It’s hard to imagine many Republicans getting excited about running for governor in a state where the GOP as a political party increasingly looks like an endangered species.
In rural and less-urbanized parts of Maryland, Republicans are having great success. Prominent examples include Frederick, Carroll and Harford counties.
But when it comes to statewide races, demographic trends in the state’s most populous subdivisions make it difficult to imagine a Republican winning — unless there is a train wreck among Democrats in their primary.
Yet, there’s a rush among Republicans to take on Maryland’s dominant party in two years.
The most prominent candidate is Harford County Executive David Craig, a popular and tested leader on three levels of government (councilman and mayor of Havre de Grace, state delegate and senator and two-term county executive). Craig’s problem is that he is — pardon the dreaded word for Republicans — a moderate from a relatively small jurisdiction.
He has proved his mettle as a tough fiscal manager but one who is willing to hammer out compromises with politicians of all sorts — even enemy Democrats.
That is heresy to the party’s hard-line, doctrinaire right-wingers. They may find it difficult to vote for Craig. Most tea party Republicans want a flame-thrower.
They could have a number to choose from.
Larry Hogan Jr., a Frederick County businessman and son of a former GOP congressman and Prince George’s county executive, has organized his own group, Change Maryland, to promote a dramatic conservative overhaul of government.
He points to the usual reasons to dethrone the majority Democrats: wasteful spending, massive tax increases, a strong anti-business attitude and an out-of-control regulatory climate.
Hogan has never held elective office, though he served in the Ehrlich administration. Through Change Maryland, he’s seeking to establish himself as Ehrlich’s natural heir. But will tea party GOP voters care for this pitch? And is the message of Change Maryland any different from that of most other candidates?
For instance, another Frederick County resident is eager to launch a statewide drive: Blaine Young, a Democrat turned Republican who currently is the tough-talking president of the county commissioners.
Young may come from a politically active Democratic family, but he has a reputation for making extreme statements, particularly on illegal immigrants. He’s also blasted virtually anything Democrats in Annapolis have proposed.
As governor, he promises never to raises taxes or fees and to veto legislative attempts to do so.
That may enthrall listeners of his daily radio show in Frederick, but he might have trouble selling his strident message to a broader statewide audience.
Another potential candidate is Smith Island cake entrepreneur Brian Murphy, who got pummeled when he ran against Ehrlich in the 2010 GOP primary by a 3-1 margin.
Then there’s Marty Madden, the former state senator who represented Prince George’s and Howard counties and then chaired the state’s Critical Areas Commission for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays.
Paradoxically, Madden says he has “no plans to run at this time,” but, “I am considering the race.”
Indeed, he has formed a campaign committee — “out of an abundance of caution” — with a provocative name: “The Marty Madden 4&Out, $250 Max, Reform and Revitalize Maryland Committee.”
Madden was GOP leader in the Senate, but he seems out of step with the party’s tea party types. He’s a strong environmentalist, a conciliator and a fiscal conservative.
He’s also an out-of-the-box thinker who feels “Marylanders would respond very favorably to an independent, reform-minded candidate who forgoes the traditional big money that larger contributors, PACs and unlimited LLCs give in the hopes of gaining influence and access.”
Madden says he would raise matching funds under the state’s public financing law ($250 maximum per individual). He’d need 1,000 such contributors to get a $250,000 match from the state in the GOP primary. That, in turn, would qualify him for $2.5 million of state funds in the general election.
Madden points out that under state law he could start raising matching donations next March, which is when he wants to decide if he will declare his candidacy and also when he would name a lieutenant governor running mate. That would be far in advance of everyone else and give him an early publicity boost.
He’s also committed to one-term-and-out, which explains part of his campaign committee’s title.
Would such an approach work?
Madden’s conservative but practical politics was popular with voters. His reliance on public financing, one-term pledge and support for the environment might appeal to Republicans in the central part of Maryland.
That’s where more than half of state Republicans live — in Baltimore County (129,000), Anne Arundel (123,000), Montgomery (122,500), Howard (56,000) and Prince George’s (47,000) counties and Baltimore city (32,000).
So while immediate attention centers on Craig, Hogan, Young and Murphy, the GOP race could take a twist next spring. And let’s face it: With Republicans outnumbered 2-1 by Democrats, they will need some surprises to have a legitimate shot in 2014.
Barry Rascovar is a state political columnist, communications consultant and occasional radio commentator on WYPR-FM, 88.1. He can be reached at email@example.com.