Josh Kurtz: Primary Preview: The Resurrection Will Not Be Televised

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If former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon winds up losing her comeback bid in the Democratic primary next week, what will analysts say led to her defeat?

There of course could be many factors, but one of them may be her relative lack of contrition, six years after resigning for pocketing gift cards meant for poor children and accepting lavish gifts from a developer she was dating. A little-noticed email she sent to supporters on Easter Sunday drove that point home.

If you read that email a certain way, far from being contrite, Dixon seemed to compare herself to Jesus.

“The resurrection is the greatest comeback!” – she wrote, calling Baltimoreans “conquerors,” not unlike Jesus’ disciples, equipped to overcome “whatever fear, despair or disappointment you have.”

“Together, we will Reclaim, Revive, Rebuild and Resurrect our city,” she promised.

Although she has trailed slightly in the most recent public polls, Dixon could still win, even as state Sen. Catherine Pugh (D) has largely consolidated the anti-Dixon vote. Pugh is kind of a remote figure – broadly acceptable to large swaths of the electorate, but unlikely to generate the same kind of passion Dixon does with her supporters.

Pugh is a generation older than the outgoing incumbent, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), and in contrast to the cerebral Rawlings-Blake has a bit of the old-fashioned William Donald Schaefer cheerleader in her. Will that be enough to tackle the city’s ills?

Pugh has been in office – first the City Council, then the legislature – dating back to 1999, but she isn’t strictly a lifelong politician; she is a former journalist and has run her own businesses for almost 30 years, so she can claim private sector experience.

And speaking of potential resurrections, credit Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby (D) for seizing an opportunity even in defeat. By folding his campaign for mayor and endorsing Pugh last week, Mosby may have set himself up to succeed her in Annapolis if she’s elected mayor. Del. Antonio Hayes (D), far and away the most impressive House member from Pugh’s district, who might otherwise be expected to advance to the Senate if there were a vacancy, endorsed Dixon a week earlier.

If there’s any true transformation at City Hall – or resurrection in the city – it will probably be led by the new City Council, which, thanks to multiple retirements and some vulnerable incumbents in next week’s primaries, promises to be dramatically different from the one that’s in office now.

Meanwhile, the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, featuring Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, is impossible to read – the campaigns’ spin and various polls notwithstanding. Despite what some media accounts erroneously suggest – that Van Hollen somehow blew an inherent advantage – this was destined to be a razor-thin contest all along, with two appealing and accomplished candidates with different skills and strengths.

Van Hollen has run the better, more disciplined campaign. But this feels more like Edwards’ moment than Van Hollen’s, for a whole host of reasons. Of course, Van Hollen has never lost an election.

Some Republicans – and even some Democrats – wonder whether an Edwards victory in the primary would put the Senate seat, held for the past 30 years by Democrat Barbara Mikulski, in jeopardy. That might be so in a gubernatorial year, but it seems highly unlikely in a presidential year, when the electorate is so much different.

The likely Republican nominee, state Del. Kathy Szeliga, is an appealing candidate who is clinging tightly to popular Gov. Larry Hogan (R). But even with her service in Annapolis, even with her close association with Rep. Andy Harris, the state’s lone Republican in Congress, she cannot match Edwards’ knowledge or experience, especially on national issues.

In a debate, Szeliga would come off as more genial, but Edwards would wipe the floor with her. If Edwards can’t win a general election in a presidential year, then Maryland may be more racist than we think it is.

A more intriguing question – which no one has dared utter publicly so far – is what the loser of the Democratic primary will wind up doing next. Because come April 27, one of them will be a lame duck.

For Van Hollen in particular, there will inevitably be a series of what-if’s. He was almost certain to rise in the ranks of Democratic leadership in the House eventually if he had stuck around – even with the top three Democratic leaders, septuagenarians Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, showing no signs of leaving, ever.

But resurrection for the primary loser could be right around the corner – especially if Sen. Ben Cardin (D) decides to retire in 2018, when he will be 75 years old. And there will be other opportunities, in and out of public office, as well.

The primaries to succeed Van Hollen and Edwards in the House are also wildly unpredictable – and carry with them potential storylines of redemption and renewal, now and in the future.

The most basic question in Van Hollen’s district, where the race is setting obscene spending records (http://centermaryland.org/index.php?option=com_easyblog&view=entry&id=1475&Itemid=178), is what $10 million buys. If voter turnout is relative high – if casual voters show up at the polls, who aren’t intimately familiar with the candidates – then multimillionaire businessman David Trone, who has flooded every conceivable media outlet with ads, including dental fillings, will probably win the Democratic primary.

But state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D) has a geographical and ideological base that no other candidate enjoys. Kathleen Matthews has the Washington Postendorsement, which matters a lot in this district, and is the most visible woman in the race. And so many of the other candidates are appealing that someone could pull a surprise – though that seems increasingly unlikely given the financial advantages of the three frontrunners.

Regardless of who wins, most of the also-rans will probably have a second (or third) act in politics, if they want it. Remember, Raskin and Dels. Kumar Barve (D) and Ana Sol Gutierrez (D) keep their legislative seats if they lose next week.

(And remember this: If Pugh and Raskin win their respective races, then ever-resourceful Senate President Mike Miller has a few enticing positions to spread around; Pugh is Senate majority leader and chairwoman of a key health care subcommittee and Raskin is Senate majority whip and chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee.)

Last but certainly not least is the race to replace Edwards in the 4thCongressional District.

With the possible exception of Sheila Dixon, there is no greater potential for resurrection than Anthony Brown, who blew his chance to become governor two years ago.

In a primary that has become a three-way race, with former Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey and Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, Brown has a few built-in advantages, including the highest name recognition and being the only candidate from the heart of Prince George’s County.

But Ivey, the most qualified and best equipped of the candidates to serve in Congress, also has solid name recognition and is, in a sense, seeking redemption of his own – namely, whether he can truly fulfill his long-projected political potential. His fate next week could also have implications for his wife, former Del. Jolene Ivey (D), who has publicly pondered a bid for county executive in 2018.

Among other things, Glenn Ivey may be hurt by the fact that he and Pena-Melnyk share some of the same geographical base (though she lives just outside the congressional district). Pena-Melnyk, by most accounts, has punched above her weight class throughout the primary and has worked and willed her way into the top tier of candidates.

But will voters in a district that is 54 percent African-American be willing to pick a Latina over two well-known black candidates? That may be the essential question of the District 4 primary.

And you know who should be watching this result closely as he ponders a run for governor in the 2018 Democratic primary? Tom Perez.   

 

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily on Capitol Hill. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.