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Democrats watch for Gansler's next move

For the past month, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown has been making news in the 2014 Democratic race for governor. His presumed chief rival, Attorney General Douglas M. Gansler, has been biding his time.

Brown became the first big name Democrat out of the gate when he made his candidacy official May 10. He followed that up quickly with last week's news that Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, previously a prospective rival, has agreed to be his running mate.

As Brown and Ulman celebrate their new political partnership Monday in Columbia, the question is what Gansler's next move will be. Does the attorney general have an effective counter to Brown's jack rabbit start and recruitment of a top-tier ticket mate?

The Gansler campaign has insisted that it's in no hurry to parry Brown's move. Aides say he's content to stick with his plan to announce in the fall, when voters will be more tuned in to next year's campaign. In this view, it's still a long time before the June 2014 primary election — even though it's been moved forward from its previous date in September.

"We have a very clear and a very determined campaign plan. That's something we're executing right now," said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for the Gansler campaign. "We're not going to let other campaigns or insider chatter determine the unfolding of our campaign."

Nevertheless, Gansler released a statement Saturday saying in no uncertain terms that while he intends to finish out his second term as attorney general, he will not seek a third. Previously, he had sent mixed signals on the question, telling The Daily Record as recently as last month that he was keeping all his options open.

While the campaign provided the statement, Gansler declined a request for an interview for this article.

Gansler, 50, had more than $5 million in his political bank account as of the last report in January and has hired a high-powered campaign team. Nonetheless, some political observers believe he faces a daunting challenge.

Donald Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said the polling he's seen shows Brown with a significant advantage even before bringing Ulman on board.

Brown would be the first African-American governor in a state where blacks make up at least a third of Democratic primary voters. Norris sees Brown running up big margins in Prince George's County and Baltimore, getting a boost from Ulman in the Baltimore suburbs and taking a respectable share of the vote in Montgomery County.

"Many people would wonder why a sitting attorney general who seems to have a relatively safe seat would take a risky run at the governorship," Norris said.

Norris also questioned the Gansler strategy of holding off an official announcement until fall while the rival ticket hits the campaign trail.

"If he does that, he gives a three-month advantage to Brown-Ulman. They'll be able to out-fundraise him and go around the state as the only announced candidates," Norris said.

Norris' view is hardly unanimous. Some see an advantage for Gansler in having Ulman out of the governor's race.

Todd Eberly, professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland, said Gansler's best shot against Brown is in a two-candidate race. By recruiting Ulman, Eberly said, Brown has reduced the field by one candidate who had the potential to draw votes away from Gansler.

Eberly noted, however, that the Ulman choice does not narrow the Democratic field to two. Also expected to run is Del. Heather Mizeur, an insurgent candidate from Gansler's home base of Montgomery County, where the attorney general would need to pile up a significant vote advantage to make up for the hefty majorities Brown is expected to rack up in Baltimore and his base in Prince George's.

While as of the last reporting period Mizeur had not raised money on the scale of Brown, Gansler or Ulman, she is a dynamic campaigner who is getting all over the state. As the only woman in the race and a lesbian, she could appeal to voters who otherwise might be in play for her rivals.

A big question for Gansler, Eberly said, is "how can I get Mizeur out of the race."

Eberly said one solution would be to recruit her to run for lieutenant governor, but that would pose the problem of having a ticket with both candidates from Montgomery — a move that might not play well in Baltimore.

Mizeur said last week she has no interest in being anyone's running mate or in seeking re-election to her House seat. She added that she plans to make a formal announcement of her plans this summer.

Also in the wings is U.S. Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County, who has said he's considering a State House run. As the only significant potential candidate from the Baltimore area, Ruppersberger would be competing for white working-class votes that Gansler would need to overcome Brown's advantages. Many Democrats are skeptical that Ruppersberger would give up a safe House seat for an iffy campaign for governor.

Brown is expected to formally announce Ulman as his running mate at an event in Columbia this morning, the same day Harford County Executive David R. Craig is to launch his Republican campaign.

One of the highlights in Columbia is the expected announcement that U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is throwing his support to Brown and Ulman. The veteran Baltimore congressman is regarded as highly influential among Maryland Democrats, particularly African-American voters.

However the Democratic race shapes up, Gansler is faced with the challenge of finding a running mate who brings anything near to as much as Ulman can contribute to the Brown ticket. Not only does it lend geographic balance, but Ulman comes to the ticket with $2.1 million in his campaign kitty. The money can help Brown, who listed $1.6 million in his last report, close Gansler's considerable funding lead.

Gansler's aides concede that Ulman has strong qualifications but point to his campaign treasury as the main reason Brown chose him as a running mate.

"I'm not contesting his record in Howard County. What he really brings to the ticket is money," said Gansler media consultant Bill Knapp. "Beyond Howard County, Ulman is virtually unknown among Democratic primary voters."

Knapp dismissed the idea that the Brown-Ulman ticket can raise money or build support more effectively than Gansler can on his own. He said Brown is introducing his "dance partner" before he's even introduced himself to voters.

"For a campaign desperate to demonstrate that their candidate can stand on his own record, rushing out to name a running mate seems really odd," Knapp said.

Justin Schall, campaign manager for Brown, bristled at the suggestion that Ulman was brought on the ticket solely for his campaign war chest.

"That's insulting to the people of Howard County and to anyone who values the better schools, stronger economy and healthier lives that Ken Ulman has fought for as county executive," Schall said.

As an African-American, Brown enjoyed a flexibility to choose Ulman as a running mate that Gansler did not. Both the attorney general and the Howard executive are white males in a party that prides itself on diversity. The state hasn't elected a ticket of two white males since 1990.

"I would be shocked if any of the major candidates does not build meaningful diversity into their ticket," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat who hasn't taken sides in the race.

Raskin said the decision of when to formally jump into the race may be mostly a matter of personal style.

"Some politicians like running a marathon and some politicians like to run a sprint. And you won't know which strategy is the shrewder one until the race is over," he said.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Today's campaign events

•Harford County Executive David Craig plans to formally announce his Republican candidacy for governor this morning in Havre de Grace.

•Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democratic candidate for governor, is expected to announce this morning in Columbia that Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will be his running mate.

•The Democratic and Republican primaries for governor are June 24, 2014. The general election is Nov. 4, 2014.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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