Wide-open governor’s race provides opportunities for candidates on all levels
by Ron Snyder
The race to be the next Maryland governor is predicted to set off a domino effect across state politics.
The first domino to fall came Monday in Columbia when Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown – a Democrat who already officially entered the race for the statehouse – officially tapped Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as his running mate.
That announcement took Ulman, 39, and barred by law from seeking a third term as county executive, out of the ranks of potential gubernatorial candidates. It also offers Brown, 51, who represented Prince George’s County in the House of Delegates, support from a county with ties to both Baltimore and Montgomery counties and a huge influx of campaign funds. Ulman reported that he had $2.1 million in his campaign war chest compared to $1.6 million for Brown.
Brown’s toughest competition in the Democratic primary is likely to come from Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is expected to make his bid official in the fall. Gansler, from Montgomery County, has $5.1 million available for his campaign.
Others contemplating a run on the Democratic side are Del. Heather Mizeur, also of Montgomery County, and U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County. A Brown victory would be historic on many levels as he would be the state’s first African-American governor and the first lieutenant governor ever to be elected governor.
“Anthony Brown has helped make Maryland a great state and his dedication to serving the people of Maryland is unmatched,” Ulman said. “I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with the lieutenant governor for the past decade, and I’ve been inspired by his work ethic, his energy and his unyielding commitment to the families of this state. … So when Anthony Brown asked me to be a part of his team, the decision was simple: I said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Brown said adding Ulman to the ticket will only help him build on the record he and Gov. Martin O’Malley began six years ago, which includes being on the forefront of implementing President Barack Obama’s health care reforms and passing the most stringent gun control laws in the country.
“Ken Ulman has a tremendous record of leadership and results, and I’m excited to have him joining our campaign to build a better Maryland,” Brown said.
Gansler released a statement announcing his intention not to seek re-election for attorney general, but offered little insight into when he will officially file.
Gansler strategists Bill Knapp and Doug Thornell said they won’t let other candidates dictate how they will run their campaign.
“We feel very good on where we are at right now,” Thornell said. “We have a plan in place that we believe will put us in the strongest possible position. The attorney general’s campaign will be based on ideas and a strong record he has built over his last 6 ½ years in office.”
Opportunities on all levels
The expectation that Gansler will eventually throw his name into the gubernatorial race has led other candidates to explore the possibilities of succeeding him as the state’s top lawyer. Among those who have expressed interest in the job include Democrats Del. Jon Cardin (D-11), Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-25), Del. William Frick (D-16) and Sen. Brian Frosh (D-16).
Cardin said he has unofficially been campaigning for more than a year and plans on officially entering the race in the next few months. He added that he won’t let other candidates or races make him deviate from his campaign strategy.
“We have a plan in place and we are following it through,” said Cardin, 43, an attorney from Baltimore County. “We don’t want to do anything that would put Doug Gansler in an uncomfortable position. At the same time, we will make decisions that are in the best interest of our campaign.”
Cardin continued: “I’ve spent the last year crisscrossing the state, learning about running in a statewide race and understanding the issues facing everyone from the mountains of western Maryland to the ocean on the Eastern Shore. I believe there is one person who is most qualified to be the state’s attorney general and that is me.”
No clear-cut favorites
Herb Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College, called Brown’s selection of Ulman a “net positive” for his campaign, but admits it’s still too early to pick a favorite this early in the election. The state’s primaries are set for June 24, 2014, with the general election set for Nov. 4, 2014. This differs from previous state elections when the primaries took place in September.
“It will be hard to spin the Ulman selection as a negative,” Smith said. “It’s unusual for a lieutenant governor pick to come out this soon. But, the early primaries have changed the game.”
On Gansler, Smith said the depth of his campaign coffers allows him to take his time in officially entering the race, but that could change if Brown is able to pick up financial steam following the addition of Ulman to his ticket.
“Right now, the game is about polls, endorsements and funding,” Smith said. “The fall is when the average voter will start paying attention. Should the big-ticket donors start to back Brown, it may force Gansler to speed up his campaign.”
Smith also said that having an open seat at the governorship provides opportunities for candidates at all levels and should make for many competitive races.
“In politics, it’s not just about desire and funding, it’s also about opportunity,” Smith said. “The opportunities for newcomers are always better when there is not an incumbent.”
It’s that opening, Smith said, which he believes will give a Republican in heavily Democratic Maryland a fighting chance to win the governorship back. The GOP last won the governor’s race in 2002 when Bob Ehrlich defeated Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Another rallying point for Republicans, Smith said, is voters’ potential anger over higher taxes under O’Malley’s watch. According to ChangeMaryland.org, the state has raised more than $3.1 billion in taxes and fees since O’Malley took office in 2007.
“If voters vote with their wallets, there could be an opening for a Republican candidate in the governor’s race,” Smith said.
That history is partly what motivated Republicans seeking the state’s top office. Harford County Executive David Craig kicked off his bid for the nomination on Monday, too, at a rally outside his home in Havre de Grace. Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County formally announced his bid on Wednesday in Annapolis.
Craig believes his track record, which includes time as a city councilman and mayor in Havre de Grace, as well as serving as a delegate and state senator, offers voters a fiscally conservative option.
“There are many people who register as Democrats, but will vote for Republicans in an open seat race,” Craig said. “When there is an incumbent running – unless they have done something criminal – it can be difficult [for a Republican] to win.”
“We have an abundance of riches,” said Ron Halber, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington executive director. “The JCRC and the Jewish community have very strong relationships with the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor. Doug [Gansler] is from Montgomery County and has been a well-known elected official and leader in the community for year. We have a strong relationship with Anthony Brown and the JCRC took him to Israel in 2003 when he was an up and comer. We’ve maintained a strong relationship with him through the O’Malley-Brown administration. Ken Ulman has met with Jewish leaders several times over the past years and is a frequent participant in Jewish events (as are Brown and Gansler). He [Ulman] has deep ties in the Baltimore community, and we’ll be taking him to Israel along with MIDC [Maryland/Israel Development Center] at the end of July.”
Halber notes that the JCRC has also offered trips to Israel to the lieutenant governor and attorney general and will offer them as well to the Republican leading candidates.
Ron Snyder is a reporter with our sister publication, Baltimore Jewish Times.