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Anthony Brown jumps back into politics

Anthony Brown jumps back into politics
Outgoing Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown greets members of the House of Delegates in Annapolis, Md., Jan. 14, 2015, the first day of the 2015 legislative session. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

With pundits still chattering about why his last campaign ended in a stunning defeat, former Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown announced Thursday that he is running for Congress.

The 53-year-old Democrat's decision to jump back into politics four months after losing the governor's race sparked a raging debate among Maryland's political class: How could Brown's move for redemption shape one of the most competitive congressional primaries in the state?

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"We were a little surprised it came so soon," said Brown's successor, Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford. "Maybe he's clearing the field? It will be interesting to watch."

Brown is running for the 4th District congressional seat now held by Rep. Donna Edwards, who is giving it up to run for the U.S. Senate.

"I don't want to be mean-spirited, but it struck me as 'Oh no,' because of how badly he did in the governor's race," said Donald F. Norris, director of the UMBC School of Public Policy.

Norris added, however, "It may be a very good strategic move for him. It will all depend on how he does and what kind of a campaign he runs."

While supporters see Brown's bid as an admirable act of a politician dedicated to public service, other Democrats still reeling from Brown's loss to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan say Brown already had his shot.

Beverly Ball, president the Whitfield Gardens Civic Association in Lanham and a former Democratic Central Committee member, said she had to hold her nose to vote for Brown in November and wouldn't do it again.

"Among the common people like me, there's not a shot," Ball said. "On a personal level, he's a nice guy. But I just don't see him exuding passion when he speaks about certain things."

But Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a top contributor to Brown's campaign for governor, said she's impressed by his determination to be a public servant.

"He has options of working in the private sector and making a great deal of money," she said. "Things happen for a reason, and maybe the gubernatorial race was something that he had to go through in order for this door to open for him."

Brown proved a formidable fundraiser and handily won his primary, but he lost the general election by almost 4 points in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1.

Maryland's 4th Congressional District, which includes Brown's base in Prince George's County and parts of Anne Arundel County, reliably elects Democrats and is expected to be among the most closely watched congressional primaries in the country.

Most Democrats say that if Brown hopes to have a shot, he has to run a much different campaign than the high-dollar, insulated bid he made for governor.

"He could be successful only if he ran a campaign that was highly focused, personal, retail, hands-on and not in the bubble of consultants," said Timothy F. Malone, an attorney active in Prince George's County politics.

Opponents are sure to bring up the outstanding $500,000 loan Brown owes labor unions but did not repay after his campaign fell short, political experts said. Brown has pledged to repay the debt.

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Brown's shot at redemption is not without precedent in Maryland: Two of the state's top Democrats have recovered from a statewide loss.

House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer lost a 1978 bid for lieutenant governor and went on to win a seat in Congress. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who's touched off a scramble among state Democrats by announcing her unexpected retirement, lost a bid for Senate in 1974 before winning a congressional race two years later.

When Edwards announced this week that she will vacate her seat to join the potentially crowded Democratic primary race to succeed Mikulski, it set off another turn in the state's political upheaval.

Former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey announced plans Wednesday to run for Congress in the 4th District. Brown announced his bid Thursday.

"The time to draw the contrast will come down the road," Ivey said of Brown. "At this point, I'm not running against a particular person. We'll have to see how the field forms."

Democratic sources say at least five other elected officials have also expressed interest in running.

"It's shaping up to be a pretty competitive race," said Del. Dereck Davis, a Prince George's Democrat and chair of the House Economic Matters Committee in Annapolis.

Davis said he hasn't ruled out a bid of his own. "I don't know if they're all going to get in, but there's a lot interested folks who would do a good job."

While he lost statewide, Brown won Prince George's County with 84 percent of the vote. But critics point to a big drop-off in turnout as a sign that Brown's support is not as strong as it could have been: 30,000 fewer county voters cast ballots in November, compared with the 2010 contest.

The 2016 primary race is likely to be a significantly different contest, said John T. Willis, executive in residence at the University of Baltimore's School of Public and International affairs. The congressional district is smaller, the field more crowded, and candidates can draw from a national pool of donors.

The likely crowded field, Willis said, will split allegiances in Prince George's and make the district "volatile." Nonetheless, Brown's entrance seemed surprising to Willis. "Such a quick return coming off a disappointing, disheartening, bad performance? That's unusual."

Brown said he awoke the day after his upset loss for the governor's mansion with a clear sense of purpose.

"From Nov. 5, I woke up believing I would continue to serve the public," Brown said in an interview Thursday with The Baltimore Sun. "How I was going to do that and what that would look like was not clear to me."

Brown, who briefly considered running for Senate, said his campaign for Congress will focus on issues that also were part of the campaign for governor: stemming the tide of foreclosures, improving jobs, paying for college and improving schools.

After losing the governor's race, Brown left public office in January for the first time in 16 years. Before becoming lieutenant governor under Gov. Martin O'Malley, he served eight years in the Maryland House of Delegates, representing a Prince George's County district.

This winter, Brown returned to work at Gibbs and Haler, the same Prince George's County land use and development law firm where he worked before becoming lieutenant governor.

Brown said he has spent the past four months spending time with his family and "speaking to a lot of my neighbors and people in the community, and continuing the conversation about dreams and concerns and aspirations that people have."

While reluctant to discuss his specific campaign plans Thursday, Brown said he had a guiding principle about approaching a gridlocked Congress.

"It's not what I'm going to do in Congress, it's what I'm going to do for the residents of the 4th District," Brown said. "Sometimes congressmen go down to Washington, D.C., and get caught up in the swirl of the nation's capital. You have to stay grounded in your district."

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