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Gansler's gaffe: Unwise, but not worthy of an apology

An ugly fight unfolded last week between gubernatorial aspirants Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler regarding their campaign rhetoric.

Mr. Gansler was surreptitiously recorded saying, "I mean, right now [Mr. Brown's] campaign slogan is, 'Vote for me, I want to be the first African American governor of Maryland.' ... That's a laudable goal, but you need a second sentence: 'Because here's what I've done, and here's why I've done it.'"

The Brown camp and other Democratic bigwigs are appalled: According to The Washington Post, which broke the story, Brown campaign manager Justin Schall stated that Mr. Gansler is "out of touch with Maryland's values," and to ensure that there was no lack of overreaction, Brown supporter Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin actually said, "White people don't like the race card being pulled on them, and he pulled the race card on Anthony."

Not to be outdone in irresponsible rhetoric, Gansler aide Doug Thornell argued "It's unfortunate that Anthony Brown's campaign has to stoop to the level of Richard Nixon and send in spies to illegally record a private campaign organizing meeting."

(It's a curious issue about which for Democrats to be enraged, since they seem to have honed a talent for secret recording pretty well in the 2012 presidential race.)

Let a conservative who is leaning toward supporting Republican David Craig for governor adjudicate this one: Doug Gansler is raising a legitimate issue when he argues that Anthony Brown cites the importance of his race and the possibility of Maryland electing the first African-American governor while avoiding other issues. That said, it is unwise political rhetoric, as the Democratic constituency resents such talk.

It is quite justifiable to attack one's primary opponent on his choice of issue agenda, but that does not mean it is politically effective, and in this case it is likely a campaign miscalculation by Mr. Gansler to bring up Mr. Brown's race at all.

It is also quite within acceptable campaigning conventions to ask what are an opponent's issue priorities and what he or she has accomplished. It seems that Mr. Gansler was not disparaging Mr. Brown racially whatsoever, so this corner sustains his refusal to apologize.

Some Democrats are bringing up the fact that Mr. Gansler is Jewish, suggesting that he is surely counting on Jewish votes just as Mr. Brown is counting on African American votes. But unless Mr. Gansler brought this up himself as a selling point, it is close to anti-Semitic to do so.

Overall: Mr. Gansler has not crossed a line from reasonable campaigning, although he may have hurt himself in the contest since his Democratic brethren don't like his criticizing Mr. Brown.

Let me state the obvious: You cannot run a campaign without implying that you are a better candidate than your opponent and/or saying he or she has not made the case for his or her candidacy. People who resent such campaigning in primaries simply resent the fact of primary challenges.

Let's stick to issues, gentlemen: engage the question of how your governorship will be better or at least different from Gov. Martin O'Malley's. That is not unreasonable advice for both of these candidates.

Richard E. Vatz teaches persuasion at Towson University and is the author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2013). A version of this article appeared on the blog Red Maryland.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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