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A Republican governor in 2014? [Commentary]

With less than 10 months before Marylanders elect a new governor, the race to succeed Martin O'Malley is more wide open then ever. Candidates in both major parties are still contemplating whether to join the race as the Feb. 25th filing deadline nears.

Just this week, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger announced he would not run for the state's highest post, while Rep. John Delaney appears to be still contemplating a run.

While the state's Democratic machine long ago lined up behind Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown — who has received several key endorsements, has a high-profile running mate and has raised millions — strong challengers have still arisen from within the party.

Maryland's Attorney General Doug Gansler appears to have weathered the storm of bad press last year and is in a strong position to give Mr. Brown all he can handle in a primary race that has already shown a great propensity for nasty campaigning.

Why is a state so ruthlessly controlled by its Democratic oligarchy not able to keep its hand picked successor to Gov. Martin O'Malley from facing a full scale intra-party civil war?

The answer appears simple. Even in a state as blue as Maryland, voters are wearied by scores of tax increases and the implementation of one of the most far left agendas in the nation. Moreover, Mr. Brown's patent failure on the one signature responsibility he has had as lieutenant governor, the state's execution of health care reform, has likely led some voters to conclude that he lacks the capability to govern effectively. His lackluster public appearances have also done little to avoid the inevitable comparisons to another lieutenant governor looking to advance: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

History should make state Democrats wary as well. The last two times there was an open race for the governor's seat were 1994 and 2002. Republicans did extremely well in both elections, with Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. winning a shockingly easy victory in 2002. Many of the same conditions in those races exist in 2014, namely a perpetual fiscal mess in Annapolis and voter fatigue with the current two-term administration.

National politics, or what could be referred to as the "macro political environment," are not favorable for Mr. Brown either. The abysmal implementation of Obamacare nationally has widely been viewed as a springboard to success for Republicans. While much can change, the national tailwinds seem better for Maryland Republicans in 2014 than even 2002.

This brings us to the Republicans vying for Maryland governor. Recent campaign finance reports show that the field of 2014 candidates — which includes Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar — is disappointing at best, despite their credentials. Mr. Craig is reported to have only $154,577 cash on hand entering the year and to have raised less in 2013 than he did in 2012 despite running a frenetic campaign. His fellow candidates made a far worse impression, barely amassing more than $20,000 cash on hand between them.

These reports suggest that none of the current Republican candidates appear prepared to effectively challenge any potential democratic nominee.

Change Maryland founder Larry Hogan hopes to change that dynamic; he announced intent to run this week. (The editors of Red Maryland endorsed him in November.) Mr. Hogan is poised to begin his fundraising and campaign efforts in earnest.

Republicans would do well to exploit the weaknesses of the Brown campaign and the state's Democratic machine this year, given the fissures within the party. It's their best chance to win the Maryland governor's seat in more than a decade.

Gregory Kline is a frequent contributor to Red Maryland, a conservative radio network and blog whose content appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun and on baltimoresun.com. His email is gregorykline@aol.com.

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

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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