2:19 PM EDT, May 31, 2014
In answer to reporters' questions about why he skipped last Tuesday's gubernatorial debate on WBFF-TV — or if he was bothered that the television station had presented him as an empty podium — Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown grinned and said the following:
"I'm looking forward to the Baltimore debate on WBAL next week on Monday, and then later next week we'll be at the Larry Young [radio] show. ... Look, I'm looking forward to next week's debate. ... I'm looking forward to next week's debate, guys, it's the Baltimore debate I'm looking forward to on WBAL. ... I'm looking forward to next week's debate."
That's how it came across in a news report on WBAL-TV (except there were brief, rapid-fire reporter questions where I put the dot-dot-dots).
Brown was on an East Baltimore street corner at the time, sucking up another in a long series of endorsements instead of participating in the FOX 45 debate across town. He evidently thought grinning and being evasive and repeating that answer — "I'm looking forward to next week's debate" — was pretty amusing.
Ha! Some funny guy we got here. And so press-savvy, too.
Let me cut through the baloney.
What Brown really wanted to say was: "I got this."
Or some version of that, such as, "Chill, everybody. I got this," or, "Dude, I'm not doing any more than a couple of TV debates. 'Cuz I got this."
Of course, saying that would have been nuts on Brown's part. He could never let on publicly that he thinks he has June's election in the bag.
And yet, that's what I took from his grin and from the whole empty-podium thing.
I don't know about anyone else around here, but that's what Brown's decision to skip the WBFF debate said to me: "I'm the front-runner. I've raised millions. The Democratic machine has endorsed me. I got this. I don't need to take any chances on messing it up."
I further suspect that Brown and his handlers have thoughts that go something like this: "The primary is June 24, earlier than ever for Maryland voters. Most of them aren't even paying attention — and a plurality of those who are have already told pollsters they're voting for me. So I've got this."
I can't read minds, of course, and I might be wrong. But I doubt it.
That's not hibiscus you smell. That's hubris.
Of course, as any Maryland Republican will tell you, this is what Democratic dominance gets you — a Democratic governor's hand-picked successor getting the full support of the Democratic machine, the endorsements of all the major Democratic players, and millions in campaign donations.
Plus, Brown has other things going for him that could make him the first lieutenant governor elected governor in the relatively brief history of lieutenant governors.
Pardon me while I provide an interlude of Maryland history: It's worth noting that elevating the second banana to the top job is not something Maryland voters have been inclined to do.
We've only had seven lieutenant governors elected to four-year terms in this state since the office was created by a constitutional amendment in 1970 — Blair Lee III, Sam Bogley, Joe Curran, Mickey Steinberg, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Michael Steele and Brown. None was elected to the governor's chair.
Brown has a great shot, and not only because the machine has embraced him. He has a military background and an Ivy League degree. He's been in politics for 15 years without scandal. He's telegenic and likable, and he hasn't committed any major gaffes during a carefully managed, relatively circumscribed campaign.
No wonder this man is grinning.
Brown also gets a bonus — an accommodating Democratic legislative leadership that agreed to delay any serious report on Maryland's botched health exchange rollout until well after the election, and probably next year.
Brown, of course, was the O'Malley administration's "point man" on the exchange, which was a messy national embarrassment for months.
As bad as it was, the exchange was not the "unmitigated disaster" that Attorney General Doug Gansler, one of Brown's Democratic opponents, called it.
In fact, it was a mitigated disaster, and thousands more Marylanders ended up getting Obamacare insurance by the end of the first sign-up season.
But the remedy and recovery from the bad start cost the state millions more than it should have.
It remains to be seen if any of Gansler's criticism of Brown's dubious leadership on the health insurance exchange will stick and make a difference with voters.
Heather Mizeur, the Montgomery County delegate and third Democratic gubernatorial candidate, seems to have sparked some real grass-roots enthusiasm this spring.
She and Gansler, a competent and accomplished attorney general, get one more opportunity to slow down the Brown machine on live television.
Marylanders get one more chance to size up all three of them — Monday, 7 p.m., on Maryland Public Television and WBAL-TV.
Like Anthony Brown, I'm really looking forward to it.
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