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October 20, 2014

Two Weeks Out

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Really, we shouldn't even be having a conversation about the race for governor. In Maryland, the election of the Democratic Party candidate should be a virtual given. With a greater than 2-1 voter registration advantage statewide, there should be no mystery here.


The ONLY reason this is even of slight interest is due to the inherent weakness of the Democrat's choice this year.


Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown suffers from several flaws. He prefers to run safely, so he kept a relatively low public profile until the very end. When he finally decided to stick his head out of his political foxhole, it was through TV commercials, some of them paid for by PACs and special interests.


Next, his record of leadership is an embarrassment. Not a mixed bag of good and bad, but a string of consecutive losses. Most notable was the failure of the launch of Maryland's healthcare insurance exchange. In the run-up to the launch, Anthony Brown was the point man for the O'Malley Administration.


No doubt this was part of his strategy, as Gov. Martin O'Malley envisioned an easy path to a promotion for his protégé by having him seen as the hero to the sick and needy.


Unfortunately, instead of witnessing the emergence of a visionary future leader, we saw a distracted and distanced finger-pointer, where – when answers were sought – all we heard were excuses for unmitigated failure.


On the other side, real-estate broker and developer Larry Hogan has shown himself a tireless campaigner. Mr. Hogan has exceeded every ounce of conventional wisdom, starting with his choice for lieutenant governor, Boyd Rutherford, down to his extremely focused message discipline.


In almost any other state in the Nation, this one would be a no-brainer. Mr. Hogan's smart and focused campaign, in contrast with the fumbling, bumbling Brown machine, would all but hand the keys to the governor's mansion to Mr. Hogan.


Unfortunately, this isn't any other state. This is Maryland.


Despite the uninterrupted string of campaign missteps and mistakes, the Brown team approaches November 4th with confidence and maybe even a hint of arrogance.


Need more proof? In contested gubernatorial races all over the country, high-profile Democrats have gently refused overtures from President Barack Obama for a presidential whistle stop visit. One U.S. Senate candidate even left his state to avoid appearing with the president at his own event!


It seems that under conventional wisdom, having our resoundingly unpopular president show up at anything other than a private, closed-press fundraiser is akin to embracing an open flame. The third-degree burns just aren't worth the squeeze.


Recently, the Brown campaign announced that President Obama would be in Maryland to endorse and support Mr. Brown. While a Democrat president endorsing a Democrat candidate for governor should surprise no one, this president being invited to an endorsement event in this election cycle is a surprise.


It just demonstrates the basic challenge faced by the Hogan team. This isn't a blue state, this is the blue state.


So why did Bob Ehrlich upset Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend, you ask? While there were several factors, only one really matters. Mrs. Kennedy-Townsend had a peculiar political albatross around her neck not evident in the Brown campaign. The state Democrat machine, most notably then-House Speaker Casper Taylor (D., Allegany) and Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller (D., PG/Calvert) never really got behind her run. In fact, outgoing Gov. Parris Glendenning didn't either.


Sure Bob Ehrlich had a ton of past political experience, a strong campaign team (including a younger Larry Hogan), and an effusive and attractive personal style, but the true basis for the upset of conventional wisdom was the lack of commitment to the Democrat by the party power brokers.


The election is a mere two weeks from tomorrow. The Brown campaign is bringing in President Obama to rally their base voters in Baltimore, Prince George’s and Montgomery County. They're counting on urban and minority voters to look beyond the policy failures, the disingenuous advertising and the rampant O'Malley fatigue. They're hoping to rekindle the essential motivation that brought these same voters out to the polls in record numbers in 20008, when the thought of voting for America's first African-American president turned the traditional voter turnout models on their heads.


Expect that theme to be repeated often in the next two weeks. Barack Obama's policies have benefitted the base of the Democrat Party. Anthony Brown wants those folks to imagine that his administration will do the same despite a ton of evidence to the contrary.


If they do, then there is almost no statistical chance for Larry Hogan to win.


If, on the other hand, Democrat and unaffiliated voters look past the rhetoric and consider the obvious shortcomings, then we may all be surprised in two weeks.


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