Baltimore has no favorite son or daughter in this year's gubernatorial race, so the Democratic contenders — all Washington-area residents — are stepping up their efforts to persuade city voters to adopt them.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler have opened campaign offices in Baltimore and have launched phone bank operations. Del. Heather R. Mizeur's lower-budget campaign is doing the same work out of private homes. All are regular visitors to the city.
"I don't see a lock for anyone right now," said Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who supports Gansler.
With a population that has dropped precipitously over the last half-century, Baltimore plays a reduced role in Maryland politics, but it remains a significant prize in a Democratic primary. The city is the third-largest jurisdiction in Maryland in terms of eligible Democratic voters, edging Baltimore County by a few thousand.
The state's largest city is not as much a factor in the Republican primary. Its roughly 30,000 GOP voters are outnumbered almost 10 to 1 by Democrats.
More than any time in recent years, Baltimore is up for grabs in the Democratic primary for governor. Gansler and Mizeur are Montgomery County residents who chose Prince Georgians as running mates. Brown, a Prince George's resident, recruited Howard County Executive Ken Ulman — a metropolitan Baltimore choice but a distant figure to some city voters.
The candidates need to give city voters highly specific, Baltimore-centered reasons to vote for them, said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University.
The stakes could be high, Crenson said.
"Since they're all from the Washington area, presumably they're dividing that vote while the Baltimore Democratic vote may provide the margin of victory for the winner," he said. "This is essentially unclaimed territory."
Mitchell thinks the key issues Baltimore voters want to hear about are schools, fighting crime and economic development in their neighborhoods.
"City residents want to see cranes" in places other than downtown, he said.
State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Democrat who represents Northwest Baltimore, said the lack of a Baltimore candidate is a real factor in the election. She said city voters have the perception that people from Montgomery look down on them, and they don't necessarily feel much affinity with Prince George's.
Gladden worries that what she sees as voter apathy now could carry through into the general election. Though she has endorsed Brown, she doesn't see any of the candidates stirring much excitement.
"A decent Republican can win because turnout's going to be terrible," she said. "I don't get a sense that any of these candidates are going to inspire turnout."
Other Democratic lawmakers are more optimistic about the party's prospects, and city activists appear to be engaged. Last week, a forum sponsored by the BEST Democratic Club for the party's three lieutenant governor candidates drew an overflow crowd to the Sign of the Times restaurant in East Baltimore.
The consensus: While it might have started out as a Brown-Gansler contest, it's now a lively three-way race.
Ashiah Parker of Sandtown-Winchester, who attended the forum, sees things to like about all three tickets. But she believes city Democrats are focused right now on General Assembly contests.
"At this point, the local races are the most interesting," she said.
Brown has the backing of most of Baltimore's political establishment — including Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. But he's also the closest thing to an incumbent in the race at a time when Baltimore has been experiencing a spike in homicides, and his opponents say the administration deserves some of the blame.
Brown calls the endorsements by city officials "a reflection of our past performance together and what we can accomplish in the future." He defends the O'Malley administration's record in the city, pointing to such accomplishments as a public-private partnership to expand Seagirt Marine Terminal and Amazon.com's plan's to build a giant warehouse with 1,000 jobs in Southeast Baltimore.
Brown's campaign says it has recruited 406 volunteers and has placed 6,619 calls — not counting robo-calls — to city voters. He was the only gubernatorial candidate to attend the running mates' forum.
Gansler is billing himself as "the Baltimore candidate in the race," noting that the attorney general's office is in the city and that he has been an Orioles season ticket holder since before Brown moved to Maryland.
"I'm in Baltimore every day. I have a relationship with the communities in Baltimore," he said. "Since William Donald Schaefer, there really hasn't been a governor that's focused on the needs of Baltimore City and where Baltimore City has improved under that governor."
Among the issues Gansler sees as critical to Baltimore voters are recovering lost jobs, building a high-speed rail line between the city and Washington, and easing re-entry into society for ex-offenders. He pointed to statistics showing that 59 percent of people released from the state's prison system return to Baltimore. Gansler also has come out against spending $30 million on a youth jail in Baltimore.
Mizeur, a two-term Montgomery County legislator, said she was taking part in rallies against an earlier $70 million version of the jail project as far back as 2011. Gansler's opposition, she said, "was a little late to the party." Mizeur also noted that she advocated for a massive Baltimore school construction plan that year — two years before a $1.1 billion program was approved by the General Assembly.
The Mizeur campaign is a lower-cost effort than Brown's or Gansler's but has been active in the city — from Charles Village house parties to appearances at African-American churches to a cleanup project in Canton. On Feb. 26, she'll be back for a community forum in Mount Washington.
"We've joked that the mayor should probably start charging me taxes because of how much I'm in the city," Mizeur said.
She has released a public safety plan geared toward reducing the number of prison inmates in Maryland and ending what she calls "the failed war on drugs" — potentially potent issues in African-American communities that struggle with a high rate of incarceration. She promoted the plan in a daylong city media blitz that included appearances on the Marc Steiner and Dan Rodricks radio shows, as well as an interview on Fox 45.
Mizeur has also sought to connect with Baltimore voters on issues of local significance. She visited the Morrell Park community in Southwest Baltimore to oppose plans to locate a CSX multimodal facility in the neighborhood.
Some political pros say rank-and-file Baltimore voters, unused to a June primary, have yet to focus on the governor's race.
"The interest isn't there yet. I basically feel we're not going to get a serious buzz until the [General Assembly] session is over" in April, said WOLB radio talk-show host Larry Young, who has had the three Democrats on multiple times.
George Hendricks, president of the BEST Democratic club, said he's getting excited about the race but wants to see more from the candidates.
"I think they need to step it up a little bit," he said. "You've got to make Baltimore City believe it belongs again."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun