Josh Kurtz: Running Mates

By Josh Kurtz

E.J. Pipkin, your 15 minutes of fame is upon you.

Same for you, Larry Hogan. And you, Marta Mossburg. Can the Prince of Darkness be far behind?

As Gov. Martin O’Malley prepares to run for president in 2016 — get over it, it’s probably happening — a cottage industry is about to bloom. They may not realize it yet, but if O’Malley runs for president, his critics are going to run right alongside him. They’ll inevitably attract attention from national reporters and pundits looking to examine O’Malley’s record — especially from those searching for blemishes.

It won’t be pretty.

But it won’t be anything like Bill Clinton and his cadre of Arkansas critics, who loathed him, would go to any length to bring him down, and, in some cases, attempted to profit from what they knew or whatever it was they were peddling.

There was Cliff Jackson, a Hot Springs lawyer and classmate of Clinton’s at Oxford who became known as the father of Troopergate. There was Larry Case, a Little Rock private investigator, who became, according to one account, “a walking repository of every Clinton womanizing tale.” Who can forget about Gennifer Flowers? Jim and Susan McDougal, anybody? The list goes on and on.

O’Malley’s foes aren’t nearly so formidable — or numerous, or vicious, or venal. But the fact remains that all governors have people who are thorns in their sides, who throw spitballs or brickbats at the governor at every possible occasion. Some detractors have even spent years honing the practice. And when the governor becomes a candidate for president, the critics become even more shrill.

Remember the pain Lester Maddox tried to inflict on Jimmy Carter? Or the ridicule that Texas liberals like Jim Hightower and Molly Ivins rained down on George W. Bush? Ivins, along with Texas Observer editor Lou DuBose, wrote a book about Bush with the exquisitely diminishing title “Shrub.”

O’Malley, assuming he runs for president, is in line for the same kind of scrutiny and skepticism. It’s just part of the game.

Part of the calculation that every potential presidential contender must make with his or her family is how much sanity and normalcy they are willing to give up. A White House election is the big leagues. Every fault and flaw is magnified, the invasion of privacy unimaginable.

We remember well how O’Malley felt compelled, at the beginning of his first gubernatorial run, to publicly declare his marital fidelity. “I have always been faithful to my wife, from our first date to this date,” he memorably said. It effectively shut off all further inquiries.

That extraordinary statement came because O’Malley felt he was the target of a smear campaign, engineered by operatives affiliated with then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich. The Republican governor denied any wrongdoing, but sacked his aide Joe Steffen, known then and now as “the Prince of Darkness,” who admitted spreading rumors about O’Malley’s personal life.

But whatever forces were arrayed against O’Malley then will be coming after him with even greater vengeance in a presidential run.

Meantime, there are those who stand at the ready to heap criticisms upon the governor. Need a quick sound bite about the perils of monopoly government in Annapolis? Republican legislative leaders like Pipkin and Tony O’Donnell will only be too happy to comply.

Need more thoughtful analysis about the structural flaws in state government, or an argument about why O’Malley’s budget numbers haven’t held up over the years? Larry Hogan is at your service. Want to trace the links between campaign contributions and government action in Annapolis or find someone willing to discuss O‘Malley‘s intellectual dishonesty? Marta Mossburg, pundit and researcher with the Maryland Public Policy Institute, has facts and figures she can show you.

Of course, it’s easy to imagine higher profile Republicans having their say. Michael Steele will probably still be yukking it up with his homies on MSNBC in 2016. When the talk turns to Maryland and O’Malley, they may actually want to stop jabbering a minute and listen to Steele.

And Ehrlich will no doubt be peddling his new book, “Turn This Car Around So I Can Run Over the Guy Who Ended My Political Career.” He may finally get that national attention he’s long been hungering for. What irony that he’ll be getting it because network and cable bookers want him to discuss his former rival.

Some Democrats may also have their say — Carl Stokes, Julius Henson and Pat Jessamy are among those who may want to start prepping for their close-ups. Peter Franchot may not be able to help himself — consider his comments in this past weekend’s Baltimore Sun about how distracted O’Malley is by his national ambitions.

And no doubt someone out there will want to cast aspersions on the governor’s Irish rock band.

It’s often said that when someone runs for president, he discovers he has more friends than he ever possibly imagined. But more enemies also crawl out from under the rocks.

O’Malley’s Maryland dissenters — for better or worse, for better AND worse, your moment to shine has arrived.

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:

Montgomery County’s 800-Pound Gorillas

Garagiola: ‘People Lose Elections All the Time’

You Can’t Spell ‘Meme’ Without M-E

Opening Day

Duncan Moving Closer to Comeback Bid

A Perfect (Political) Storm Hits Prince George’s

Sail Away