Laslo Boyd: A 2013 Candidate Scorecard

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By: Laslo Boyd 

You might well imagine that in a quiet moment Peter Franchot has thought to himself:  “Why did I decide not to run for governor?  I could beat any of them.”

Whether Franchot has actually ever had that thought and whether or not he could win, you have to agree that there’s been a lot of stumbling so far in the race to succeed Martin O’Malley.   Earlier in the year, Attorney General Doug Gansler’s campaign looked like it might totally implode.  First was the story about him insisting that his security detail drivers ignore speed limits and traffic regulations.  Almost worse than the initial allegations was Gansler’s clumsy public response.

That story had barely left the front page when a new revelation, accompanied by a photo, placed the Attorney General in the middle of a raucous teen beach party filled with underage drinking.  Again, Gansler stumbled in explaining his presence at the party and fumbled his position on what responsibility he had or didn’t have.

Even though there are still several months before the June 24 Primary, many observers have concluded that Gansler cannot rebound from those problems.  And while he has several million dollars waiting to fund television ads, for him to have a realistic shot at winning, he is going to have to get some help from his main rival, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown.

That help may have arrived in the form of the inept working of the state health care web site, a project that Brown has for a very long time been claiming as a prime example of his leadership.   Brown’s first response when the web site’s problems became widely known was to disappear and let others be the public face of the disaster.

Since then, Brown has issued a few vague statements indicating that many people share responsibility for the problems, not merely the state’s designated point person.  He has promised regular briefings, but, like Gansler, he seems to have been totally thrown off stride by the criticisms coming his way.

The health care web site will be an ongoing story between now and the Primary.  Whether the problems get fixed and how Anthony Brown handles his responsibilities with respect to the issue will deservedly get lots of attention.

It’s hard to know how much Heather Mizeur, the third candidate in the race, has benefitted from the front-runner missteps.  At this point, she is running the most substantive campaign of the three, releasing a steady stream of issue position papers.

Being the long shot gives one a degree of freedom that favorites, who tend to play it very safe, do not enjoy.  Mizeur has used that freedom to argue for policies, such as legalizing marijuana and establishing public financing of elections, that the other candidates view as too risky.

Much attention will be given to the next campaign finance reports that are due in January.  Will Brown’s flood of endorsements and Gansler’s gaffes change the balance that had favored the Attorney General?  Or are the events of 2013 largely sound and fury.  Mizeur, having announced that she will accept public financing, will continue to argue that she is running a different kind of campaign.

The General Assembly session will be another focal point.  Will Brown remain back stage in this session or will he will he take public positions that differ from O’Malley’s?  Will the Attorney General come with a legislative agenda of his own and will he be an active and visible participant in the General Assembly session?  Will Mizeur find a way, despite her outsider status, to have an impact on major bills?

All of that will provide a prelude to the almost three months between Sine Die and the Primary.  Will the part of the campaign where voters are finally starting to pay attention matter?  By then, Anthony Brown will be either a clear favorite or he will be a badly weakened candidate trying desperately to hold on.

By contrast, the race for Attorney General has largely been unfolding outside the public’s view.  The candidates are speaking to supporters, raising money, lining up endorsements, and appearing at joint forums.  All of those activities will continue in the New Year but the public, at some point, will begin to take notice.

In early polling, the leader has been Delegate Jon Cardin, whose last name gives him a clear head start on the field.  Whether Cardin can add to a base of about 24% depends on his ability to persuade voters that his background and approach make him a serious candidate.  His chief opponent, State Senator Brian Frosh, has the much more impressive legislative resume, but lacks the name recognition.

While there are two other candidates, Delegate Aisha Braveboy and Delegate Bill Frick, the eventual winner will almost certainly be Cardin or Frosh.  Off this year’s start, either of them could win, but Frosh has far stronger credentials in his arsenal than Cardin has.   How well each of them uses their resources will determine the outcome.

Which brings us back to Peter Franchot.  The Comptroller may wonder if he could have been elected governor, but he faces little or no opposition in his effort to retain his current job.  That should help him get over any lingering “what ifs.”

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.