Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler will jump into the 2014 race for governor Tuesday, setting the stage for what is likely to be a fiercely competitive contest for the Democratic nomination.
Gansler, 50, will formally launch his campaign with an appearance in downtown Rockville in his home county of Montgomery — part of a six-day, 17-stop rollout of his bid to succeed term-limited Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Political observers expect Gansler to be a formidable contender.
"Anybody who dismisses his prospects would be short-sighted," said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College of Southern Maryland. "He wants it, and I think he'll fight for it."
The two-term attorney general's announcement comes four months after Lt. Gov Anthony G. Brown became the first Democrat to launch his campaign. Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County joined the race in July.
Gansler held back on a formal announcement, calculating that voters wouldn't tune into the governor's contest until summer's end. But he has run an active quasi-campaign. Since June, he has been holding policy forums around the state on a wide range of issues, including criminal justice reform, domestic violence prevention and reviving Maryland manufacturing.
"Our race is all about ideas," Gansler said in an interview Monday. He is positioning himself as an anti-establishment candidate who will shake up the status quo.
Gansler has staked out some positions counter to those of the O'Malley administration, notably his support for a cut in the state's corporate tax rate. He also took a strong early stand in support of increasing the state minimum wage next year, calling for it to go up from $7.25 to $10. The governor has endorsed an increase in principle but has not settled on a specific proposal.
Gansler was critical of the direction of Maryland's economy under O'Malley and promised to make the state more competitive.
"We'll be stressing the need to bring jobs back to Maryland, to stop the bleeding of jobs to our neighboring states," he said. Another big difference between the O'Malley administration and a Gansler administration would be a greater emphasis on diversity in hiring, he said.
If he makes it through the primary, Gansler can expect Republicans to dismiss any promises of change as inconsequential.
"Doug Gansler is a nice enough fellow and he's certainly very ambitious, but there's not a hill of beans' worth of difference between Doug Gansler and Anthony Brown," said Larry Hogan, president of the conservative advocacy group Change Maryland. "They're both tax-and-spend liberal Democrats."
The announced Republican candidates are Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar. Hogan has said he is considering a run. The party primaries are June 24.
While Gansler has been waiting to announce, Brown has been piling up Democratic endorsements, including Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Steny Hoyer, Donna Edwards, and John Sarbanes, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
Whether that makes much of a difference is questionable. "Every political scientist who has ever studied this will tell you endorsements nearly never have an impact on an election outcome," Eberly said.
Even as an unannounced candidate, the outspoken Gansler has not steered clear of controversy. In August, news emerged that Gansler had told campaign volunteers in a closed-door meeting that Brown's core message was: "Vote for me, I want to be the first African-American governor of Maryland." Brown's campaign demanded an apology; Gansler refused.
The Democratic primary for governor is likely to be far more challenging than Gansler's previous runs for office. He made his debut in elected politics in 1998 when he left his job as a federal prosecutor to challenge the incumbent Montgomery County state's attorney. Aided by a late-breaking sex scandal affecting his chief rival, Gansler won the Democratic primary by a comfortable margin and cruised to election in November. He was unopposed for re-election in 2002.
His tenure as state's attorney was marked by high-profile cases, including the prosecution of Washington-area snipers John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo for murders they committed in Montgomery. Gansler's outspoken style occasionally led to clashes with the judiciary, and in 2003 he was reprimanded by the state Court of Appeals over remarks he made to the news media about pending cases.
After the reprimand, Gansler was unrepentant, saying that the aim of the original complaint was to hurt him politically and insisting that he had a "moral, ethical and legal responsibility" to inform the public of the operations of the criminal justice system.
With the retirement of Attorney General J. Joseph Curran in 2006, Gansler set his sights on statewide office. He won the primary by 10 percentage points and the general election by 20.
In 2010, Gansler faced only token opposition. The lack of competition let him carry over $3 million in campaign funds for the 2014 election, giving him an early leg up in fundraising for the governor's race. Gansler started the year with about $5 million, far exceeding Brown's $1.6 million. Brown has since closed the gap by forming a team with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who had $2.1 million on hand in January before deciding to forgo a gubernatorial race and sign up as Brown's running mate.
Like Brown and Mizeur, Gansler is under pressure to raise money before the General Assembly convenes in January. All three are covered by a Maryland law that bans state elected officials from raising money during the annual 90-day session. When it ends in April, there will be an all-out sprint to the primary in June. In past years, it has been held in September.
With his announcement behind him, Gansler's next test will be to select a running mate who will bring balance, and perhaps some votes, to the ticket.
He stated in a private session, which later became public, that his running mate would be an African-American from Baltimore City or Prince George's County. Among those mentioned as possible choices are Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt, Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and Prince George's County Dels. Jolene Ivey and Melony Griffith.
Gansler said Monday that he hasn't chosen a running mate and hasn't talked with anyone about coming aboard his ticket.