Brown's ahead in part because the other two are behind [Commentary]

The Sun's latest poll numbers show gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has the support of 41 percent of likely Democratic primary voters — a lead of 2 to 1 over Attorney General Doug Gansler (20 percent) and nearly 3 to 1 over Del. Heather Mizeur (15 percent).

While there are reasons for voters to support (and oppose) all three Democratic contenders, several factors explain why Mr. Brown is so far ahead — and why he doesn't yet have a lock on the job.

The first observation is that the key party players, including Gov. Martin O'Malley and many of the state's key unions, consolidated very early behind Mr. Brown. A second, equally obvious observation is that Mr. Gansler's candidacy has imploded, thanks to his mostly self-inflicted wounds in the trooper and teen drinking episodes.

I say "mostly" because even if one presumes that Mr. Brown's allies played some behind-the-scene part in the public defenestration of Mr. Gansler — such are the political whispers around the state — the fact is that, under pressure, the attorney general revealed a petulant side that his critics believe makes him unworthy of leading the state. (Of course, if petulance were an automatic disqualifier for elected office, the halls of Congress and state capitols would need to be cleared out.)

Mr. Gansler tried to drag down Mr. Brown by criticizing his management of the state's new health care exchange and website — criticisms the lieutenant governor deserved. Were Mr. Gansler a Republican nominee running against Mr. Brown in a red or even purple state, these critiques might have worked.

But it's tough to attract Maryland Democrats by attacking both the governor and lieutenant governor they nominated and elected twice.

Ms. Mizeur has acquitted herself quite well. Indeed, insofar as it is possible to win a campaign but lose an election, she may have already achieved that bittersweet distinction. For even if she fails to upset Mr. Brown by converting undecided, late defectors from the Gansler camp or other anti-Brown Democrats, she has proved to be an assertive, confident and unapologetically liberal candidate with a bright future in state and maybe even national politics.

Although I suspect Mr. Brown might pass on the idea of nominating Ms. Mizeur for a top administration job — his running mate, Howard County executive Ken Ulman surely won't want anyone to occlude his ambition to eventually succeed to the state's highest office — finding a place for her on Team Brown would be smart. (Secretary of State Mizeur?)

As for Mr. Brown, he has done exactly what he needed to do to attract votes: Run a steady, careful race and capitalize upon his many institutional and partisan advantages. And, let's be honest, his racial identity as the only black candidate in a Democratic primary where African Americans wield significant clout helps a lot.

Mr. Brown doesn't dazzle. But he has a solid record as a public servant and military veteran. It may seem unsatisfying to some Democrats, especially liberal ones, that Mr. Brown may win the nomination simply because it's "his turn."

But his turn is also overdue for Maryland's African American community — more than a quarter of the state's citizenry, mind you — which is ready for the state's first black governor. (Maryland hasn't had a female governor, and women are half the voters — but that's true in every state, whereas Maryland ranks fourth nationally in African American population share.)

What's missing from Mr. Brown is an articulation of his broader vision for the state.

For example, although Maryland is one of the nation's wealthier states, and its African American population is also affluent by national standards, the big national debate today is about rising inequality of income and wealth — a problem that affects key segments of Maryland's population.

Does Mr. Brown believe this is a problem? If so, what does he intend to do about it as governor?

Gubernatorial candidates should clearly articulate what the state will look like under their stewardship four or even eight years hence. Perhaps Mr. Brown is saving his grander designs for the general election phase, after he secures the nomination.

But it would be nice to hear more from him, and soon.

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears every other Wednesday. His email is Twitter: @schaller67.

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