Candidates hope to pry 'soft' supporters off the couch

Sun reporter Michael Dresser says the key to the governor's race at this point is making sure voters come to the polling places on Tuesday.

At this point, it could come down to the candidate versus the couch.

Political professionals say most voters already know whether they support Republican Larry Hogan or Democrat Anthony G. Brown in Tuesday's election for governor. The question is whether they'll actually vote.


The key to victory for both men, experts say, is getting their may-not-bother people to make the effort.

"It isn't about persuading them to vote for one candidate or the other," said Michael Morrill, a longtime Democratic strategist. "It's persuading them to leave the couch and go to the polls."


Both sides are trying to do just that. As part of their extensive Get Out The Vote drives, both campaigns especially want to reach those members of their party who usually vote for president but often skip midterm elections.

Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, estimated that 200,000 potential GOP voters sat out the 2010 election, when former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was creamed by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"It's all about turnout for us," Cluster said. "If we can get our Republicans out to the polls, because I think it's going to be a low turnout, I think we have a good shot."

But Brown campaign manager Justin Schall expressed confidence that the lieutenant governor's high-tech, $1.5 million ground game will come through.


"We've been building our operation the last two years. That has been focused, one way or another, on one thing — getting the vote out for Election Day and in early voting," Schall said. "I would put it up against any organization in any state in the country."

The mobilization efforts took on an added sense of urgency as the respected Cook Political Report officially labeled the race a toss-up late this week.

To deliver their voters, the campaigns are using all the tools they have — phone banks, door-knocking, one-on-one persuasion and sophisticated computerized voter tracking programs. One objective, Schall said, is to get the targeted voter to the polls, then stop contacting him so the campaign can move on to the next voter.

Also critical is harnessing each party's star power.

The Brown campaign has sought to build enthusiasm with a series of visits from popular Democrats. Michelle Obama is scheduled to appear for him in Baltimore on Monday night in a bid to pump up city turnout. Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama led separate rallies for Brown in suburban Washington in recent weeks.

Hogan, meanwhile, has depended largely on the draw of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who will pay his fourth visit to Maryland in the general election campaign Sunday.

Despite a 2-1 Democratic registration advantage, Maryland Republicans have been buoyed by polls showing Brown's lead dwindling to the lower single digits. Last week Hogan began touting an internal poll by a GOP pollster showing him ahead by 5 points. Brown's camp called it a "fake" and pointed to early voting totals showing that twice as many Democrats turned out as Republicans.

Early voting totals released Thursday by the state election board showed 62 percent of ballots were cast by registered Democrats, 28 percent by Republicans and the rest by third-party or independent voters.

Nevertheless, Morrill said he sees a "passion gap" on the part of Brown's voters.

"The Democrats are talking about what would happen if he lost," Morrill said. "They need to change that to what happens when he wins."

Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Brown goes into the final days with important advantages.

"He's got a better campaign organization and more money," Norris said, predicting that Brown's troops will in fact get his supporters to the polls.

The path to victory is clear for both candidates. Political professionals say Brown needs a healthy turnout from the big three Democratic strongholds — Montgomery County, his home county of Prince George's and Baltimore City — and to win them by huge margins. He would face a steep path to victory if he lost either Howard County — home of his running mate, County Executive Ken Ulman — or Charles County, an increasingly populous and Democratic Washington suburb.

Mileah Kromer, director of the politics center at Goucher College, said turning out African-American voters is crucial to Brown's prospects. She noted that Democrats were criticized recently when they sent out mailers urging blacks to help make Brown the state's first African-American governor. But she said those who were offended were likely not Brown voters anyway.

"This is a historic election for the black community in Maryland," she said.

Hogan, meanwhile, needs to turn out a huge vote on the rural Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland, while running up the score in outer suburban counties such as Anne Arundel, Harford and Frederick.

In Norris' view, Baltimore County is pivotal in this year's race. Brown is expected to lose there, Norris said, but can't afford to do so by too wide a margin.

The county is home to many conservative and moderate Democrats who have strayed from the party fold in past elections. The Brown campaign moved to shore up its vote there with a new radio ad by Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, a popular Democrat known for his tough-on-crime stance.

Hogan encountered several registered Democrats who are eschewing their party as he campaigned in Parkville last week.

Brent Francis, owner of the Parkville Funeral Home, described himself as a "middle-of-the-road" Democrat. He said he's voting for Hogan. "I don't think there's any middle-of-the-road Democrats in Annapolis anymore," Francis said.

Independent pollster Steve Raabe said voters such as Francis could create a late surge that negates Brown's presumed strength among people who cast ballots during early voting.

"I do believe there are a lot of soft votes for Brown," said Raabe, president of OpinionWorks. Brown held a 49 percent to 42 percent lead over Hogan in a poll for The Baltimore Sun by Raabe's firm published Oct. 12. Nine percent of likely voters said they were undecided.

Some of those undecided voters have since made up their minds.

Eric Marshall of Silver Spring said he was an avid supporter of Del. Heather Mizeur, who lost in the Democratic primary and recently urged against a write-in campaign. Marshall, 32, said he doesn't like Brown's negative campaign but reluctantly plans to vote for him.

"I'm not excited about Anthony Brown. I was excited about somebody else," Marshall said. He said he would support Brown as clearly the more liberal of the two candidates. "I'm not going to sit it out," he said.

Stephanie Covington, a mother of five from Laurel, said Thursday she still feels she doesn't have enough information about Brown. But she'll vote for him anyway because she usually votes for Democrats.

"What has he done?" asked Covington, 76. "Lieutenant governors, you know, they're there. You don't really know what they do."


On the other hand, Joseph Reed, a 52-year-old Democrat from Baltimore, said he's leaning toward Hogan because "I'd like to see more done with the economy."


And in Prince George's County, Democrat Janet Wright of Fort Washington, said she, too, is leaning toward voting Republican. "I don't see where things have gotten better with Democrats running things" in the county, she said.

Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky contends that his candidate is winning the bulk of late deciders.

"Most of them are breaking Larry's way as the polls tighten," Dubitsky said. "They're seeing the energy in this campaign and they're seeing that Larry is poised to win."

Brown's Schall scoffed at that assertion, pointing to the Democratic strength in early voting totals as "a very encouraging sign."

Morrill said at this late stage, "crowd psychology" takes over and late-breaking voters gravitate to candidates they believe are winning. He said creating that impression is especially important for Hogan.

"The Hogan campaign has to win almost 100 percent of the undecided vote at this point," Morrill said. "The only way they do that is make clear he has a momentum on his side."

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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