Josh Kurtz: Reality Check (in Four Parts)

By Josh Kurtz

A couple of days before the end of the General Assembly session in Annapolis, a couple of lobbyists for the National Rifle Association were overheard talking.

“Now comes the fun part,” one said to the other.

In other words, with the session ending, gun rights groups can begin inflicting pain on senators and delegates as they begin running for re-election — whether they voted for Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control package, or whether they voted against it. In some districts, the NRA and their allies figure, voters will be so incensed about the new gun laws that they’ll be willing to take it out on Democratic incumbents, even those who voted against the gun control package.

They’re probably right — but only up to a point.

After all, how many resources will the NRA and other pro-gun groups be willing to pump into Maryland legislative races? Will national gun rights groups care one whit about Maryland? And even with adequate resources, how many senators and delegates will the NRA be able to take out, realistically?

As we’ve written previously, there may be five or so Democratic state senators in Maryland who are vulnerable to a general election challenge — and no doubt, the legislature’s recent shift to the left, including on gun control, contributes to these lawmakers’ precarious states. To the extent that conservative organizations are going to target any of these incumbents, gun groups have a role to play.

But if they knock off five Democratic senators — so what? The Democratic advantage goes from its current 35-12 to 30-17. That admittedly makes it harder to move controversial legislation through the chamber — and gives whatever moderate Democrats who remain an element of power and leverage that doesn’t exist now. But it doesn’t change the overall dynamic very much at all.

The same is true in the House, where Democrats currently hold a 98-43 advantage. At most, eight or 10 House Democrats are vulnerable in November 2014 to Republican challengers. That would give Democrats, at worst, an 88-53 majority.

National party organizations and advocacy groups don’t generally take the long view about politics. Some strategist may think it’s in the conservative movement’s long-term interest to have 53 House Republicans in Annapolis instead of 43, that it helps the long slow march to a majority (that will never come).

But the people who hold the purse strings don’t take the long view. So why should the NRA and their conservative allies invest a dime to shrink yawning Democratic majorities in Maryland in 2014 when Republicans need to flip just one seat to take control of the Nevada state Senate? Or two seats in Oregon? Or three seats in Colorado or Iowa?

Financial and mathematical realities mean the Maryland NRA operatives won’t have as much fun between now and Election Day as they’d like.

——————————————————————————–

The Dutch Ruppersberger for governor boomlet has been interesting to observe. But even though a few reporters and bloggers have begun asking the congressman and his aides about his intentions for 2014, the fact remains that his response (essentially, “I’ll think about it”) is no different than it has been for the last two years at least.

Ruppersberger, in a short video interview on the Maryland Juice political blog Friday, repeatedly emphasized how much he likes his current job. More tellingly, he said, “Right now, I really don’t have time to do anything at this point.”

At the end of 2012, Ruppersberger’s congressional campaign account had $891,000 — most of which can be used on a race for a state office. That’s certainly a decent sum of money to build a campaign on.

But Ruppersberger is 67 now. He’s got a very nice gig as ranking Democratic on the House Intelligence Committee — and if, by some miracle, Democrats flip control of the chamber in 2014, he’ll have one term as chairman.

Ruppersberger would surely love to be parachuted into the governor’s office. But get a late start running against younger, hungrier opponents in an already crowded Democratic primary? Spend the next several months working the phones to raise money and criss-crossing the state to woo party activists? And risk a very prominent position for a crap shoot?

Not likely to happen.

——————————————————————————–

Speaking of wannabe governors, as Del. Heather Mizeur (D) lays out a rationale for her candidacy, one of the things she tells potential supporters is that powerful national women’s groups like EMILY’s List are all but certain to back her candidacy.

That’s probably true enough. But there’s backing her, and then there’s backing her.

EMILY’s List can be a formidable ally for any Democratic woman who favors abortion rights. Support from the group can yield hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions. EMILY’s List has made the difference in several key state and congressional races over the years.

But consider what’s on the organization’s plate this year and next. EMILY’s List is backing five big-city candidates for mayor in 2013 — including Los Angeles City Comptroller Wendy Greuel, who is locked in a tight mayoral runoff that’s being held on May 21 (though she was trailing by 9 points in the most recent poll). The List’s list also includes Christine Quinn, the New York City Council speaker who is trying to make history by becoming the city’s first woman (and first openly gay mayor) — and is currently the frontrunner.

Come 2014, EMILY’s List will be working to protect two potentially vulnerable U.S. senators, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. The group is also talking to 15 potential candidates for governor — including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who would be the frontrunner if she runs; Rhode Island state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who would be very formidable; and Pennsylvania Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, the Democratic frontrunner in a state where the Republican governor is tanking in the polls.

Hawaii Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa might also run for governor or Senate next year, and Alex Sink, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Florida in 2010, may try again next year.

What do these women have in common? They all have a better chance of becoming governor of their states than Heather Mizeur has of becoming governor of hers — at least at this early stage.

So while yes, EMILY’s List will help Mizeur, she doesn’t appear destined to be anywhere near the top of the List at the moment.

———————————————————————————

A number of people have asked me to write about former state GOP Chairman Alex Mooney and his apparent desire to run for Congress in West Virginia, now that he’s moved there. I’ve been flip about it and said that in any West Virginia contest, Mooney wouldn’t be the most conservative candidate, and that voters there would surely be wary of a half-Hispanic carpetbagger. I guess I stand by that view, with all due respect to Mooney and to West Virginia Republicans.

But to stick with the theme of this week’s column, let’s take a look at some of Mooney’s potential GOP primary opponents in the race to succeed Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito (R), who’s running for Senate and will probably win.

Although he hasn’t formally declared his candidacy, the frontrunner is probably former state Sen. Steve Harrison, a banker who was a triple major and college football player at Brown University. He’s a leader in the group Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and for fun, he’s become a national champion discuss thrower in the 45-50 age category. He peppers his Twitter feed with links to anti-gay marriage and pro-life groups.

Other possible candidates include state Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall — an ordained minister who lost a bid for state treasurer in 2012 — and state Del. Eric Nelson, a banker and an elder in his local Presbyterian church who also boasts membership in the NRA, local Chamber of Commerce and state oil and gas association, and whose father was a state legislator with the same name.

Mooney knows a lot about raising money — heck, he’s writing a book on that very subject. But he probably had a better chance of winning a seat in Congress if he’d remained in Maryland’s 6th district than he does in the district where he’s living now.

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:

Winners and Losers

Filing Deadline Quietly Changed to Early January

Stations of the Cross and the Station That’s Become a Cross to Bear

Fools Rushern In

A Sense of the Senate

Montgomery Councilmember Seeks Investigation Into Anonymous Web Attack

Peter Principle

Louie, Louie