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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Voters Deserve better than Dishonest Campaigns

Among the many election mailers that I received this week two stood out. One was a Republican financed mailer attacking District 29B Delegate John Bohanan (D) and the other was financed by state Democrats and attacked District 29C Delegate Tony O'Donnell (R). But these mailers did more than just attack Bohanan and O'Donnell, the mailers contained outright lies about both men. The anti-Bohanan mailer claimed that he had supported elimination of the death penalty and supported publicly financed needles for heroin addicts. The anti-O'Donnell mailer warned voters that he opposed replacing the Thomas Johnson bridge placing the safety of our families at risk.

Pretty damning stuff. Too bad none of it's true. Anyone who pays attention to Maryland politics knows that Bohanan vigorously opposed the state's recent repeal of the death penalty and when a bill was put forward to provide a publicly funded needle exchange statewide Bohanan voted against it. As for O'Donnell, anyone ho has had more than a passing conversation with O'Donnell knows that replacing the Thomas Johnson bridge is his top priority. So how could Democrats support their claim that he is against replacing it? Because O'Donnell voted against increasing the gas tax. O'Donnell didn't vote against replacing the bridge, he voted against a tax increase that may not have been necessary had Governor O'Malley not repeatedly raided the state's transportation trust fund.

John Bohanan and Tony O'Donnell may come from two different parties, but they share the same commitment to southern Maryland, and each has earned another term. The mailers weren't just misleading, they were dishonest. The voters of District 29B and 29C deserve better. And two men who have been tireless public servants, powerful voices for southern Maryland, and fierce advocates for their constituents, deserved better.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Second Brown/Hogan Debate Ends in Another Tie

The second Maryland gubernatorial debate is in the can (or on the web...) and, for me anyway, the results mirrored the first debate. Both Anthony Browne and Larry Hogan performed well, neither made any serious mistakes, and neither scored any major blows. It was a tie. The debate itself, however, came across as a disorganized mess. But more on that later.

Anthony Brown
After 8 years as Lt. Gov. Brown is having serious trouble sealing the deal with voters in a state that favors his party by a 2-to-1 margin. There are many causes for his problems. 1) The national and the Maryland economy remain weak. Recent reports show that middle class Americans have seen all the income gains made between the mid-1990s and 2009 disappear in the last 5 years. In Maryland, wages have stagnated, unemployment is higher than the national average, and a record number of people have simply dropped out of the labor force. Good luck being the quasi-incumbent running in the midst of all of that. 2) Martin O'Malley is unpopular. No doubt part of O'Malley's collapse is linked to the poor economy, but I think it's linked as well to a sense that at a time of need within the state O'Malley is touring Iowa and New Hampshire in hopes of being president. I think folks see in Brown another rising star of the Democratic party and wonder if he'll follow O'Malley's example and put national ambitions ahead of his state. And 3) even after 8 years, most folks don't know Anthony Brown. Brown jumped into the governors race before anyone else, but even as he was securing a running mate and endorsements he was not introducing himself to voters. His campaign was structured around the assumption that Brown would be the presumptive frontrunner in the primary and that the general election would be a mere formality. As such, his campaign has shielded him from the press and the public. He does not attend unscripted events and prefers to meet with friendly audiences. As to the press, he rarely does interviews and his campaign manager has had more to say about Brown's agenda than has Brown.

It has been clear for weeks that the general election will not be a cake walk. And yet, the Brown campaign refuses to change strategy. They need to get Brown out in public. They need him in front of cameras and talking with reporters. The Baltimore Sun poll found that Brown is supported by only 71% of Democrats and he's losing independent voters by double digits. Worse, fully 25% of Brown's supporters are open to changing their mind. Based on current polling, if only half that many do change their minds then Brown loses. Brown has been so committed to telling voters why they shouldn't vote for Hogan that he forget to tell them why they should vote for him. A better Maryland for more Marylanders is not a reason, it's barely even a bumper sticker. In the debate today, he repeatedly reminded voters that the election is about the future - but he offered little regarding what that future would involve.

Brown's best moment was his discussion of the MD gun control bill. His passion was clear and when he indicated that Hogan said one thing in public and another in private he was clearly trying to raise doubts in voters minds about Hogan's promises to not try to undo "settled law" regarding guns, abortion, or same sex marriage. His closing statement in which he linked his military service to his public service was strong as well.

Brown's worst moment was attempt to belittle Hogan's understanding of the complexities involved in managing a state by saying to Hogan that he was a "small" business owner. In prior debates, Brown has said small businesses are the backbone of the economy and that he supports small businesses, but I guess he just doesn't think small business owners are smart enough to govern? It was a mistake.

Brown's non-answer to the question about funding pre-k was a bad moment as well. He essentially said that if the gambling revenue isn't there then Maryland will do what it has always done to deal with shortfalls. He then paused and quickly added, "by not raising taxes..." Well Maryland did raise taxes to deal with prior shortfalls. We raised taxes, froze spending, raided trust funds, shift costs to counties, and skipped out on pension obligations. Hogan should've asked Brown which of those options he'd consider should the gambling money not materialize.

Larry Hogan
Hogan continues to stay focused on the economy. Some are suggesting that he needs to branch out, but that's only partially true. Hogan is a Republican running in a state where independent and unaffiliated voters will soon outnumber registered Republicans. His window of opportunity is narrow. A recent poll found that by a 48-44% margin, Marylanders believe the state is going in the wrong direction - a 4 point margin. In 2002, Bob Ehrlich defeated a woefully incompetent candidate, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, by about 3 points. That margin is the best that Hogan or any other Republican can expect. Hogan needs to win the 48% who think Maryland is going the wrong way. Given that Democrats control every aspect of statewide governance, it's hard to imagine that many of the 48% blame Republicans for the state's problems. But Hogan is tainted as well by the national GOP and by the lingering remnants of the Tea Party. For many in Maryland, national Republicans are responsible for the government shutdowns and there is no doubt that the national GOP continues to oppose abortion rights and is the major roadblock to national gun control legislation. Though Hogan may not support the national party on any of those issues, the R after his name means that for many voters those issues hang around his neck. Hogan needs to do better than simply say, it's settled law. Shift the focus more to the people. Say that if elected he will serve the people and their agenda. They've spoken on same sex marriage, abortion, and in state tuition for undocumented kids. Sometimes the job of those we elect is to stop and listen to the people. Then he needs to turn that around and say that too often those in Annapolis have forgotten to listen -  they refused to hear the people on the sales tax, the gas tax, the rain tax. They failed to hear the people when they raided trust funds dedicated to the bay. That's what he needs to do.

Hogan's best moment was in his rebuttal to a question about the errors in his campaign's plan to save $1.7 billion in fraud, waste, and abuse. The report is full of errors and Hogan couldn't really defend it, but rather than focus on that, Brown pointed to his own plan that has identified $1.5 billion in savings. Hogan responded with the perfect question - if you know the state is wasting $1.5 billion per year why haven't you fixed it?

But next time, Hogan needs to go after Brown's plan. The $1.5 billion will never materialize. Consider two items from the plan. Brown's plan says that MD is spending $105 million each year on improper Medicaid payments. If true, the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (which covers half on MD's Medicaid costs) would likely demand an audit of those payments and demand that the state reimburse the federal government - so that's money lost. Brown's plan also calls for $30 million in savings by reducing chronic diseases among state employees. Folks, chronic diseases are the leading cost drivers in the health care system. If we could manage chronic diseases then our nation's long term spending problems (all linked to Medicare and Medicaid) would be solved. So the notion that MD will solve a problem among state employees what no nation has managed to control seems unlikely. It wouldn't hurt for Hogan to point to specific problems like those.

Hogan's worst moment? He was too thin skinned when Brown was linking him to the Ehrlich administration. I'm not sure why he was so defensive. His retort that it wasn't Ehrlich/Hogan but it is O'Malley/Brown was weakened by his defensive tone. Next time Brown says Marylanders don't want to return to the "dark days" Hogan should just say that during those dark days unemployment was lower and wages were actually growing.

Hogan's other bad moment was his weak answer on gun control. Suggesting that he opposed a bill because it didn't do enough is a bad answer and it undercuts his message that he's a pragmatist. You know who reject bills because they don't go far enough? Ideologues. They want all or nothing and usually get nothing. Hogan needs a better answer and Brown needs to keep hitting on that issue.

The Debate Itself
I got the feeling that the moderators decided that they would try to cover every topic that people felt had been ignored in the first debate - bad idea. Sometimes topics are ignored for a reason. Doug Gansler tried again and again to get traction on the failed health exchange website - it never connected with voters - move on. Perhaps the better and more relevant question would be how will the tens of thousands of folks newly enrolled in Medicaid (mostly adults) find a doctor in a program that mainly serves children? By the state's own admission there were too few doctors in about 40% of the state to meet the needs of Medicaid enrollees BEFORE the expansion (pages 9-10 of the linked report). After the expansion many Marylanders will find that their new insurance card will simply be a license to hunt for a doctor who will take it.

It was also unclear just what the rules were. Was it response, rebuttal, rebuttal response? That seemed to be the case, but at times it was clearly response, rebuttal, rebuttal response, rebuttal response response, and once there was a rebuttal response response response... Moderators need to enforce the rules and keep the debate moving. And what was with the climate change question - the moderator directed the candidates to give a one word answer if possible. Really?  I thought the reference to questions coming in via twitter and social media was distracting and time consuming. Who cares where the question came from? If it's a good question, just ask it quickly and let the candidates reply. And I thought it was odd how a moderator would sometimes prompt another moderator - "did you have a follow up that you wanted to ask regarding my question?" If a moderator has a follow up, he or she will ask it. The debate was as long as the prior debate, but it felt shorter and less substantive, and not because of the candidates. Moderators should keep the train running on time, ask questions, and otherwise blend into the background. I like and respect each of the moderators, but I think a three person panel, especially three people crammed around a little table, was just a bad idea.

So I end this review much as I did the first review - it was a tie. This is still Brown's race to lose (this is Maryland after all), but Hogan is a serious threat. I think turn-out will be awful and right now, Hogan is ahead among the voters who most reliably turn-out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Is the Affordable Care Act on Life Support? Maybe.

Here's my quick take on this and why I think the Supreme Court will agree with DC Circuit Court of Appeals and strike a lethal blow to the Affordable Care Act. 

In short, section 1411 of the Affordable Care Act specifies that premium assistance can only be given to exchanges established by a State under section 1311. An exchange established by the Federal Secretary of Health and Human Services under section 1321 does not qualify according to the letter of the law. But when the IRS issued implementing regulations the agency interpreted "established by the State" to mean any exchange operating in the State.

That's the point of contention. Today, the DC court said the IRS overstepped its authority and violated the clear letter of the law. The 4th Circuit disagreed and said section 1401 is "ambiguous" and as such the IRS was free to interpret the true meaning and the courts should defer.

I really don't think that the 4th Circuit's "ambiguous" argument will pass muster in the Supreme Court. A 5 vote majority would likely decide that section 1411 was not ambiguous and not even in error as the wording is repeated in the Definitions section of the Affordable Care Act. So twice, Congress stipulated that subsidies were only available to those who enrolled in an exchange established by the State under section 1311.

If this is upheld by the Supreme Court then much of the Affordable Care Act and the attempt to reach near-universal coverage will essentially die. There are over two dozen states that never established exchanges and millions in those states would lose their subsidies and then their insurance. And there would be no bare bones, low cost alternatives available because of the minimum benefit standards established by the law.

It would be a nightmare, but a nightmare of Congress' making. All of the normal procedures for legislating were pushed aside in the push to enact the law after losing the filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. No amendments were allowed, no conference committee appointed, no opportunity to look for problematic language. I warned of this back in March of 2010 in a post titled "Why Process Matters" in which I wrote of the Affordable Care Act "It will face years of legal challenges and likely deeply entrenched public opposition. Worse, the manner in which the bill is being pushed may allow for errors or inconsistencies in the law that could weaken or undermine it in unanticipated ways. The normal process may cause delays and be fraught with obstacles, but it exists to protect the public and to promote sound legislation.

Suddenly the 2014 midterms take on a new meaning. If the Supreme Court does strike down the subsidies Obama may have to go to a GOP House and Senate to seek a legislative solution. I expect they extract a heavy price.

Below are key excerpts from the law with certain crucial sections highlighted.

The key comes down to the use of the word "State" in SEC. 1401. REFUNDABLE TAX CREDIT PROVIDING PREMIUM ASSISTANCE FOR COVERAGE UNDER A QUALIFIED HEALTH PLAN. Which explains, "Premium assistance amount.--The premium assistance amount determined under this subsection with respect to any coverage month is the amount equal to the lesser of-- `(A) the monthly premiums for such month for 1 or
                more qualified health plans offered in the individual
                market within a State which cover the taxpayer, the
                taxpayer's spouse, or any dependent (as defined in
                section 152) of the taxpayer and which were enrolled in
                through an EXCHANGE ESTABLISHED BY THE STATE under 1311

                of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

Section 1311 specifies all the ways in which a State can establish an exchange. At no point in Section 1311 is the Federal Exchange ever mentioned.

The Federal Exchange is first mentioned several sections later in SEC. 1321. STATE FLEXIBILITY IN OPERATION AND ENFORCEMENT OF EXCHANGES AND RELATED REQUIREMENTS.

Which reads:

Failure To Establish Exchange or Implement Requirements.--
            (1) In general.--If--
                    (A) a State is not an electing State under
                subsection (b); or
                    (B) the Secretary
                determines, on or before January 1, 2013, that an
                electing State--
                          (i) will not have any required Exchange
                      operational by January 1, 2014; or
                          (ii) has not taken the actions the Secretary
                      determines necessary to implement--
                                    (I) the other requirements set forth
                                in the standards under subsection (a);
                                    (II) the requirements set forth in
                                subtitles A and C and the amendments
                                made by such subtitles;
       THE SECRETARY SHALL (directly or through agreement with a not-
        for-profit entity) ESTABLISH and operate such Exchange within
        the State
and the Secretary shall take such actions as are
        necessary to implement such other requirement."

So there you have it. The law clearly says that subsidies are available to those enrolled in exchanges established by the State as the language regarding the federal exchange comes several sections later and refers to the Secretary establishing it...

The court is being presented with a case of the letter of the law v. the intent of the law. If a court thinks the letter is clear it will trump the intent.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Real Force Behind the Hobby Lobby Decison is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - Not Five Justices

I've been reading the majority opinion in the Hobby Lobby case and it's just fascinating. But the press coverage and talking head rhetoric is so hyperbolic, discussion of the majority's reasoning are all but absent. I wanted to understand it. What I've learned is that many folks have no idea what the case was really about or what the court was being asked to decide. Folks clearly have no knowledge of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which is the legislation at the heart of all of this.

I will not engage in any discussion of the impact of the ruling. And I'm certainly not saying it was a good decision or a bad decision. Please do not read anything into what I've written. As I said, I'm just exploring the logic behind the ruling.

First and foremost, a critical thing to understand at the outset is that sole proprietorships and general partnerships were already recognized as individuals and as individuals they could seek an exemption from contraceptive mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993.  Non-profit religious organization were also able to request exemptions. I've heard a lot of people say variations of "employers shouldn't be making health care decisions for employees." But that was already happening and was specifically allowed. It is estimated that approximately 30% of employees work for employers exempted from the contraceptive mandate. In fact, a lower court Judge argued that so many employers have been exempted from the mandate that the Obama Administration could not claim there was a compelling state interest in imposing the mandate.

Many talking heads are saying that in the Hobby Lobby case the court "again" decided that corporations were people with rights. But that's incorrect. In the Hobby Lobby case the majority didn't grant the contraceptive exemption based on corporations being "persons" with religious freedom under the RFRA. In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court acknowledged that corporations are fictitious persons. But in a closely held corporation where 5 or fewer people own the majority of the company the court majority ruled that when government compels the corporation to do something it is really compelling those 5 people to do something - there is no diffuse ownership. In that case, the RFRA protections apply. So the Hobby Lobby decision basically said that in closely held corporations the fictitious person gives way to actual persons. Remember, it's already established and accepted that individuals, sole proprietorships, and general partnerships can seek exemptions based on religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It just wasn't settled whether for-profit corporations could. Alito essentially bypassed that issue by saying that we're really dealing with individuals.

From the ruling: "A corporation, being a fictitious construct with no real existence in the context of a closely-held corporation, is too slight and gossamer a thing to put any weight upon as far as distinguishing burdens placed on it and burdens placed on its owners."

In other words, if individuals, sole proprietors, or general partnerships can seek an exemption then the owners of a closely held corporation could as well as they are little different from general partnerships.  In a general partnership and a closely held corporation - you are essentially dealing with individuals.

Justice Alito wrote in his opinion that he can't imagine there are any large corporations (many people owning the majority of stock) that would be able demonstrate eligibility for a religious exemption. Ownership of large corporations is so widely diffused that there is really no way to demonstrate that the "owners" are being asked to violate their beliefs. Alito also said that this was a narrow ruling and it would not open the door for corporations to seek exemptions from other services like immunizations or blood transfusions.

Justice Ginsburg argued in her dissent that the ruling was actually quite broad and it opened the door to all sorts of religious exemption claims. She also argued that for-profit corporations cannot claim religious exemptions because they are first and foremost organized for competition  and customers in the commercial market place and not for the primary purpose of serving their religious beliefs or serving fellow adherents to their religion. Interestingly, Justices Breyer and Kagan did not sign on to Justice Ginsburg's dissent, specifically the part where Ginsburg addressed the corporation question.

So that's pretty much it. This case was never really about the right to access to contraceptives, that wasn't the issue before the court. The case revolved around the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and whether its protections applied to corporations like the Hobby Lobby. As Paul Horowitz wrote in today's New York Times,
"The decision in Hobby Lobby was no shock to anyone familiar with the heavy weight that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act places on religious accommodation. The fate of the case was sealed 21 years ago — not by a slim majority of the court, but by virtually every member of Congress. "

The RFRA already established that folks could claim a religious exemption. And roughly 30% of all employees in the US were already exempt from the mandate. The majority of the court determined that that the owners of closely held corporations have the same protections as similar non-incorporated employers.

The real issue here is not the ruling of 5 Justices, the real issue is a very broad piece of legislation enacted in 1993 - the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.  In my book, American Government and Popular Discontent, I write that Congress has increasingly come to rely on broadly written legislation. They do so because specificity creates openings for dissent and division. As a result of broad and ambiguous laws it often falls on the courts to determine what the law actually means.

Many of the folks who voted for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act are still in Congress (There is even an e-mail in which Elena Kagan, while working for President Clinton 1999, celebrated the act). Some are now saying they never intended it to be so broadly applied. Sorry, but that just doesn't fly. When you vote for an ambiguous law, when you opt to skip specificity just to ensure passage and avoid controversy, you must accept some responsibility when a court is called upon to provide that specificity.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Despite Headline, Pew Poll Does Not Show a Polarized America

In my first book with Steven Schier, American Government and Popular Discontent, I wrote extensively about the ongoing claims that the American public is deeply polarized. I disputed arguments offered by political scientists like Alan Abramowitz, author of The Disappearing Center, and found support for the claims of mass moderation overshadowed by elite polarization offered by Morris Fiorina in Disconnect.
I am currently writing a new book on the impact of ideology and polarization on American politics and have been picking through a new survey from Pew. According to Pew the study finds "Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades. These trends manifest themselves in myriad ways, both in politics and in everyday life."
But, despite the headlines, the study doesn't really show that America is polarized. Rather it shows that a decidedly small group of ideological activists on the left and right are incredibly polarized and have each laid claim to one of the two major parties.
Here are some quick reactions which I think undermine the premise of polarization. In reality, the Pew poll confirms that WE ARE NOT a deeply polarized nation coming apart at the seams. Rather a small group of committed ideologues are working hard to pull us apart.

1.) True ideologues have increased by 11 percentage points in 20 years from 10% in 1994 to their present level of 21% - that’s hardly earth shattering. The scary headline being that they've doubled in size but the calm down and breath take away is that they are but 1/5 of the electorate.

Growing Minority Holds Consistent Ideological Views

2). And it is among the most ideological voters that Pew finds people unhappy with family members marrying outside of the party and having few friends in the other party.
But among most of the rest (the majority), we don’t care who our family members marry, we don’t care about our friends’ partisanship, and we like compromise.

Guess Who’s Coming? Ideological Differences in Views of  Family Member Marrying Different Race, Gun Owner
3) It’s among the most ideological that compromise is dismissed as selling out. The rest of us like compromise.

Compromise in the Eye of the Beholder

4) On the issue of geographic polarization or Red State v Blue State, the study found that liberals like communities where everything is close together while conservative live wide open spaces - that puts a new spin on the big sort. Dear God! We're coming apart at the seams! 
So, are we moving so we can be around like minded people or is it really that liberals and conservatives like different physical environments?
5) Do we want to live near people with similar views? With the exception of the small subset of "True Conservatives," the vast majority of everyone else doesn't care.
Ideological “Silos”

6) With regard to the amenities provided by a community, liberals and conservatives largely agreed that they want to live near family, with good schools, and access to the great outdoors.
Where do they differ? Liberals care more about having access to museums... Can we as a nation ever get past this divide?
Liberals, Conservatives Agree on Importance of Living Near Family, Good Schools and the Outdoors
7) The study does confirm that the most ideological are the most likely to vote and the most like to contribute money - so a minority of ideologues dominates American politics.
Voting, Donations Linked to Negative Views of the Other Party
8) Those in the middle outnumber those on the wings. But they do not participate and do not make use of their numerical advantage. American politics is polarized not because the people are polarized, but because the vast and vital center has ceded all control to the small and malignant wings.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Very Quick Thoughts on MD Dem Gubernatorial Debate

And the winner is…. Doug Gansler.

Doug Gansler was the clear winner in the first televised Democratic gubernatorial debate - though that was not so evident during the opening minutes. Gansler’s opening statement seemed to be little more that boilerplate sloganeering and then he got off to a slow start on the first question concerning MD’s failed health exchange. Gansler needs to walk a fine line on the exchange - he can’t be seen as criticizing the Affordable Care Act, but he needs to criticize its failed implementation in MD. He found that fine line tonight. The 2014 midterms are shaping up to be bad news for Democrats nationally owing to ongoing unpopularity of health reform, Gansler essentially accused Brown of handing the GOP a path to victory by botching the implementation. On the second question, concerning marijuana legalization, Mizeur offered the best direct response, but it was Brown’s misstep that stood out. Brown’s pivot away from marijuana decriminalization and attempt to paint Gansler as hostile to the rights of racial minorities owing to his support of the death penalty came across as simultaneously low and an overreach. On the question of taxes, Brown promised a Blue Ribbon Panel and attacked Gansler’s support of a corporate tax rate cut. Gansler swung right back, reminding voters that the O’Malley/Brown team have presided over numerous tax increases and that leading Democrats in the state - including Steny Hoyer - support lowering the corporate tax rate.

Heather Mizeur started out strong, but them seemed to fade into the background - almost entirely because the moderator, David Gregory, did such a bad job moderating. Gregory turned the debate into the Gansler/Brown point/counterpoint show. I think being constantly excluded from exchanges threw Mizeur off of her game. Her strongest moment was the discussion of qualifications and her work to pass bipartisan family planning legislation. She helped her campaign, but the impact of the debate will be muted because of Gregory’s failure as a moderator. Mizeur very effectively reminded voters of the gender wage gap in America. Gregory seemed to think that since women earn on average 15% less than men that Mizeur should receive 15% less debate time than either Gansler or Brown. Let's close that gap next time.

Brown stumbled right out of the gate. He started with a very strong bit about his family biography that never really led into a policy discussion or governing philosophy. Most of the evening he seemed more interested in getting in clearly rehearsed attacks on Gansler (the death penalty, the beach party, the reprimand) than in discussing his plans for the state. In his closing statement he promised, “I have a plan,” and all I could think was, then why didn’t you discuss it? I think the worst moment of the debate was Brown's very clumsy pivot to the death penalty and racial bias in response to the marijuana legalization question. Was he really trying to insinuate that Gansler was hostile to issues of racial bias in the justice system? It was a bad moment in a bad night for Brown. But there were no lethal blows either received or self-inflicted.

In all, I see no game changing moment, though Gansler certainly helped his cause Brown's weak performance wasn't deadly and Mizeur was denied the breakout moment that she needs. Brown needs to do much better at the second debate. Mizeur needs to make sure no other moderator shuts her out the way Gregory did. Gansler needs to be ready for a much better prepared Brown.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

For Gansler and Brown it's All About Being Disliked Less

There is a great graphic included with the released of the new St. Mary's College Maryland Poll. It tracks candidate support from the first statewide poll taken in October of 2013 up though the college's just released poll.

Anthony Brown is the sitting, two-term LT. Governor. He has been running for this nomination for the past year. He has raked in the endorsement of every high profile Democrat in Maryland, multiple special interest groups, and Bill Clinton. And yet, his level of support has fallen by nearly 14 percentage points since October.

Doug Gansler is the sitting, two-term Attorney General. He scared away any competition in 2010 and was reelected with better than 90% of the vote. He's been running for the nomination since his first election as Attorney General (he often joked AG actually meant aspiring governor). He officially declared his candidacy back in September. Since then, his support has fallen by over 10 percentage points.

Heather Mizeur was a little known and very progressive delegate from Montgomery County when she announced that she was going to join the race as well. Few in the press took her seriously at the time, but she has run a clean and rather uplifting campaign. Her level of support has increased by 2.5 percentage points. Though she's still in the single digits, Mizeur is the only candidate gaining ground. She still has a lot of ground to make up, but it's a lot easier to gain on an opponent when that opponent is falling.

Meanwhile, "No Preference" has become a voter favorite. Mr. Preference was trailing LT. Gov. Brown by nearly 8 points in October, but has since surged 21 points to become the unmistakable leader in the race.

This is a sad state of affairs folks. We have two rather well known and established candidates in Brown and Gansler - and yet, the more they campaign and the more people learn about them the less people seem to like them.

Gansler has been hounding Brown on the failure of the MD health exchange, continually questioning his leadership skills and qualifications to office. Though the leadership in the Maryland General Assembly effectively whitewashed any meaningful investigation, it's clear the matter has harmed Brown. Brown often responds to Gansler's criticisms by dismissing the Attorney General as reckless and unprepared. Gansler has been dogged by early scandals concerning his treatment of state troopers assigned to drive him and owing to his presence at a graduation party where underage drinking was taking place. Many believe that at least one of those "scandals" was fed to the press by the Brown campaign and it's clear that they have harmed Gansler.

In recent days, Brown and Gansler have accelerated the war of words. The graphic above explains why. It's clear that voters don't like either man - so now, each is simply trying to become the one that voters dislike less. How inspiring. It's a sad state of affairs.

But Gansler and Brown had better watch out. They're each doing such an effective job convincing the public to reject the other that by Primary Day on June 24th they may just discover that they were so busy tearing each other down they didn't notice how effectively they were building Mizeur up.

* I would've offered a similar assessment of the GOP race, but there was no October poll of GOP voters.