Josh Kurtz: Striking Back at the Empire

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By Josh Kurtz


That’s the sound of the Maryland Democratic establishment taking it on the chin Tuesday night, when John Delaney upset state Sen. Rob Garagiola in the 6th congressional district Democratic primary by an eye-popping 25 points.

You can’t exactly call it a victory of the insurgents, when Delaney, a multimillionaire investment banker, dropped more than $2 million into the campaign, including more than $1.5 million of his own money. And his politics are indistinguishable from Garagiola’s.

But the Maryland political people who rallied to Delaney’s side are mostly self-styled mavericks: Donna Edwards, Peter Franchot, Doug Duncan, and Valerie Ervin. Just about every other elected official sided with Garagiola. So that says something -- though what it means for the O’Malleys, Millers and Hoyers of the world is very much an open question.

You’d like to think that Maryland Democratic politics will be a little less top-down going forward, but even a black eye to party leaders like this won’t lead to change overnight. Whether there will be tangible political benefits for the quartet who chose wisely in the primary is also hard to say – it’s not as if Delaney, who hired the best consultants money can buy, comes with a big group of loyal followers who are prepared to enter into the service of Franchot, Edwards et al. It may just put them further on the outs with the party establishment, for better or worse. But in this uncertain political era, cage-rattling sells.

If one wing of the establishment got bloodied the most in this primary, it’s organized labor. Unions went all in for Garagiola, which was not surprising given his powerful position in Annapolis and his even more powerful patron, Mike Miller. But they couldn’t pull this one out, a low turnout election in a district without many Democratic activists or much of a party infrastructure.

Were union leaders caught napping? More important, is this going to diminish their power, the cachet of their endorsements, in the future? There has got to be a lot soul-searching going on in union offices throughout the state right now.

One thing this primary did prove: Money does matter in Maryland elections. Delaney wound up outspending Garagiola about 4-1 in the primary, and it’s fair to say that without his personal fortune, he would not have won.

Looking ahead to 2014, that’s got to make Doug Gansler feel good.

Gansler in January had almost four times as much cash on hand as his prospective gubernatorial primary opponents. And while insiders can easily diagnose Gansler’s flaws as a candidate for the state’s top office, a lot of those can be glossed over with all that money he’s going to spend. He’ll be able to define himself, his opponents and the terms of the debate to an extent that his foes won’t.

It may just be coincidence, but Delaney’s donor list looks an awful lot like Gansler’s -- the same array of bankers, lawyers, real estate investors and technology entrepreneurs clustered in Potomac, Bethesda, Chevy Chase and their adjacent neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.

What will this primary do for the inner dynamic of the state Senate?

Garagiola remains, as majority leader. He’s taken many blows and sacrificed a lot in the past few months. But he’s only 39, so there’s plenty of time for a next political act -- if he wants one.

Miller’s political wisdom and infallibility will certainly be called into question. It would be interesting to hear him explain away Garagiola’s defeat -- Delaney’s avalanche of money wasn’t the only factor. Miller has now been exposed as an emperor with no clothes, an attack line for reformers and political foes, both in name and in deed.

Will other challengers of Miller’s favorites try the same sort of attacks? Will Garagiola’s loss erode Miller’s supreme grip on his chamber, even a fraction?

And what about Martin O’Malley, climbing aboard a sinking ship a week before the primary, endorsing Garagiola on the same day Delaney’s campaign released a poll showing its man ahead by 20 points? Sometimes in politics, you do what you have to do, pay tribute in ways that don’t always make sense. Endorsing Garagiola over Delaney won’t slow O’Malley’s march to the White House, if that’s what he wants to do.

But it’s still a puzzling embarrassment.

At any rate, now with Delaney as their nominee, Democratic leaders will fall in line, and he seems like a pretty safe bet to beat Roscoe Bartlett in November. Bartlett’s victory in the Republican primary was incredibly weak -- though that was hardly surprising.

But campaigns do matter, and lame as Bartlett was, his opponents, even his “name” opponents serving in the legislature, did not put up much of a fight. You have to wonder what damage David Brinkley could have done with a lot more money and time. His campaign was built on hope, the notion, that there was enough antipathy for the incumbent out there for him to prevail. There was plenty of antipathy for Bartlett -- 57 percent of primary voters preferred someone else. But as a challenger, you can’t take advantage of that without a real campaign organization.

What the large Republican field did do was soften up Bartlett even further for Delaney. So congratulations, Maryland, you’ll be sending a very rich man to Congress, one without many ties to the usual political bosses. What a shame that this is what passes for political reform in our state.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Bad Karma in Annapolis

More Than a Protest Vote

Doug Duncan’s Next Act

Marital Difficulties

Prince George’s Agonistes

Annapolis Bits

A Grown-up David in a World of Juvenile Goliaths

Rich Man, Poor Campaign?
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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.