Josh Kurtz: Inside Out, Outside In?

By Josh Kurtz

So Anthony Brown, the ultimate insider in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial scrum, last week hires Justin Schall, campaign manager for the guy who delivered Maryland Democratic insiders their biggest black eye in recent memory, to be a senior advisor and likely campaign manager.

Coincidence?

Schall has had an interesting, peripatetic history. He was political director for Howard Dean in Iowa (YEAAAAAHHHHH!!!) and in 2008 managed the successful congressional campaign in upstate New York of Eric Massa. Perhaps most significantly, he brings close ties to the Clintons, including having worked as a political aide to Hillary Clinton.

Schall took over John Delaney’s campaign last year when it was spinning its golden wheels and guided him to a stunning victory over Montgomery County Sen. Rob Garagiola, the Democratic establishment’s choice to run against Roscoe Bartlett in the reconfigured 6th Congressional District.

Delaney, Schall and their team identified and exploited Garagiola’s many vulnerabilities, deployed Delaney’s millions deftly, and left Democratic insiders reeling.

The dynamic seems turned on its head this time. Schall’s being asked to put together an organization for Brown, who’s likely to be the choice of a wide swath of the Democratic establishment — but hasn’t yet figured out how to exploit that status.

In 2014, Doug Gansler will have all the money in the world. And while it isn’t quite accurate to call a 16-year officeholder with close ties to some of the most powerful people in the Washington, D.C., legal, business, financial and political establishments an outsider, Gansler will surely try to position himself as such during the primary, and has a far stronger claim on that title than Brown ever will.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman is also likely to make the case of being the outsider in the 2014 race, emphasizing his executive experience on the local level while promising to bring the successes of Howard County to the state level.

(Of course, had Comptroller Peter Franchot chosen to run for governor instead of seeking reelection, his recent history of opposing a slew of high-profile issues supported by the rest of the state’s top Democrats would have positioned him to claim the title of “outsider” in a 2014 gubernatorial campaign.)

If Delegate Heather Mizeur decides to run, she, too, is likely to make a claim to being an outsider as the most liberal of the candidates. And, of course, in a blue state like Maryland, whoever wins the Republican nomination immediately jumps to the head of the “outsider” class regardless of who he or she is matched up against in the general election.

Meanwhile, other 2014 candidates are going to attempt to duplicate Delaney’s winning formula.

For the past couple of weeks, some political insiders and activists have been buzzing about a speech state Del. Bill Frick delivered to a meeting of the Maryland Young Democrats.

In the speech, excerpts of which can be seen on a substandard YouTube video, Frick, a possible candidate for attorney general in 2014, exhorts the crowd to get behind political outsiders and underdogs, associating himself with the improbable political rise of Barack Obama.

Frick takes a not-so-subtle jab at another potential candidate for AG, Del. Jon Cardin, for trading in on his famous family name, and without mentioning the frontrunner in the race, state Sen. Brian Frosh, admonishes the activists against accepting any outcome favored by Democratic bosses. A candidate anointed by party leaders, Frick warned, “isn’t going to look at you and say, ‘Thank God you were with me.’”

Frick is one of the most intriguing fresh faces on the political scene today, so it’s no wonder people are talking. An outsider’s pitch has plenty of political resonance these days. And fresh off Delaney’s thumping of Garagiola, a few insiders are starting to wonder if Frick can win.

Well, let’s ponder that a minute. First, Frosh is no political hack. Political leaders, and key players in the state’s legal and activist community, are flocking to his campaign because he’s compiled a solid progressive record through the years, one worthy of respect. Probably the least compelling thing about his campaign is the notion that’s being advanced that he somehow deserves to be AG just because he’s waited around for so long. But that doesn’t make him an obvious political foil for Frick.

Jon Cardin is no Uncle Ben. But that famous name could carry him a fair distance. And if he remains the only Baltimore-area candidate in the race, that’s not insignificant.

Del. Aisha Braveboy is also planning to run. If she’s the only African-American in the race, and the only woman, that’s a pretty potent combination. But Angela Alsobrooks is the Prince Georgian who has “superstar” written all over her — and she seems content to stay put for the moment. Braveboy, with $8,000 in her campaign account and a less than robust legislative record, has much to prove at this point.

Frank Kratovil, the ex-congressman turned district judge, is still talking openly about the possibility of running. But time for him to mobilize is growing short.

And Frick? Well, the idea that this handsome Bethesda boy, educated at Northwestern and Harvard Law School and working for one of the most powerful law firms in D.C., is the outsider and underdog seems laughable at a certain level.

But Frick’s message has potent populist underpinnings — and is substantially similar to the message that just propelled his former law professor, Elizabeth Warren, to the U.S. Senate. He’s tangled with powerful forces in Annapolis before. And he is nothing if not an appealing messenger.

To the Young Democrats who listened to his speech, the idea of upsetting the old political order, of not having to wait your turn, undoubtedly struck a chord. If Frick can somehow take that message to a broader electorate, then the political establishment may once again come to wonder, as it did when he beat out better-known candidates to win appointment to his legislative seat, who the Frick is Bill?

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

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Party Like It’s 1986