Kratovil, O'Malley and taxes

Our friends over at O'Malleywatch raise an interesting question about the apparently very close 1st Congressional District race. The district was drawn intentionally to make it a safe Republican seat, and Frank Kratovil has generally tried to position himself as a moderate-to-conservative Dem, which is what you'd think you'd have to do to get elected there. (To wit: all the commercials featuring Wayne Gilchrest's endorsement.)

But, Martin Watcher notes, Kratovil hasn't been running away from Gov. O'Malley, whose support for tax increases would, you'd think, make him anathema in a district like the 1st. Not only that, but Kratovil has criticized Harris for voting against the tax hikes. Mr. Watcher writes:

So here is my concern. If Frank Kratovil isn’t afraid to run away from O’Malley’s tax increases in Congressional District 1, are the State Senators that voted against the filibuster that allowed O’Malley’s tax increase to pass, or the State Delegates that sat on their hands while their leadership ran this down our throats behind closed doors going to be worried? Democracy works because voters hold politicians accountable for their actions. Is Maryland going to be a state that approves of their politicians passing huge tax increases on people?


I’m not trying to get involved in Congressional District 1’s race, or the Presidential election because I truly think that the largest impacts are made on a State and local level. I’m just pointing out my shock that Kratovil, who is doing really well in the polls, didn’t run from the O’Malley tax increase and is still doing well in the polls. Does this mean that the narrative has changed and voters approve of the O’Malley tax plan? And how will this effect 2010?

There are a number of indications in the new Post poll that would suggest that Maryland voters aren't nearly so hopped up about the $1.3 or $1.4 billion in tax increases as many people would expect. The Post pegged O'Malley's rating at 53 percent approve and 37 percent disapprove, for a net favorable rating of 16, about the same as the plus-12 it found for him before the tax increases. The Post's last poll had Ehrlich's ratings at 55/42 at this point, a plus-7 rating. Moreover, The Post asked whether voters would vote for Ehrlich or O'Malley today, and the Democratic gov. won by 21 points.

That said, I think you can make a strong argument that much of what's driving voters these days is national, not local. Notice that O'Malley's poll numbers are that good in the same poll that has 31 percent of voters saying Maryland is on the right track and 63 percent saying the wrong one. Those are the worst numbers in the history of The Post's polling on the question. That disconnect makes me think that people are really talking about whether the nation is on the right or wrong track, not about whether particular policies coming out of Annapolis are helping or hurting them.

Moreover, the poll found that 90 percent of people are worried about the state of the nation's economy over the coming years but just 65 percent are worried about their own family's situation. That suggests to me that a lot of voters in Maryland are caught up in an overwhelming concern about what's going on in the world (easy to understand given the state of the economy) that trumps in some way consideration of what's going on immediately around them. The enormity of the financial crisis, the foreclosure crisis, etc. may, for the moment, be weighing more heavily than the question of whether the sales tax is 5 percent or 6 percent.

So, what does that tell us about state races in 2010? Maybe not much. Harris is suffering from the fact that the Republican brand's stock is about as low right now as it's ever been, and he might suffer more on Nov. 4 from turnout inspired by an extraordinary presidential election. (If you don't think that makes a difference, check out the numbers for Donna Edwards vs. Al Wynn in 2004 and 2006.)

Two years from now, maybe we're living under Pax-Obama, all is right with the world and the Democrats will still be riding high. Maybe John McCain has resurrected Republicanism and Maryland's open to a new, maverick-y GOP. Maybe whoever's elected gets creamed by the next Great Depression. Who knows? But I'd bet the mood of the country right now doesn't tell us much about how Maryland voters will be feeling in 2010 about tax increases from 2007.

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