Josh Kurtz: After the Blue Wave Crashes

By Josh Kurtz

Some three-dozen Montgomery County Democrats were gathered in the sunshine outside Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School on Saturday morning, waiting to be dispatched in car pools to Manassas, Va., where they’d be knocking on doors all day for President Obama’s re-election.

Fueled by coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts, the group — which included County Council President Roger Berliner and state Dels. Sam Arora, Ana Sol Gutierrez, Aruna Miller and Craig Zucker — was boisterous and optimistic. Jason Waskey, the Maryland state director of Obama for America, the president’s re-election organization, was on hand to tell his fellow Democrats how important their endeavor was.

Quoting the famous line from a Martin Luther King sermon about the “fierce urgency of now,” Waskey told the crowd, “Where you’re headed today is one of the biggest battleground states in the country, and the work you’re doing is crucial…If we don’t win Virginia, we don’t win four more years.”

As Waskey was speaking, the scene was being repeated, with variations, at 10 other locations across the state, as volunteers from deep-blue Maryland — even from its reddest-tinged regions — were being dispatched by bus or car to locations throughout Virginia and Pennsylvania, the nearby states that are still up for grabs in the presidential election. At the same time, volunteers at phone banks throughout the state — one just next door to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High, at a basement day-care center — were calling their neighbors to remind them to vote for Obama and Sen. Ben Cardin and the rest of the Democratic ticket. On Sunday, the same thing happened again — as it will every weekend morning between now and Election Day.

If Obama is re-elected, which is looking increasingly likely at the moment, his vaunted field operation will be a big reason why. And it may surprise some people to know that Obama for America’s presence in Maryland, where the president could pretty much always take the state’s 10 electoral votes for granted, is broad and deep.

The unanswered question — the question no one really wants to address, lest any Democratic leader be seen as looking one day past Nov. 6 — is what will happen to this impressive organization when the presidential election is over. It’s surely on the minds of Obama’s top operatives in Chicago as much as it is among leading Democrats here.

But the question may be a little more trenchant in Maryland, where Democrats in this highly tribal state will doubtless retreat to their corners as soon as the president’s re-election is in hand, resuming their regional and generational rivalries and their jockeying for 2014 and their insider-vs.-outside resentments and name-calling. It’s probably an exaggeration to suggest that an intact Obama campaign apparatus can go a long way toward easing the intra-party tension, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

Waskey, a Harford County native who worked for Gov. Martin O’Malley’s election in 2006, has been a paid staffer for Obama’s campaign since early 2007, and has been organizing the state ever since. If Obama for America remains functional in some way after the election, he’ll doubtless have some say on how it re-invents itself in Maryland (he‘ll also be highly sought-after by 2014 candidates).

But for now, a troika of operatives — Waskey, Maryland Democratic Party Executive Director David Sloan, and Shelly Hettleman, Cardin’s campaign manager — is calling the shots for state Democrats’ coordinated campaign, leading 25 paid staffers and thousands of volunteers in all 24 Maryland jurisdictions.

With only one competitive congressional race on the docket this year — John Delaney’s attempt to dethrone Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, which will probably succeed — Maryland Democrats can afford to be generous to their brethren in surrounding states, while insisting that they aren’t taking their eyes off the prize(s) back home. And their ability to aid the cause beyond our borders may be unique.

While Obama for America volunteers in other heavily Democratic territory are helping get out the vote in surrounding swing states (California Democrats, for example, are heading regularly to Nevada), the fact remains that they’re still needed at home. In California, there are about 10 competitive congressional races on the ballot next month. New York and Illinois have half a dozen each, and in the Empire State, control of the state Senate is going to come down to just a couple of seats. There’s an intense, tossup U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts. All the Democratic nominees in those states need Obama to run up the score to bolster their chances of winning.

But for all the professions of solidarity in Maryland when it comes to re-electing Obama, the fact remains that fissures are readily apparent in the Democratic universe. While every top-ranking elected Democratic official is helping Obama’s campaign, some are doing it in their own, unique ways. Rep. Donna Edwards, for example, has, at last report, refused to kick in any money to the Democrats’ coordinated campaign. And while she did host a fundraiser for Obama last week, attendees were asked to write checks payable to the congresswoman’s campaign — not Obama’s.

Meanwhile, with several controversial ballot questions coming before voters this November, top-echelon Democrats have been unable to agree on what sample ballots should look like. Chances are, those decisions will be made on a district-by-district basis.

No one seems equipped to pick up the pieces in the unlikely — but still plausible — event that all those high-profile ballot questions, like marriage equality and the DREAM Act and expanded gambling, go down to defeat. And we can only imagine the rancor and finger-pointing that will take place among leading Democrats if voters reject the state’s new congressional map.

Maryland Democrats are incredibly lucky that the state GOP is so inept, because they always seem on the verge of erupting into civil war. O’Malley’s busy learning the words to the Iowa state song (fortunately it has the same tune as “Maryland, My Maryland”), so depending on what happens he may not be in the position to offer much help.

At some point, Maryland Democrats will need an intervention. Is it unreasonable to wonder if a mature Obama campaign organization, no longer forced to worry about the president’s own electoral prospects, might at least be able to provide some adult supervision?

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

The Impossible DREAM?

I’m Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeMille

A Conversation with Ken Ulman

The Future Is Now?

Michael Row the Boat Ashore

Influencers: The Readers Speak

Will Battaglia Run for AG in 2014?

Chrys-field

You Can Still Probably Bet Against Roscoe Bartlett

Ten Years After

Influencers, Part II

The Influencers, Part I