Saturday, July 30, 2011

Franchot Makes A Smart Move for 2014

In an interesting statement at the Board of Public Works meeting, State Comptroller Peter Franchot said "We have become uniquely tied at the hip or joined at the hip to the federal government," and lawmakers need to rededicate Maryland toward "a business climate that inspires, promotes and rewards private-sector investment in Maryland."

In stark contrast to Governor Martin O'Malley's frequent lauding of Maryland's reliance on federal jobs Franchot further argued "We as a state simply can't allow ourselves to become complacent and allow the federal government to become the economic engine of first and last resort in Maryland."

Franchot's comments sound like something that might have been said by Republican Bob Ehrlich during the 2010 gubernatorial contest - Ehrlich lost the race by 14.5 percentage points, but I think these comments signal a wise strategic move by Franchot as he looks to the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

At present, there are likely to be at least three big names seeking the Democratic nomination, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, and Franchot.

Odds favor a Democrat winning the general election, regardless of the Republican nominee, so winning the Democratic primary is just a doorway to the governorship.

If Franchot faces Gansler and Brown then embracing a moderate to conservative agenda will help him.

Gansler is an unabashed liberal, his advisory opinion on Maryland recognizing same-sex marriage, his environmental crusading, and his firm support of gun control would make it impossible for him to claim to be anything but a member of the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Brown will undoubtedly lay an early claim to the significant African-American vote in the primary. African-Americans compose roughly a third of the Maryland population and are the most reliable Democratic voting bloc - yet the Democratic Party has never nominated and run an African-American candidate at the top of any statewide ticket. Brown is an accomplished legislator with an impressive resume and I believe that African-American voters would be quick to rally around his candidacy.

So between Gansler and Brown two of the most reliable segments of the Democratic primary voting population will be claimed - liberals and African-Americans. The only way for Franchot to be competitive is to target the folks who would be left out - white, moderate and conservative working class Democrats, of whom there are many in Maryland.

In a three-way race, if Gansler and Brown have split the base vote of the party, Franchot can emerge the victor with no more than 34% of the vote. It's a wise strategy, but also the only strategy available to him.

Only one thing could upend Franchot's approach - Jim Smith. Smith is the former county Executive from Baltimore County and a former judge. He is a moderate Democrat with a base of support in an important part of the state.

If Smith enters the race and Gansler and Brown split the base vote and Franchot and Smith split the moderate to conservative vote then anyone of them could become the nominee with no more that 26% of the vote.

But a four way race like that would likely divide the party. If one of the liberal candidates emerge then Republicans will have a fighting chance in the general election, but if Franchot or Smith win then the race is over - for Democrats to win the general election with a liberal candidate (against an acceptable GOP candidate) they need a unified party.

2014 seems so far away, but Franchot's comments remind us that it's closer than it seems.