Analysis: Race for Maryland Governor

Joe Cluster, the Maryland Republican Party’s executive director, says he is “cautiously optimistic.” (provided)

Joe Cluster, the Maryland Republican Party’s executive director, says he is “cautiously optimistic.” (provided)

Although it is still early, the race for governor of Maryland is already shaping up to be a competitive one.

With nine candidates saying they plan on running, the field ranges from seasoned politicians to experienced businessmen and even to a Baltimore-area teacher, all of whom want to succeed the still-popular Gov. Martin O’Malley.

So far, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur and Baltimore resident Ralph Jaffe have thrown their hats in the ring for the Democratic nomination in the June 24 primary.

On the Republican side, the field consists of Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Anne Arundel Delegate Ron George, Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, former Baltimore City firefighter Brian Vaeth and Anne Arundel County resident Larry Hogan, who served as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s appointment secretary.

Although only one Republican has managed to win a Maryland gubernatorial election during the past 48 years (Ehrlich, who defeated then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002), the Maryland Republican Party feels good about 2014.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Joe Cluster, the party’s executive director, adding that he and his associates see a lot of similarities between 2014 and 2002, when underdog Ehrlich defeated Townsend, who had easily won the Democratic nomination on the back of her status within then-Gov. Parris Glendening’s administration.

Predicting that 2014 will be a good year for Republicans across the country, Cluster added that the Democratic candidates face a tough battle among each other in June, something that could leave the candidates with more than a few primary bruises.

However, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, all indicators suggest the race will be decided by the Democratic primary.

In terms of name recognition, Democrats have a clear upper hand. October 2013 polls showed that Brown has the most name recognition — 62 percent — among the candidates. Gansler follows with 58 percent. Baltimore’s Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2), who recently said he is leaning toward not running, leads Republicans Craig, Lollar, George and fellow Democrat Mizeur in name recognition.

Although it is not impossible, “it’s hard to see Maryland as a state where a Republican is going to win a statewide election,” said Laslo Boyd, political columnist and managing partner at Mellenbrook Policy Advisors. “If a Republican candidate comes with the Tea Party baggage of being anti-marriage equality, anti-abortion [and] strongly against the gun regulations, that’s not going to play well in Maryland.”

On the other hand, many Marylanders have grown increasingly wary of the state’s high taxes. According to 2010 Census data, Baltimore ranks above the national average for cost of transportation, utilities, housing and food. In Washington, D.C., the situation is even worse with the overall cost of living 40 percent higher than the national average.

If the Republicans focus their efforts on fiscal issues and concede some of the social issues popular along the party line, Boyd said their chances of victory could be much higher.

“It’s going to take a candidate who can appeal to those issues that are frustrating to people — perhaps taxes, perhaps the cost of government — without falling prey to the divisive social issues that play well in other states,” said Boyd.

In the meantime, much of the attention has been focusing on Democrats Gansler and Brown.

For Gansler, who has served on the board of directors of the Jewish Community Center for Greater Washington and has been involved with the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, the biggest hurdle could be overcoming the mishandling of some of the stories that surfaced earlier this year involving a teen beach party and disgruntled state police aides. While the stories have died down, they easily could be rekindled by opponents.

For Brown, who has collected endorsements from U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.-5) and two former Maryland attorneys general, one of his proudest and most touted accomplishments could prove to be a pitfall. His website boasts that he “led the nation in implementing the Affordable Care Act,” but with many people still frustrated with the new policy, it remains to be seen whether this will work for or against his campaign.

“There has been some political discussion that if the health-care exchanges are not working well, that could hurt him,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, an advocacy organization that lobbies for government accountability.

The Brown-[Ken] Ulman ticket looks like the frontrunner right now, said Bevan-Dangel, but that can easily change. While candidates who serve in the Maryland General Assembly are not permitted to fund raise while they are in session, both Brown and running mate Ulman, county executive of Howard County, are free to keep adding to their treasure chest.

“Historically in Maryland, we’ve seen a pretty straight-line correlation between fundraising and success of the campaign,” said Bevan-Dangel. “It’s simply a mechanism of how much you can afford to get your name out.”

See related articles, “By The Numbers.

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter
hnorris@jewishtimes.com

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