Maryland's partisan 'Zaching' controversy

A partisan bickering match broke out in Maryland politics Wednesday over whether it’s outrageous or fair game to put a certain photo of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman flexing their biceps into an attack ad.

Republican Larry Hogan, fresh of a primary victory Tuesday, released an Internet ad mocking Brown’s record in a 40-second spot that mimics those popular “Most Interesting Man in the World” ads for Dos Equis beer. The critical ad ended with the biceps photo, along with the phrase “stay uninformed my friends.”

Democrats were outraged. The photo was not a random goofy double-guns pose, but a well-known meme to commemorate a young Howard County cancer patient named Zach Lederer. The pose became so widespread that the double-flex drew its own term, "Zaching," as well as a foundation dedicated to inspiring cancer victims.

The Maryland Democratic Party’s press release headline screamed Hogan released a “NEGATIVE AD POLITICIZING CANCER VICTIM'S STRUGGLE.”

In a statement, state party chair Yvette Lewis said that, “It’s very upsetting that Larry Hogan would stoop to using an image of Anthony and Ken supporting Zach in his battle against cancer for a political attack.  Zach used this pose as a symbol of hope for not only himself, but also for cancer patients across the world. I can’t understand how Mr. Hogan could actually think that it’s appropriate to exploit Zach’s message of hope for his own political gain.”

The Hogan campaign called the Democrat’s response an “absurd critique.”

That was the part of our ad with which they took issue?” Hogan’s campaign spokesman Adam Dubitsky said in a statement. “We thought the Lt. Governor might have at least wanted to respond to the ad’s critique of his administration’s forty consecutive tax hikes, or his botched $125M health exchange rollout, or perhaps the doubling of the unemployment rate under his watch.”

Here is what Brown’s campaign manager, Justin Schall, had to say: “It's a little sad, and frankly disappointing that Larry Hogan wants to start his gubernatorial race by ridiculing such a brave, young cancer patient. But regrettably, we've come to expect these types of negative, callous attacks from Larry Hogan and the Republicans."

Whether Hogan’s camp knew the significance of the pose before they used it is unclear.

Brown had posted it to two places on his Facebook page. He posted it in May without a caption. And before that in March with a caption that read, “In memory of the inspirational Zach Lederer. Thank you for providing courage, strength, determination, and confidence to those still battling. #ZachingDay.”

What is clear, however, is that the state party establishment agreed with Hogan that Democrats were putting out manufactured outrage disproportionate for the situation. 

In a statement Maryland Republican Party executive Joe Cluster dismissed the concern as hyperbole, adding the party’s establishment support behind Hogan in the growing controversy.

“The Democrat Party would rather distract voters away from the ad's message then defend Lt. Governor Anthony Browns failed leadership of the MD Health Benefit Exchange. In no way does this ad politicize Zach Lederer's cancer struggles, but it does highlight the future struggles of those Marylanders who need quality health care and will struggle to receive it because of Brown's failures as the head of the MD Health Benefit Exchange.” 

You can view the entire ad here.

And cast your vote in our poll on whether using the Zaching photo in a political ad is outrageous or fair game.

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