To Harford County Executive David R. Craig, it’s an endeavor to train grass-roots Republican activists and provide potential candidates with an inside look at how to run successful campaigns.
To political insiders, it’s an indication that the longtime elected official is laying the groundwork for a potential gubernatorial bid in 2014.
The announcement last week at the Maryland Republican Party’s Red, White & Blue Dinner that Craig (R) will conduct a series of campaign schools across the state, starting in September, fueled speculation about his future plans.
“Just based on his experience and the job he’s done in Harford County, he would be at the top of the heap of Republican candidates that are interested [in running for governor],” said Sen. Barry Glassman (R-Dist. 35) of Churchville, who is thought to be considering a bid for Harford County executive in 2014.
Craig, who is prohibited from running for re-election in 2014 due to term limits, acknowledged that he is contemplating running for governor, but emphasized that the campaign schools are not directly related to that possibility.
“Republicans in this state have invested a lot in me in time and effort, so it’s time to give it back,” he said, noting that he was a teacher and assistant principal for 34 years. “It’s about building the base of the party.”
Craig, who has been a city councilman and mayor of Havre de Grace and served in both chambers of the General Assembly before being elected county executive in 2006, said he suggested state party officials organize daylong campaign seminars four years ago, but they never materialized. Now, with Republicans having success in local races last year and targeting even greater success in 2014, the time is right to ensure Republicans are running strong campaigns across the state, even in Democratic-leaning districts, he said.
Each training symposium is slated to have sessions on voter outreach, opposition research, getting favorable publicity without paying for it (also known as earned media), e-campaigning, grass-roots organizing and fundraising, according to a flier for the schools.
But others see dual motives for the training sessions, which will take Craig from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland and several points in between.
“It’s a way for him to continue to test the waters for his race and see if he can really catch lightning in a bottle,” said Andrew M. Langer, a GOP activist who serves on the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee and is president of the Washington, D.C.-based free-market group Institute for Liberty.
Another Republican who is often mentioned as a potential 2014 gubernatorial candidate, Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., applauded Craig for trying to develop the party and reach out to local activists across Maryland.
“Both David Craig and I care about the state of Maryland and we care about building a two-party system, and we’re both in our own way trying to stay active throughout the state of Maryland,” said Hogan, who founded the “Change Maryland” movement that seeks bringing fiscal restraint and common sense to Annapolis.
Hogan, who put together an exploratory gubernatorial campaign in 2010, said he and Craig have had general conversations with one another about their similar ideologies and political futures, but said neither has made a firm decision
Both men have cast themselves as fiscal conservatives in previous campaign literature. Hogan, who was former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s appointments secretary, owns a commercial and residential real estate firm.
During his nearly 35 years as an elected official, Craig has seen Harford County grow from a rural outpost best known for being home to Aberdeen Proving Ground to a bustling jurisdiction about to experience even bigger growth as a result of military base realignment that will bring thousands of jobs to the area.
Even though it’s roughly three years until the 2014 primary election, one veteran Republican activist who asked to speak on background in order to speak freely about the two men said Craig is making a smart move by getting an early start to his statewide travels.
In addition to boosting his name recognition and promoting his credentials outside Harford County, Craig can win over Republicans who see him as a party builder.
“I think it’s an example of an upwardly mobile politician doing the right thing and the smart thing,” the activist said, recalling that Ehrlich held a candidate training seminar in Annapolis several years before he ran for governor that served a similar purpose.
Craig recalled that former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Holt, a Republican who represented Maryland’s 4th Congressional District from 1973 to 1987 and who attended last week’s Red, White & Blue Dinner, held a similar campaign seminar 35 years ago when Craig was starting his political career.
Still, the possibility that it might also be laying the groundwork for 2014 is tough to ignore.
“When you come from a smaller rural county, anytime you’re jumping into a bigger fishbowl you’ve got to spend time traveling around the state,” Glassman said.
Schooling candidates and maybe more?
Harford County Executive David R. Craig last week announced a series of campaign schools to train grassroots Republican activists and give potential candidates detailed insights about running for office. The following is a list of where and when the daylong seminars will be held:
Saturday, Sept. 10 Homewood Suites, Bel Air
Saturday, Oct. 1 Comfort Inn, Cambridge
Saturday, Oct. 15 Hilton, Silver Spring
Saturday, Oct. 29 Doubletree Hotel, Annapolis
Saturday, Nov. 12 Sleep Inn, La Plata
Saturday, Jan. 14 Hampton Inn, Hagerstown
Saturday, Jan. 28 Holiday Inn, Chestertown