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Inevitability and the race for governor

ElectionsExecutive BranchAnthony G. BrownRepublican PartyJames C. Jr SimpsonDemocratic Party

The 2014 Maryland governor's race has been shaping up so far as a fight about inevitability. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler long fostered the sense of his own lock on the job through a massive campaign war chest. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown countered by becoming the first to officially enter the race, more than a year before the Democratic primary. Meanwhile, an assortment of potential Republican candidates and two other Democrats — Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Del. Heather Mizeur — have been trying to make the case that an underdog could win.

Now Mr. Brown is seeking to tilt the inevitability scales permanently in his favor with his planned announcement Monday that Mr. Ulman will join him as his running mate. It is a textbook pick. There's not much evidence in Maryland politics for lieutenant governor candidates making a huge impact — at least not a positive one — but there is some reason to believe Mr. Ulman could be an exception to the rule. Mr. Ulman brings racial and religious balance (he is white and Jewish and Mr. Brown is African-American), some geographic balance (Mr. Brown is from Prince George's County) and a lot of money. As of January, Mr. Ulman actually had substantially more cash in the bank than Mr. Brown, and the two of them combined were within striking distance of Mr. Gansler — $3.7 million to Mr. Gansler's $5.2 million. The strength of the ticket is likely to pull some uncommitted donors off the fence and could further level the financial playing field.

The choice comes exceptionally early by Maryland standards. In the last two decades, candidates have typically picked their running mates in the June or July before a September primary. The latest was then-Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg's selection of Sen. James C. Simpson on the day of the filing deadline in 1994. For a number of reasons, Mr. Brown might not wish to emulate the Steinberg campaign; instead, he seems to be borrowing a page from his boss' playbook. Mr. O'Malley chose Mr. Brown in December 2005, nine months before the primary. With Mr. Ulman, Mr. Brown is accelerating that schedule by another three months before the June 2014 primary. He is clearly seeking to install himself as the unquestioned front-runner before Mr. Gansler even officially enters the race, the same strategy Mr. O'Malley tried against then-Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan in 2006.

It is, of course, far too early to declare this race over. Most of the state is not paying attention yet and won't be for quite some time. Mr. Gansler, who has won statewide office on his own, remains a formidable candidate. Delegate Mizeur is running an outsider campaign and is emphasizing her role as the only woman in the race. And Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger is toying with a run for governor; he would be the only Baltimore-area candidate in the Democratic primary.

But it is not too early to lament what we lose by having Mr. Ulman abandon (for the moment, anyway) his own gubernatorial ambitions. Mr. Ulman's case for his candidacy was based on his record as an innovative, effective manager in Howard County. Even if he didn't win, his presence as a candidate for governor would have injected far more energy into this contest than his candidacy for lieutenant governor will.

But where one door closes, another opens. On the same day that Mr. Brown plans to introduce his running mate, Harford County Executive David Craig, a Republican, plans to announce his candidacy for governor. He brings extensive experience in state and local politics, as well as a pragmatic outlook on governance. A number of other Republicans may follow — Del. Ron George, an Annapolis businessman, is expected to announce his candidacy next week, and Frederick County Board of Commissioners President Blaine Young, former U.S. Senate candidate Dan Bongino, Republican activist Charles Lollar, former Ehrlich administration official Larry Hogan and former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele are all considered possible candidates.

But come what may, the Republicans will have at least one candidate, and probably more, who can talk intelligently about the issues facing Maryland, rather than simply spouting empty rhetoric and national GOP talking points. Whoever emerges from the primary will face an uphill battle, and not just because of Maryland's political leanings. A competitive GOP primary could force the winner to play to the conservative base, which could hurt him in the general election. None of the Republican candidates or potential candidates has a well-developed campaign apparatus, and the recent death of businessman and philanthropist Richard E. Hug leaves the state party without its most successful fundraiser. On the other hand, the early primary date provides a much longer general election period than has been the norm in Maryland, creating more opportunities for a Democrat to stumble and a Republican to gain traction.

This race should be about more than geography, demographics, fundraising and party affiliation. It should be a contest of who has the best ideas for Maryland — but it won't be unless the voters demand it. No matter what pretense any of the candidates may claim to being the inevitable winner, voters need to keep them honest and demand a detailed vision for Maryland's future. We can't let what is shaping up to be the most wide-open gubernatorial race since at least 1994 go to waste.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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ElectionsExecutive BranchAnthony G. BrownRepublican PartyJames C. Jr SimpsonDemocratic Party
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