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Door still open for Ruppersberger to run for governor

But damage to Gansler would boost another Democrat

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler holds speaks with the media about the night he attended a teen party in Delaware where there was underaged drinking. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / October 24, 2013)

How much damage could that teen party in a Delaware beach house do to Doug Gansler's campaign for governor of Maryland? Hard to tell. I've heard three reactions:

•Righteous indignation: Gansler is the attorney general. He publicly opposed but privately condoned underage drinking. He had no business joining other parents in renting a house where teen drinking would likely occur. The photos from the beach house are outrageous — a bunch of Landon School boys spoiled by their affluent parents. As a candidate for governor, Gansler is toast.

•Leave the guy alone: He was being a dad and trying (with other parents of Landon seniors) to exert control over what happens during Senior Week. Gansler is a bright guy, a real Type-A. He was merely acknowledging reality — teenagers drink — and being proactive. Don't knock a guy for trying to keep his kid and his friends alive during Senior Week.

•Yes and no: Yes, he messed up because of his position as AG and his public statements against underage drinking, but he's not the first guy to have to deal with the thorny issue of teenagers and beer. And if it wasn't for the Instagram of Boys Gone Wild, with Gansler in the middle, we never would have heard about the Bethany Beach party.

Maybe the righteously indignant are correct: The beach house episode represented a failure in judgment by Gansler, or a serious character flaw. He's done as a candidate but doesn't know it yet.

My hunch is, Gansler can probably survive this mess. But he's on thin ice.

Take his comments about Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, his chief rival for the Democratic nomination — "I mean, right now his campaign slogan is, 'Vote for me, I want to be the first African-American governor of Maryland,' " — add the complaints that Gansler ordered his state police drivers to break traffic laws, plus Boys Gone Wild, and you can hear the ice cracking.

One more wrong step, and he's done.

Which, of course, would make life easier for Brown. He's from vote-rich Prince George's County. Gansler is from vote-rich Montgomery County. With Gansler out of the picture, Brown could sail along to the nomination.

But if Gansler recovers and stays in the race, he and Brown could split the votes in the Washington suburbs. And that would make the state's other major vote-rich jurisdictions, Baltimore and Baltimore County, a real battleground.

Of course, neither Brown nor Gansler is from here, and neither chose a running mate from the county or the city.

Gansler went with Jolene Ivey, a state delegate from Prince George's, and Brown chose Ken Ulman, the Howard County executive.

Which gets me to Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland's 2nd District representative to Congress and former Baltimore County executive who grew up in a Baltimore City rowhouse.

A bunch of old friends and business leaders have been imploring Ruppersberger to run for governor. He told me in April and again in late September that he's been thinking about it, adding that he'd probably have to raise close to $6 million in campaign contributions. The primary is in June.

On Friday, Ruppersberger's communications director, Jaime Lennon, said her boss would make a final decision by Thanksgiving.

Ruppersberger recently told Ted Venetoulis, another former county executive, that numerous supporters have urged him to run. "He'd be a formidable opponent if he decides to do it," Venetoulis said.

But why would Ruppersberger give up a safe seat in the House to run for governor?

As I've pointed out before, he is the ranking Democratic member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, an assignment that he has relished, but one that has a term limit. It is supposed to end when the current Congress does.

Ruppersberger will be 68 in January, and this might be his last best chance to be governor and spend more time in Maryland (with his grandkids) and less time traveling to foreign capitals for the intelligence committee.

He's a strong, down-to-earth campaigner who connects with voters. He's a political moderate, considered a consensus-builder and more business-friendly than the other Democrats. He could pull votes from Baltimore and the surrounding counties and from moderate-to-conservative Democratic voters in the exurbs and rural areas of the state. He would have the support of Maryland companies (in Howard and Montgomery) tied to federal spending. Ruppersberger would have little trouble raising money.

Brown is a strong candidate, and he has certainly collected a lot of endorsements.

Gansler? Given the Bethany mess, Heather Mizeur, the state delegate from Montgomery County and candidate for governor, might poll better than Gansler does right now.

So if Gansler is damaged goods, then Brown would have the edge in both Montgomery and Prince George's, and he's betting that wins in those counties, combined with support from Baltimore City, will be all he needs to capture the primary.

That leaves Ruppersberger having to decide if he could win with a Baltimore-area surge funded by the entities that see Maryland's business climate sagging well behind neighboring Virginia's. That's a lot to chew on between now and Thanksgiving.

drodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

 

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