Will, Potomac: If Martin O'Malley wins the gubernatorial election in 2006, will he be alikely candidate for vice president in 2008? Or even as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2012 or 2016?
Nitkin: Vice presidential candidates are usually selected to help bring geographic balance to a ticket as well as electoral votes. Maryland is a relatively small state, with only 10 electoral votes. Plus, it's a "between" state -- not really northern, not really southern, so it doesn't add a lot of geographic balance.
Just as a nation asked "Spiro who?" when Richard Nixon selected Spiro Agnew as a running mate in 1968, after just two years of the Maryland governor being in office, many would also ask "Martin who?" if Hillary Clinton or Bill Richardson or Mark Warner or someone else selected Martin O'Malley.
Andrew, Gaithersburg: Is it a sign of desperation by Doug Duncan when he is alreadygoing negative in his campaign against O'Malley? If Duncan is so qualified to run for governor, then why doesn't he stress his accomplishments, instead of trying to smear his opponent?
Nitkin: I wouldn't say it's a sign of desperation. I'd say it's a nod toward reality. Duncan is about 20 points back in the polls, so he doesn't have the luxury of merely appearing "gubernatorial" or just telling voters all he has done in Montgomery County. For Duncan to win the primary, he needs both to sell himself and raise doubts about O'Malley's record and leadership.
Duncan's campaign believes it is fair -- and I agree with them -- to talk about the performance of schools and the safety of the streets in Baltimore. Duncan does talk about his accomplishments often. He talks about school quality in Montgomery County, and other issues. But when the trains run on time, as they figuratively do in Montgomery County government much of the time, it's hard to get the media's attention.
Bacon, Baltimore: I'm of the mindset that what one does with a little, he will do with a lot. With that in mind, why on earth should anyone vote for O'Malley as governor when he has done a horrific job as mayor of Baltimore City? (See Baltimore City Public School System and revolving door of police commissioner.)
Nitkin: Big cities are hard places to manage, and we've written articles that big-city mayors often don't get elected to higher office. (Think of Ed Koch in New York, for example.) For decades, Baltimore had lost population and suffered from high drug-addiction rates. Schools in Baltimore are a partnership of the city and the state, so there's enough blame and/or credit to go around.
O'Malley's selection of police commissioners is certainly a topic for debate. But one of his commissioners -- Ed Norris -- was hired by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to run the Maryland State Police before being indicted on charges that he misused a slush fund. Whatever happens in Baltimore over the next 11 months -- murders, school problems and other matters -- will certainly be debate topics.
Eric, Ijamsville: With Kweisi Mfume and Michael Steele running for the U.S. Senate seat, and Anthony Brown a lieutenant governor candidate, does this make Maryland ageographical hot spot for black politicians?
Nitkin: Maryland has a black population approaching 30 percent, the highest of any state outside the Deep South. Prince George's County is the wealthiest majority-black jurisdiction in the country, and the only place that has gotten wealthier as the black population increased. The viable candidacies of Mfume, Steele and Brown reflect the demographics of the state, and the political opportunities available to black leaders.
Dan, Largo: Is Brown now a contender for the Senate seat in 2010 currently held by Barbara Mikulski?
Nitkin: Yes, if Mikulski does not run again. But the list of candidates in that case would be very long.
Craig, Gaithersburg: After O'Malley's formal announcement of Brown as his running mate, it is most likely that Duncan will have to pick a black running mate, preferably from Prince George's County. Does this make Duncan look like a follower of O'Malley's practices?
Nitkin: Most political observers agree that Duncan will also select a black running mate, and Prince George's County is perhaps the most important jurisdiction in the Democratic primary. If Duncan goes in that direction, it is now inevitable that his announcement will make slightly less of a splash than O'Malley's did. The advantage, in this case, goes to the person who went first.
Kevin, Hagerstown: Do you think it would be a wise choice for Duncan to ask Mfume to be his running mate? Would Mfume consider this opportunity?
Nitkin: As a black Baltimore Democrat, Mfume would be an asset to a Duncan ticket -- although he does carry some baggage regarding allegations that surfaced after he left as CEO of the NAACP. But after heading a national civil rights group and serving as a congressman for 10 years, Mfume is unlikely to play second fiddle to anybody, even if he slips behind in the Senate contest.
Nick, Howard County: The youngest age for becoming a delegate is 21. Can any 21-year-old candidate actually win a race against three older incumbents?
Nitkin: Hypothetically, sure. There are several members of the General Assembly in their 20s -- but most commonly, they ran for open seats, not against incumbents. Scandal, controversial votes or non-aggressive campaigning can lead to the defeat of incumbent delegates.
Joe, Baltimore: How come when O'Malley picks a black running mate he is considered as wise and the choice is labeled by your paper as a "diverse alliance" but when Ehrlich chose Steele, your paper said "all he offers is the color of his skin." Could it be that an alleged "unbiased" newspaper is not unbiased at all? Second question: Just how much of a diverse alliance does The Sun have on it's editorial board?
Nitkin: The appropriate comparison is between news coverage of the Steele pick four years ago, and news coverage of the Brown pick this month -- rather than comparing news coverage with an opinion editorial. In 2002, I was fortunate enough to break the story that Ehrlich had selected Steele as a running mate. Here's the first few paragraphs of a story that ran on the front page of The Sun on July 1 of that year:
"Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to name state Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele as his running mate in the race for governor today, according to a source familiar with the selection process.
Selection of the corporate lawyer and Prince George's County resident underscores Ehrlich's effort to win black votes in the election.
Ehrlich, the likely GOP nominee, has campaigned frequently in Baltimore and has been a regular guest on urban radio stations. The addition to his ticket of Steele, the second African-American to head the state Republican Party, would assist that effort.
Steele, 43, could not be reached for comment last night, and Ehrlich, in an interview, would not confirm the choice. A news conference to announce the selection is scheduled for 10 a.m. today in Annapolis.
Paul Schurick, an Ehrlich campaign aide, also declined to confirm Steele's candidacy, calling it "pure speculation."
In his two years as head of the state party, Steele has developed a reputation as a freewheeling, hard-hitting partisan willing to attack Democrats who he says have grown arrogant and complacent in their decades of dominating Maryland politics.
In recent weeks, his stock has risen as he took on one of the state's most powerful politicians. Steele has filed ethics complaints against Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller after the senator contacted two state Court of Appeals judges and berated them for an interim decision they made in legislative redistricting lawsuits.
Steele is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University Law Center. His quick mind and ready wit have also received a national audience; he has been a guest on Politically Incorrect, the late-night ABC show that featured Bill Maher as host."
Back to the present: Months later, the editorial board wrote the line you mention. It's important to keep distinct the views of the editorial board and the work of journalists that appear in the news pages. I do not know the racial, gender, political, age or religious makeup of the editorial board. They work on a different floor, and the news department is not privy to their decisions or deliberations.
The victory of the diverse Ehrlich-Steele team over the all-white Townsend-Larson team underscored the need -- indeed, the mandate -- for diversity in gubernatorial tickets for the foreseeable future.
Kevin, Baltimore: Will The Sun investigate who "MD4BUSH" really is? There have been reports the hoax was a pre-emptive political strike. If so, what does O'Malley have to hide?
Nitkin: The Sun is trying to determine the identity of MD4BUSH, and will publish it as soon as we find out. It is clear that MD4BUSH is an online identity created for the sole purpose of entrapping Ehrlich aide Joe Steffen, the infamous "Prince of Darkness," in talking about rumors about O'Malley.
The O'Malley camp would argue that MD4BUSH unleashed a retaliatory strike to end rumors that were being circulated, not a pre-emptive strike. If Democrats close to O'Malley are shown to be behind MD4BUSH, they will have some explaining to do. They will say that the revelation doesn't change the facts about the actions of Steffen in spreading rumors, or what he did on behalf of Ehrlich in many elections.
Larry, Arbutus: Why is it that Ehrlich always has to have some type of "dark prince" in his corner? First it was Steffen, then Ehrlich was connected to [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff, and now he has hired Bo Harmon, who is known for his beyond-disgraceful campaigns. Can Ehrlich hire someone who has honor and integrity?
Nitkin: Ehrlich is an athlete and a competitor who likes to win. The reason politicians employ negative campaign tactics is because they work -- it helps them win elections. That said, Ehrlich has hired many people with honor and integrity to assist him in running state government, a list that includes current chief of staff Chip DiPaula, former chief of staff Steve Kreseski, deputy chief of staff Mary Beth Carrozza, policy adviser Joe Getty, any number of cabinet secretaries including general services chief Boyd Rutherford. The list could go on.
Nathan, North Potomac: I recently heard Ehrlich on a radio program titled "The Junkies." Ehrlich has a state to govern. Why is he having needless small talk with a radio show? Meanwhile, the murder rate in Prince George's County is astoundingly high.
Nitkin: Ehrlich spends a lot of time on radio because it is a medium with which he feels comfortable. Part of a job of chief executive is communicating a message, and part of the message the governor spreads on shows like the Sports Junkies on WHFS radio is that he is an average, likable guy who can relate to real people.
Democrats argue that such appearances show that the governor is more interested in public relations than in doing the hard work needed to run a state government.
Andrew, Germantown: Do you think that Duncan's diminishing support in Montgomery County is related to his obvious ties to developers? Or is his diminishing support due to the charismatic appeal of O'Malley?
Nitkin: The most recent polling for The Sun, conducted in early November, showed that Duncan would get more votes than O'Malley in Montgomery County in the Democrat primary (although the sample size was very small, so we don't feel comfortable publishing the exact percentages).
Likewise, in the general election, Duncan would get twice as many votes than Ehrlich in Montgomery County. In the 2002 election for county executive -- the last time he was on the ballot -- Duncan received 81 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, and 76 percent of the vote in the general election. While Duncan has taken some recent hits over the Clarksburg development situation, I haven't seen widespread evidence yet ofdiminishing support in his home county.
Joshua, Baltimore: Why are O'Malley and Brown razzing on Ehrlich for not doing anything for our state? They don't have any right whatsoever to be sending that kind of message.
Nitkin: Joshua, that's what campaigns are about. Ehrlich has said repeatedly -- and he is right -- that the 2006 gubernatorial election will be a referendum on his performance in office. The governor will be running on the themes that he inherited projected budget shortfalls, and the state now has a large surplus. He'll tout the funding he pumped into public schools, his plan to improve sewage systems and clean the Chesapeake Bay by imposing a "flush tax," and his fight to hold the line on sales and income taxes.
O'Malley, Duncan and other Democrats will argue that Ehrlich has been a disengaged governor who has let the state slide on his watch, who increased tolls and fees on cars and sewage systems, who raised university tuition rates and who brought gridlock to Annapolis. It's up to voters to decide which side is closer to the truth.
Miles, Columbia: Why do you think that Ehrlich made an example of you by publicly stating that he and his administration would no longer take questions from you? Why did he single you out? I am interested in your thoughts here. Thank you!
Nitkin: Testy relations between the governor and The Sun date to late 2002, when the paper endorsed Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for governor and said in the editorial that Steele brought little to the ticket other than the color of his skin. Ehrlich won the election, and the administration got off to a rocky start. It couldn't pass a slots bill or get much other legislation passed in Annapolis.
As the paper covered the weaknesses of the administration, the governor's fury grew. In 2003, I began writing a series of articles about a little-publicized deal to sell more than 800 acres ofstate-owned forest to a politically connected contracting company owner. I repeatedly asked the governor whether the transaction was good for Marylanders; he repeatedly said he did not know the answer. Then, he accused me of attacking his personal integrity.
In one article about other state preservation land the state was studying for potential sale, an incorrect map accompanied the story. The map was on the front page. The governor's office knows I had nothing to do with preparing the map, but they used it as justification for banning all state government employees from speaking to me -- on the grounds that I was failing to cover the administration objectively (I was State House bureau chief at the time). The Sun sued on the grounds of First Amendment violations, and the stalemate has lasted more than a year. It is clear to most observers, and Ehrlich acknowledges, that the administration is hostile to The Sun and the Washington Post and prefers to communicate on radio, on television, and through smaller newspapers.
James E. Walsh, Cumberland: By naming a sitting legislator as his running mate, is O'Malley now prohibited from raising campaign funds during the General Assemblysession?
Nitkin: O'Malley is not prohibited from raising money, but Brown is. State law prohibits state office-holders (legislators, the governor and lieutenant governor, the comptroller and the attorney general) from soliciting funds during the 90-day legislative session. Brown is covered by the prohibition; O'Malley is not.
Pete, Boonsboro: Is Maryland a breeding ground for close elections, due to its geopolitical landscape -- with Republicans permeated throughout the Eastern Shoreand Northern Maryland, and the Democrat-heavy areas of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, along with Baltimore City?
Nitkin: Your description of Maryland's geopolitical landscape is accurate, but Maryland remains a 2-1 state for Democrats. The 1994 gubernatorial election was incredibly close, and the 2002 contest that Ehrlich won was closer than usual. But there hasn't been a very close Senate or congressional race in some time.
In my view, Maryland sometimes has close elections because many citizens care deeply about politics and public issues, and are willing to cross party lines based on the strength or weaknesses of individual candidates.
Henry, Damascus: Is it possible that Maryland and/or other states will abandon the popular vote in governor elections and move to an electoral vote? Counties would be like states, in that the number of electoral votes would depend on the population of that county. Does this at all sound plausible? And would it be better than a popular vote?
Nitkin: That's not a plausible scenario. Of the many election changes under discussion -- from early voting to a voting system recently adopted by Takoma Park that allows voters to rank candidates to avoid runoffs -- switching to an electoral-type system is not in the mix. Such a system would cause candidates to focus entirely on the very few suburban counties that could swing either way in an election, to the detriment of both rural andurban areas.
Robert Amato, Perryville: Since we in the "boonies" have no impact on statewide elections, we are ignored by the power brokers. How can we increase our influence?
Nitkin: I respectfully disagree with the premise. The former House speaker, Cas Taylor, is from Cumberland. The minority leader of the Senate, J. Lowell Stoltzfus, is from the Lower Shore. Less-populated areas of Maryland matter. The state senators and delegates who represent your area do not ignore you; they carry your concerns to Annapolis.
I've seen it time and again: the democratic process is a wonderful thing to behold. If peopleorganize and present good arguments with a certain amount of persistence, a relatively small number of people can accomplish big things in the political process. Sometimes, it takes a couple of years. So patience is also a virtue.
Theresa Bruette, Columbia: Will we have paper verification receipts on our e-voting machines in time for the 2006 gubernatorial election? If not, why not?
Nitkin: It's looking unlikely. After debating the "paper trail" issue for two years, the Assembly passed a watered-down bill last year that called for a study and a pilot program for electronic voting machines to print receipts that voters can review. Ehrlich vetoed the bill, and set up his own study panel, which is supposed to wrap up its work this month. While Diebold, the supplier of Maryland's machines, is in all sorts of financial trouble, state elections and government officials have expressed no interest in making changes for the 2006 election, and time has almost run out.
Thomas, Kensington: It is a fact that O'Malley's campaign manager was former finance director for the 1996 Senate campaign for Max Cleland. With Ehrlich's recent hiring of his political director -- who played the key role in the negative campaign and disgusting ads against Cleland, and in the end defeated Cleland -- will this at all have a toll on [O'Malley campaign manager] Jonathan Epstein in dealing with the tactics of Ehrlich's new political director?
Nitkin: Let me alter your fact: Epstein was deputy finance director for the 1996 Cleland campaign. (Quick, trivia fans: Who was his boss? If you said Finance Director Tom Thompson, pat yourself on the back.) In my conversations with Epstein, he sounds excited and eager for the challenge of campaigning against Bo Harmon, the newly hired Ehrlich political director.
Drew, Baltimore: Do you think that Cleland will make any appearances with the Democratic nominee for governor? Will this help the nominee at all?
Nitkin: Entirely likely. Matthew Mosk of the Washington Post reported this last week: "In 2004, Cleland spent time in Maryland raising money for Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential bid. Maryland Democrats said yesterday that they expect Cleland will return to help Ehrlich's eventual opponent."
Jay, Arlington,Va.: Don't you think the ultimate Democratic presidential ticket in the near future would be any order of Sen. Barack Obama and, if he wins in 2006, then-Gov. O'Malley. Both are up-and-coming fresh faces in the party and the nation. Both are young and charismatic. Do you think these two would form an unbeatable ticket?
Nitkin: There's an adage that a day is a lifetime in politics. To begin speculating about 2012 or 2016 presidential tickets is way, way beyond my field of vision.
Marja, Baltimore: How is O'Malley going to herd in those Democrats for Ehrlich who abandoned the Democratic Party.
Nitkin: I'm a believer that Townsend lost the 2002 election more than Ehrlich won it. If O'Malley wins the nomination, he will be a much stronger candidate than Townsend was. With President Bush's poll numbers in the tank in Maryland and a series of GOP congressional scandals, many Democrats who voted for Ehrlich may not need much convincing to return to their side of the ballot. That said, as I and others have noted before, it is very unusual for incumbent governors to lose their re-election bids.
Pete, Washington County: Would it be considered an upset if Mfume wins the open Senate seat? It has also been said that Bill Clinton likes the idea of Mfume inthe Senate -- will this prompt Clinton to come to Maryland and campaign for Mfume?
Nitkin: The latest polling for The Sun showed Mfume running neck and neck with U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin in the Democratic primary. Mfume is well-positioned in the race. For a former Baltimore City Council member, five-term congressman and NAACP chief to be elected to the Senate could not be considered an upset. I wouldn't be surprised to see Clinton campaign for Mfume, if he wins the Democratic nomination.
Jason Fraser, Washington, D.C.: Now that O'Malley has picked Brown to be his running mate, do you think it is really possible that Ehrlich will pick someone like Wayne Curry to run with him?
Also, one can't help to wonder what is going on with Glenn Ivey. Does he know something that we all don't know? Apparently, he was the top choice for O'Malley, but now it looks like he is eying the [attorney general] job, knowing that [Joseph J.] Curran [Jr.] will announce his retirement soon?
Interesting scenario: If O'Malley wins and Mikulski retires, Brown can be appointed to the open Senate seat, Ivey can be appointed to lieutenant governor, and then it will [be] open season for the AG position! But that might not sit well for some of the congressional Maryland Democrats who will be frozen out (think Al Wynn, Chris Van Hollen, etc.).
Nitkin: Jason, that's one question and a lot of pretty interesting -- and plausible -- speculation. Yes, it's possible for Ehrlich to select the former Prince George's County executive, Curry, as a running mate. Curry would have to switch parties to run, which would anger some rank-and-file Republicans. But Ehrlich needs to re-create the magic of the Ehrlich-Steele ticket, and Curry may be his best bet to do so.
Other commentators, notably Blair Lee IV, have talked about a secret deal -- that Brown gets named to the Senate if Mikulski resigns, then Ivey is the leading contender for attorney general. It's an interesting idea, but I can't confirm it.
Bob Robertson, Westminster: I am puzzled by Elijah Cummings' comment that follows your observation about Brown's Cuban/Jamaican/Swiss heritage. What does any of that have to do with Africa ... and why does it matter?
Keith Krabbe, Lutherville: The following is straight from your article: "And he chose a partner who reflects some of the diversity of Maryland. Brown is the product of the marriage between a Cuban father raised in Jamaica and a Swiss mother.
'It does not hurt that he is an African-American,' Cummings said. 'African-Americans in the Democratic Party want to see somebody on that level representing them, coming from that community.'"
When did Cuba and Switzerland become part of the continent of Africa? I know all politics are local, but someone should get Cummings a globe.
Nitkin: I'll take these two together. Brown calls himself an African-American. To clarify, he told me recently that his father is a Jamaican born in Cuba, who later moved to Brooklyn. Race matters in politics and in life. African-Americans make up nearly 30 percent of the state population, and black political leaders are striving for representation at the highest levels of government.
Randy, Howard County: Out of the three candidates for governor, is O'Malley more appealing to black voters than the other two candidates, due to his credentials of being a mayor of a heavily black-populated city?
Nitkin: Either Democratic candidate -- O'Malley or Duncan -- will get far more black support (most likely at least 8 of 10 African-American votes) than the Republican will. That's a fact. Our polling showed that in an O'Malley-Ehrlich matchup, the mayor would get 68 percent of the black vote, and the governor would get 11 percent, with 20 percent undecided.
In a Duncan-Ehrlich match, the Montgomery County executive would get 59 percent of the black vote, with 16 percent for Ehrlich and 24 percent undecided. By those measures, it's fair to say that O'Malley performs best among black voters right now.
Jennifer Chaney, Street: Why does The Sun continue to not adequately cover the failing record of the O'Malley administration in Baltimore City? Soaring crime rates,increased fear of crime, a homicide rate that is one of the highest in the nation, and a police force that is not properly equipped, paid or supported are not what I would consider great accomplishments by your "marquee" mayor.
Nitkin: We've written a lot about O'Malley's record in Baltimore, particularly on crime, and we plan to write much more. This will certainly be one of the major themes of the campaign.