The Democrats begin 2015 with a political problem: no predominant standard bearer to step up and challenge the incumbent GOP governor in four years.
While they have many credentialed candidates, unlike Martin O'Malley in 2006 none stands out above the rest. These potential candidates include:
Rushern Baker: The Prince George's county executive easily won a second term. Like PG county executive turned governor Parris Glendening before him, Mr. Baker is not widely known outside of his home county. Should he make a play for the state's top job, he will soon start building chits, friends and a grassroots network across the state of Maryland.
John Delaney: This sophomore congressman has had a touch and go relationship with Maryland's Democratic establishment. But he represents a swing district and has the ability to self-finance. Would this wealthy businessman be able to differentiate himself from businessman-turned-governor Larry Hogan? And would his wealth and pragmatism alienate progressive voters in a Democratic primary?
Peter Franchot: As the state's senior Democratic statewide elected official, the comptroller seems best positioned to make a bid for governor. But this one-time bomb-throwing delegate from Takoma Park is now the state's fiscal watchdog, echoing a lot of the same themes as his potential GOP opponent. Will his brand of fiscal conservatism resonate in a Democratic primary, or can he successfully pull off another image transformation to adapt to the state's transformed landscape?
Brian Frosh: The old joke is that "AG" stands for "aspiring governor." In that vein, the state's new attorney general has to be seen as a potential candidate for 2018. But Mr. Frosh is a new face to most voters outside of Montgomery County. Only time will demonstrate what kind of attorney general or potential candidate he will be.
Doug Gansler: The outgoing attorney general came in second in the June Democratic primary. Many of the injuries he experienced during the primary were the result of self-inflicted gaffes. But he did demonstrate fundraising prowess. Can Mr. Gansler learn from his mistakes and launch a comeback bid? Would he even want to?
Kevin Kamenetz: The incumbent Baltimore County executive was re-elected even as Governor-elect Larry Hogan swept to a dramatic 20 point victory across the county. He has earned a reputation as an able, if occasionally abrasive, chief executive. He begins his second term with a crop of Republicans newly elected to the County Council and the county's legislative delegation. Can he demonstrate that he is able to rise to the occasion to meet this new governance challenge, or will Towson start to resemble Annapolis during the legislative session?
Ike Leggett: The Montgomery County executive begins his third term, making him the Democrats' senior county executive. But like his neighbor in Prince George's County, he needs to broaden his profile in other parts of the state.
Heather Mizeur: Despite having limited resources, the outgoing delegate waged a positive campaign that resonated with a lot of the state's progressive voters. Smart, likable, energetic and not lacking for ambition, Ms. Mizeur now has a statewide grassroots network she can leverage. She can be counted upon to be a player in some capacity. Does that mean she'll run for governor again, or will this veteran of Sen. John Kerry's senatorial staff wait until one of the senate seats opens up?
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: Like the governor, the mayor of Baltimore has her own built-in bully pulpit. She receives significant media coverage and has grown her reputation in the national party. But unlike her predecessor, one doesn't yet have a sense whether she actually wants to be governor. Will she get credit for her efforts in office, or blame for the city's entrenched problems?
Ken Ulman: Despite his popularity, the outgoing Howard county executive failed to deliver his home county for either his running mate or hand-picked successor. Mr. Ulman will soon be without an electoral platform, and Team Brown looted his campaign war chest like pharaoh's tomb.
Historically, Maryland Democrats have done a good job rallying behind their eventual nominees. In 1966, 2002 and 2014, they lost (and nearly lost in 1994) due to fractiousness among their ranks. Look to many of the officials on this list to begin to build a sense of inevitability about themselves. For them, the 2018 campaign starts now.
Richard J. Cross III is a former Capitol Hill and Annapolis press secretary and speechwriter. He resides in Baltimore, and blogs at rjc-crosspurposes.blogspot.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.