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Editorial

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Back seat bickering [Editorial]

Maryland voters will head to the polls to pick the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor nine weeks from today, and the state of the race thus far is pretty depressing. Most of the oxygen in the contest is being sucked up by an unilluminating series of attacks and counter-attacks between Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. It's like we're stuck on a long car ride with two feuding brothers in the back seat.

Mr. Gansler brought things to a new low on Monday when he said Mr. Brown's service as a military lawyer in Iraq was not "a real job." This led to a round of outrage from the Brown camp, a clarification (but not an apology) from Mr. Gansler, and then a detour into the question of whether the omission from Mr. Brown's official biography of a five-month gig at Merrill Lynch 15 years after he graduated from college was a deliberate effort to conceal the lie in his claim that unlike many of his Harvard classmates, he had chosen military service over Wall Street. (Um, no.)

It would be easy to come up with a highlight reel of regrettable and/or insulting things Mr. Gansler has said by way of disparaging Mr. Brown's experience, which is unfortunate because his incautious rhetoric has detracted from a legitimate line of inquiry about the lieutenant governor's competence to run the state government. Mr. Brown was, supposedly, the O'Malley administration's point person for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Maryland, and although the state wound up enrolling more than 300,000 people in new health plans, the website that was supposed to facilitate the process was an unmitigated — and very expensive — disaster. Mr. Brown's response to that criticism is to claim that in raising it, Mr. Gansler is acting like an Obamacare-hating Republican. (Again, no.)

Frankly, if the race for governor were about determining who has the most relevant experience for the task of running state government, neither Mr. Brown nor Mr. Gansler would likely top the list. By that rubric alone, Republican David Craig, who has been Harford County executive for nine years, would top the list. Mr. Brown's running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, would also score high (a point Mr. Gansler once made by way of belittling Mr. Brown), as would Boyd Rutherford, who is running for lieutenant governor on Republican Larry Hogan's ticket and has held top administrative positions in the state and federal governments.

But we would hope voters would demand more from these candidates. This race should be a contest between different visions for the state, and so far we're not getting much of that from either Mr. Brown or Mr. Gansler. Both have put forward position papers on a variety of topics, and both have offered some good ideas and some not-so-good ones. But Mr. Brown has yet to emerge from the shadow of Gov. Martin O'Malley, and Mr. Gansler seems to be searching for a way to differentiate himself from the current governor without defying too strongly Maryland's prevailing Democratic orthodoxy.

The candidate who is running the kind of campaign the state really deserves is Del. Heather Mizeur. Her vision of a more progressive Maryland is clear, coherent and detailed. Her proposals are in any number of respects too liberal for our tastes, but she is at least stirring the passions of her supporters by offering them a fresh alternative to the status quo. She, unfailingly, appears to be talking to the voters; Messrs. Brown and Gansler too often appear to be talking to each other. But how many voters will hear her message, much less respond to it, is an open question because of the imbalance in campaign fundraising. Messrs. Brown and Gansler have the funds to saturate the airwaves for the next two months, but Ms. Mizeur, despite the boost she will get from accepting public financing, likely will not.

The Republican primary contest is also crowded, but it is generating much less noise and heat so far. Two candidates — Mr. Craig and Del. Ron George of Annapolis — actually held a joint campaign appearance recently to criticize Mr. Brown. (They, along with Republican congressional candidate Dan Bongino, endorsed him for governor of Connecticut, the state that will be providing a replacement for our botched health insurance exchange website.) The Republican candidates share essentially the same vision for the state — they would like to erase more or less everything Mr. O'Malley has done for the last eight years — so the contest boils down largely to a question of electability. Mr. Hogan is claiming some momentum based on his fund-raising, but there has been no recent public polling in the race.

Last week, Mr. Gansler trumpeted one of his internal polls as providing clear evidence that his message was catching on. For whatever an internal poll is worth, it actually showed that support for Mr. Brown had slipped since the campaign's last poll, and that Mr. Gansler and Ms. Mizeur were holding about even. The momentum, it seems, is with "undecided," which may be an apt metaphor for what is, so far, a profoundly uninspiring race.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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