement of the two grand old dames of the GOP, former Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley and former House Minority Leader Ellen Sauerbrey, who was 6,000 votes shy of being elected governor in 1994. The Sauerbrey endorsement solidifies Craig’s creds as a traditional Republican conservative.
Hogan has been running with a clear message and an almost general election strategy. “To change Maryland, you have to change governors,” said Hogan. He promises to roll back tax increases, but all four Republican candidates for governor, including Del. Ron George, an Annapolis jeweler, and Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, promise to do that with varying degrees of detail.
Strong Message, Vague Details
Hogan is the vaguest of the three when it comes to policy, other than the overall need to cut spending and taxes, focus on the middle class and create jobs. He is also vague about his stance on social issues that are red meat for some of the GOP electorate, such as 2nd Amendment rights, immigration and abortion. He skips most candidate forums in front of local Republican groups.
Hogan has been endorsed by the Washington Post, which is not a big plus in attracting Republican primary voters. The Post noted his vague policy positions, but praised his stance to “the left of the GOP’s bomb-throwers” and his conciliatory tone toward the Democratic lawmakers he would contend with as governor. Those are not qualities designed to endear him to the ideological right among Republican primary voters. These attributes have much greater appeal in a general election against a Democratic candidate with lukewarm support.
Craig’s continuing problem is that he stirs little excitement as a speaker or a leader, though his positions might be closer to those of the GOP base. Some Republicans fear he could not win a general election — but many doubt any Republican can win the State House in a state that is increasingly blue politically and demographically.
Picking an Attorney General
Only Democratic insiders seem to know we’ll also be choosing a new attorney general this year, as Doug Gansler moves up or out.
The three Democrats running for the job are all legislators and liberal Democrats. Are there any other kind, you might ask? Yes, there are moderate and even conservative Democrats, but increasingly fewer as the years go by.
Sen. Brian Frosh, 67, the chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, has the legal résumé, the legislative experience and the endorsements of labor, environmentalists and all manner of progressives. What he does not have is the big name that has blown him away in every poll — Cardin.
Del. Jon Cardin, 44, nephew of Sen. Ben Cardin, does not have the length of service or credentials of Frosh, either as a legislator or as a practicing attorney. That may matter little when voters see the relatively unfamiliar name of the Bethesda state senator on the ballot, despite Frosh’s commanding role on issues such as gay marriage equality, abolishing the death penalty and tightening gun control, along with a host of environmental initiatives.
Democratic voters across the state have seen the Cardin name on the ballot four times in the past eight years, and some do not know Uncle Ben is not trying to change jobs.
Neither candidate has a ton of money — the Democratic candidates for governor have six and seven times as much. Frosh had $864,000 in cash on hand last month, outraising Cardin. But the Cardin name might be worth $1 million, so they are more than evenly matched. Neither has enough money to mount a substantial TV buy, so direct mail and cable are the more likely tactics.
Del. Aisha Braveboy, 39, is the youngest candidate with the least experience and has raised a paltry $60,000, much less than many candidates for the legislature. But she is at the top of the ballot listing for AG, and her name easily conveys that she is an African-American woman, which is a plus as Brown seeks to push turnout in her home county.
Few voters know what an attorney general really does, which is essentially manage the largest law office in Maryland. Few will know much about the person they choose to run this office. And that’s why the Cardin name looms so large.
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