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Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Crowded Gubernatorial Primary in Maryland in 2014?

In January I published a piece in which I explored the likely Democratic field in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial contest. As I saw it at the time: "there are likely to be four big names (and what a rarity that is - four credible candidates) seeking the Democratic nomination, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman."

In that review I concluded that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, and not Doug Gansler, was the likely favorite in a 4 person race.
Though many observers of state politics argue Gansler is the clear front runner, I would suggest that conclusion is anything but certain. If the 2014 primary were like a typical Democratic primary in recent years with only two credible candidates then certainly Gansler would be the favorite - but in a three man race his odds drop considerably and in a 4 man race a clear new favored candidate emerges from the pack - Lt. Governor Anthony Brown. In a multi-candidate race featuring Brown, the closest competitor will be the candidate who can appeal to rural Marylanders in Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore, and Southern Maryland - that candidate is not (at least not yet) Doug Gansler.

Franchot has positioned himself as the candidate of fiscal constraint and is clearly attempting to create a relationship with parts of Maryland long overlooked by Democrats and Democratic candidates. If Franchot can become the candidate of "the rest of Maryland" while dividing the I-95 corridor vote, he may emerge atop the pack.
In the 9 months since I made those assessments I believe that they still hold. I argued at the time that Brown's greatest threat was likely to be O'Malley fatigue. The disaster that was the 2012 legislative session followed by the two special sessions that yielded O'Malley advocated tax increases on Marylanders and substantial tax cuts for millionaire casino operators I think the O'Malley fatigue problem will weigh heavily on Brown.

Franchot has been a consistent and forceful voice of opposition to the tax hikes and the to expansion of casino gambling. But Franchot has been especially vocal in his anger over the role of money in influencing the casino issue during the special session. His demands for disclosure of gambling related donations received by members of the assembly and his recent call for real time disclosure of contributions were all welcome calls for reform - that I believe resonate well with the public.

For these reasons and more I see Franchot's stock rising in the 2014 guber-stakes. Hints that Montgomery County Del. Heather Mizeur is considering a run adds in many ways to Franchot's stock. Mizeur is a rising star in the state Democratic Party and no one should underestimate her future. But in a multi-candidate primary I believe that Mizeur's presence only serves to divide the core progressive Democratic base. In a contest featuring Mizeur, Ulman, Gansler, and Brown the I-95 corridor will be split multiple ways and suddenly "the rest of Maryland" as I termed it in January becomes that much more crucial. That only helps Franchot.

But there are storm clouds threatening Franchot's chance in that 5 person race - a cloud in the shape of former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith. In a July, 2011 piece I wrote of the 2014 contest and theorized a 3 person race that included Gansler, Brown, and Franchot. I concluded then that a three person race helped Franchot, but offered this caveat:
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.

I had since dropped Smith from consideration as I was hearing quite clearly that he would not be running, but today Maryland Juice is reporting that Jim Smith is considering a run... a 6 person contest.

I still believe Smith and Franchot would split the moderate to conservative vote. In such a scenario I think the odds shift back to Brown - but in many ways this mix of candidates throws the race wide open.

Stay Tuned...