The 2014 governor's race came into clearer focus Wednesday as Harford County Executive David R. Craig set a date to announce his Republican candidacy and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown's campaign confirmed that Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will be his running mate in his bid for the Democratic nomination.
Craig, 63, will become the first major GOP contender to enter the race when he holds a campaign event Monday. Brown, who got a jump on other Democrats when he announced his candidacy this month, plans to announce Ulman's agreement to join his ticket the same day.
With the twin announcements, the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Martin O'Malley will shift into a higher gear.
Craig plans to give several radio interviews Friday laying out his vision for the state, a campaign aide said. Both his campaign and Brown's have scheduled a series of events across the state Monday, with Craig mapping out five more stops the next two days. A second Republican candidate, Anne Arundel Del. Ron George, plans to announce his campaign on Wednesday.
"People need a true choice," Craig said Wednesday night in a brief interview in which he said he was "disappointed" with some of the decisions of O'Malley, a Democrat.
Craig said he considers himself "fiscally responsible" and that his experience as a county executive has prepared him for dealing with unions, businesses and constituents.
"I'm a tenth-generation Marylander," Craig said. "I want to make it a place where people want to stay."
For Craig, first appointed county executive in 2005 and elected twice since then, the announcement means at least a small head start on a field that in addition to George could include Frederick County Commission President Blaine Young and 2012 GOP Senate nominee Dan Bongino. Bongino said Wednesday he plans to announce his plans in mid-June but is leaning toward running for Congress.
Craig is known as a fiscal conservative with solid ties to the party establishment and the business community. Before being chosen as county executive, the former teacher and principal moved steadily up the political ranks from councilman and mayor in Havre de Grace to state delegate and later senator.
"He doesn't pound his chest on social issues," said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, a Harford Republican who supports Craig. "He's more focused on economic issues."
Meanwhile, Brown's selection of Ulman gives him a running mate who brings two terms of experience governing a mid-sized, Democratic-leaning county plus a formidable campaign war chest of his own. The selection will also give Brown, a Prince George's County resident, a partner from the Baltimore region.
Until his selection, Ulman had been considering his own bid for governor. The Brown ticket is expected to face Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Montgomery County Del. Heather Mizeur in the Democratic primary next June. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said he is still considering whether to give up his 2nd District seat in Congress to make a run for the State House, spokeswoman Jamie Lennon said Wednesday.
Brown, 51, picked Ulman, 42, because he represents the next generation of Maryland politicians and shares Brown's aggressiveness, according to a source close to the campaign who was not authorized to speak publicly in advance of Monday's announcement.
Through last year, Brown's fundraising lagged behind other possible Democratic candidates, according to the most recent campaign finance report released in January.
The lieutenant governor had $1.6 million on hand, compared with Gansler's $5.2 million and Ulman's $2.1 million — money the Howard executive can bring to the combined ticket. Mizeur, who has been moving toward an insurgent campaign, had $380,000.
Both the Brown campaign and Ulman's spokesman declined to comment in advance of Monday's announcement, which will come a little more than a year before the primary election on June 24 next year, more than two months earlier than in previous years.
The Ulman pick was praised by political observers and Brown supporters as a smart choice to expand Brown's appeal among whites and some Baltimore suburbs.
"They're appealing to a different Democratic base," said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Norris predicted that while Brown was already likely to do well among Baltimore voters and those in Prince George's, Ulman should help him pick up votes in Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. And while Ulman had to give up his own bid to join the Brown ticket, Norris said most pollsters and observers thought Ulman did not have a lot to lose.
"For Ulman, the numbers weren't there," Norris said. "The numbers just weren't there for him and they weren't going to get there."
Ulman isn't well known statewide, but many Democrats consider him both politically savvy and an effective manager who could be a formidable contender for higher office in the future.
"Ulman is a very bright and sharp guy who is doing well in Howard County," said Del. Dereck E. Davis, a Prince George's County Democrat and a Brown supporter. "There's a certain youthful energy that he brings … They complement each other. They're aggressive. They're ambitious."
Craig, meanwhile, faces a challenge uniting Republicans who have become increasingly divided by a growing conservative movement within the state party, Norris said.
"If [Craig] is able to get the Republican nomination — the Republican nomination has been taken over by the very far right — he'll be credible in a general election," he said. "I think he's a very credible candidate against any Democratic candidate. He can attract conservative Democrats in Baltimore County."
Szeliga said that as Harford executive Craig has cut the county property tax rate twice while shrinking the county workforce by 10 percent. Even during a downturn, she said, Craig has been able to open several new schools.
She said Craig had also been instrumental in developing a partnership between Towson University and Harford Community College, allowing students to seamlessly earn a degree by spending two years at each school.
"He certainly has a record to run on," she said. "It's not just rhetoric."
Former Republican Del. Donald Murphy of Baltimore County said he's undecided but leaning toward Young. He said Craig is known in party circles as a "quiet and unassuming . . . Mr. Fix-it kind of guy." What gives Murphy pause is the question of Craig's electability.
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"The downside is he's not at all flashy and exciting," Murphy said. "I'd rather have Blaine as a Lincoln Day speaker than David Craig."
Though Craig has been a player on the state Republican scene far longer, he lagged behind the 41-year-old Young in fundraising last year. Craig's last disclosure, filed in January, showed that he raised $232,283 last year and had $202,236 in cash on hand. Young raised $445,651 and had $341,936 in the bank. Craig said his fundraising had been hampered by the time he spent on Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
George, who did not express an interest in a gubernatorial run before this year, raised $9,290 last year and had $21,287 in the bank.
Murphy said he's cautiously optimistic that the Republicans will be able to compete in the 2014 race despite a 2-1 disadvantage in voter registration because of what he sees as growing discontent with O'Malley and President Barack Obama.
"For a Republican to win in this state, things have to align, and things are getting closer and closer to alignment each day," he said. "Republicans don't win in Maryland. Democrats lose."