Laslo Boyd: They’re Off And Running, Sorta

By Laslo Boyd

In an era in which campaigns for public office seem to run longer and longer, the race to succeed Martin O’Malley as Maryland’s next governor may prove an exception. While it’s only 13 months until the Democratic primary — let’s not pretend that any Republican nominee actually has a chance — the candidates are only beginning to introduce themselves to the voters and build organizations to mobilize supporters.

For a number of reasons, there may be less time than the candidates seem to think. None of them is coming from an office that has any history as a springboard for winning the governorship. None of them has significant name recognition beyond their geographical base, and even that’s not entirely a sure thing. None of them starts with the kind of “wow” factor — a well-known political name, accomplishments that make one of them a presumptive favorite, unlimited money — that has allowed candidates in some races to bide their time and wait until relatively close to the election.

Campaign money is being raised, meetings are being held with individuals and groups who are seen as politically influential, and the early steps in creating campaign organizations are being taken. However, no one has established a public presence and no one has jumped into the position of overwhelming favorite.

To be sure, Anthony Brown did formally announce his candidacy on May 17, although it’s hard to understand why. Most often, when you make an announcement on a Friday afternoon, it’s in the hope that no one will notice it. If that actually was Brown’s goal, he succeeded, but it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. It was either such a clever strategy that years from now we will all be saying that the “Friday Political Announcement Strategy” was born on May 17, 2013 or his political team is not yet ready for prime time.

To give Brown the benefit of the doubt, I checked his campaign web site in hopes of learning more about his campaign. Of the five tabs across the top, one was “Photo Gallery” and a second was “Videos”. Given that his principal role as Lt. Governor has been to appear in photos ops with O’Malley, that emphasis seems appropriate.

Finding out anything of substance was harder however. Lots of biographical material and an assertion in the section Anthony’s Story that “Anthony has transformed what was once a largely undefined and ceremonial position into one of substance.” You might want to ask Mickey Steinberg and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend how similar claims that each of them made worked out.

Still, Brown is a formidable candidate. The other presumed heavyweight contender, Attorney General Doug Gansler, really is playing a waiting game. While Attorney General may not be quite the politically dead end position that Lt. Governor is, Gansler has maintained a remarkably low profile over almost seven years as the state’s top lawyer.

Gansler has raised the most money and it’s widely assumed that he is counting on winning next year’s primary by massive spending on television ads. He proved himself a tough campaigner back when he was running for State’s Attorney in Montgomery County in 1998 and for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General in 2006, but he may be a little rusty since he didn’t have an opponent when he was reelected Attorney General in 2010.

Gansler, undeclared as he is, does have a web site, and it has a lot more about his positions on key policy issues than Brown has on his web site. There is no mention of Gansler running for Governor — he is identified on the web site as the Attorney General — but it will certainly be easy to make that small adjustment.

Maybe the correct sports analogy — better than a horserace — is that these are two boxers feeling each other out in the early rounds. Neither is going away and they are acting as if they are the only ones in the ring. Peter Franchot’s early departure as a potential candidate has created that situation and probably helps Gansler the most in the short term by leaving him as the major Montgomery County candidate in the race.

Another previously mentioned candidate who seems to have disappeared without a formal withdrawal is Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. He is now expected to be announced early next month as the running mate for Brown. Ulman, who is the only candidate with executive experience and had been talking as if he was in it for the long haul, has apparently already made the decision that he can’t win. Too bad because he has an interesting case to make.

Whether he actually helps Brown is less clear. People don’t make their choice for Governor based on who the second person is. And Ulman doesn’t have that large a base anyway. He might have helped Brown more by drawing 20% of the primary vote, the largest portion of which would have come from Gansler.

I promise I’ll have something to write about the other name in the race, State Del. Heather Mizeur, as soon as there is any indication that she can have any impact on the election.

And that leaves former Baltimore County Executive and current Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger. There has been a flurry of stories recently that he is considering running. If he did, it would turn the race upside down. Two reasons that he might: Democrats are likely to remain the minority in the House for quite a while; and it is a race that no one has wrapped up and it might be winnable by Ruppersberger.

The challenge: how well he’s known outside of the Baltimore area isn’t clear. Moreover, he’s never run statewide and would have to decide that he’s willing to give up his House seat for a rough-and-tumble campaign for governor.

Summer is fast approaching. Don’t expect too much drama before the fall, but then the pressure really will be on anyone who is in the race to get serious.

Laslo Boyd writes and consults about public policy, government, and politics. He is a regulator contributor to Center Maryland. His email is lvboyd@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Laslo Boyd:

Searching for Superman: The Future of Baltimore City Schools

Is Help Coming From Annapolis?