xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Md. gubernatorial race could foretell 2020

Maryland rarely is the main dish in national politics. Yet our gubernatorial race is set to answer some of the most persistent and important political questions generated by the 2016 presidential election. This midterm election cycle, the country would be wise to pull up a chair and dig in.

Consider first the re-election efforts of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Against all demographic odds, Governor Hogan not only won the Maryland governor's seat in 2014 but continues to be one of the most popular elected officials in the country. He was one of the first Republican governors to reject then-candidate Trump and has continued to distance himself from the president through strategic avoidance, rather than direct condemnation and engagement.

Advertisement

That strategy may not work in the long run, however. If historic lows in President Trump's approval persist, it's possible that Republican governors like Mr. Hogan could face a presidential coattail drag, similar to that facing Republicans seeking reelection in Congress. The 2018 election could help clear up whether voters expect governors to be involved with national affairs, whether a Trump backlash could eventually take down even the most popular or moderate Republicans, and whether Democrats and independents view anything less than a public rebuke of President Trump as complicity with his agenda.

Even in its earliest stages, the Democratic side of the Maryland primary is shaping up to provide a state-level test for the identity struggle facing the party nationally. For example, during the recent state legislative session in which Maryland Democrats worked as a cohesive unit to wield their veto-proof majority on key policy issues, the divisions between the establishment and "resistance" wing of the party were publicly visible. Debates over sanctuary cities, bail reform and minority representation in medicinal marijuana dispensary licensing evidenced that even in a "strong D" state, the party is more subtly shaded than solid blue.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Questions the Md. primary could answer for Democrats include: What issues bind and divide Democrats? Are the days of "big tent" parties numbered? Is their future centrist or progressive? If given a viable candidate, can Democrats coalesce around an unapologetic liberal? And, if they can't do it in a blue state like Maryland, what does that mean for the national viability of a dyed-in-the-wool progressive in 2020?

Our gubernatorial race also has the chance to be the political palate cleanser citizens desperately need. Indeed, it should come with little surprise that most Americans have a negative view of 2016 election, are disillusioned with our political institutions, and are unsatisfied with the direction of the country.

A popular phrase from former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis contends that the states are "laboratories of democracy" where lawmakers can experiment with new ideas and public policies. Our governor's race can be the chance for just such an experiment, an opportunity for candidates to propose new ideas that could bolster and diversify Maryland's economy and even reshape national policy in the future. It could be a race focused on policy and vision rather than personal attacks, scandals and hyperbole. Most certainly, the potential for this sort of positive campaign is currently present in Maryland.

The growing list of official and potential Democratic rivals all have serious resumes and a mix of traditional and non-traditional political backgrounds. Among them are county executives, a congressman, a former attorney general, a state senator, a former NAACP president, a corporate litigator and even a technocrat. For his part, incumbent Governor Hogan has maintained the focus on economic development that helped him win the 2014 gubernatorial election. During his tenure in office he has demonstrated a penchant for adopting policy ideas from across the partisan aisle. All of these candidates — Mr. Hogan and his Democratic rivals — have enough substance to run a campaign based only on their policy ideas, previous accomplishments and goals for the future.

Advertisement

Thus, the table is open for the Maryland Republicans and Democrats to run campaigns focused on differentiated platforms, policy-centered messaging, and the articulation of agendas with realistic short and aspirational long term goals.

Ultimately, whether Maryland hosts the palate cleansing, race-to-watch in 2018 depends on our citizens, however. Marylanders can ensure that candidates choose the path of substance by denying their vote to anyone who instead chooses political expediency. With the country possibly watching, Maryland can make it clear that reheated 2016 leftovers is a dish Americans can and should refuse eat.

Mileah Kromer is the director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, which conducts the Goucher Poll. She is also an associate professor of political science. Her email is mileah.kromer@goucher.edu; Twitter: @mileahkromer.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement