This story was corrected Feb. 18. An explanation follows the story.
Several Republicans are weighing their options for a gubernatorial run in 2014, an admitted uphill climb in a heavily Democratic state, but at least one former party leader believes the results of an internal poll last year gives the GOP some hope.
Former Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden (R) said a telephone poll of 813 registered voters that Gonzales Research and Marketing strategies conducted for him in September showed a “possible path” to victory in the governor’s race.
The poll found that 49 percent of respondents said Maryland was on the wrong track, while 42 percent said the state was on the right track. It also indicated that 47 percent of Democrats and unaffiliated voters, combined, said they would consider voting for a Republican, particularly one with a record as a moderate on social issues and conservative on state spending. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Madden, who represented District 13, bridging Prince George’s and Howard counties, said the poll showed the path to the governor’s seat narrow and difficult for a Republican, but that the best route was to run with public financing.
Public financing prohibits a candidate from taking contributions from businesses, special interest groups or political action committees. Some 45 percent of voters overall, and 40 percent of Democrats, said they were more likely to vote for a gubernatorial candidate who relied on public financing. Republican Ellen Sauerbrey took that route and lost by fewer than 6,000 votes when she took on former Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) in 1994.
Madden, who eventually decided against a bid for governor after talking with party members around the state and studying the poll results, said he would have opted for public financing had he run.
“I lit a lot of matches and went to a lot of Lincoln Day dinners, but I couldn’t get a fire started,” said Madden, 63, who left the legislature in January 2002. On the other hand, he said, “in the age of social media” the few million dollars that a publicly financed candidate is limited to “goes a lot further than it used to.”
Outgoing Maryland Republican Party Chairman Alexander X. Mooney agrees.
“It’s doable, but difficult,” said Mooney, who took on the chairmanship after former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) lost his rematch with Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in 2010.
Fundraising is tough because, although Republicans are in some county offices, the GOP doesn’t hold any statewide posts, said Mooney, who announced last week that he will step down from leading the party at the end of the month.
The sheer voter numbers weigh heavily for the Democrats in the bluest of blue states.
Democrats make up 2.06 million, or 55.7 percent, of Maryland’s almost 3.7 million voters. Republicans account for almost 960,000 voters, or 26 percent, and unaffiliated make up 16.6 percent.
Mooney said many businesses believe they have to contribute to Democrats because they hold the power, but that “is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
As for potential candidates for governor, Dr. Ben Carson, a world-renowned neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins hospital who was born poor in Baltimore and has a compelling personal story, has campaigned for some Republicans and would make a great candidate, but has not been convinced to run, Mooney said.
Former U.S. Senate candidate Daniel Bongino, a former Secret Service agent, said last week he plans to run in the 2014 election, but wouldn’t say for which seat.
Bongino turned aside suggestions that he succeed Mooney as GOP chairman or seek to finish the term of Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold (R), who stepped down after his conviction on misconduct charges last month.
Kendel S. Ehrlich, wife of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., is interested in that office. A former Anne Arundel prosecutor, Ehrlich said she sees an opportunity to restore integrity and confidence in the county’s administration, tainted by Leopold’s misuse of county workers for political and personal purposes, including concealing his affair with a county employee. The Anne Arundel council is scheduled to pick Leopold’s replacement Thursday.
Ehrlich said she would not run for county executive in 2014 and could not be recruited to run for governor then either.
Larry Hogan, a Republican who was appointments secretary for the Ehrlich administration, established a “grass-roots” group called Change Maryland and is said to be weighing a run for governor.
Harford County Executive David R. Craig (R) said he will know by June whether to make a bid for governor.
Blaine Young, a Republican who is president of the Frederick County Commissioners and whose father is state Democratic Sen. Ronald Young, is raising money for what he has said might be a gubernatorial bid.
Former state Del. Donald Murphy, a Republican, says both Craig and Young have “credible experience and a record to run on and the ability to raise money.”
Murphy likes Young’s chances and said any conflicts involving his family’s separate allegiances “would just get his name in the paper that much more.”
Murphy said any disagreements would simply show “his family is as dysfunctional as the state.”
There is also a movement to draft businessman and Marine Corps Reserve officer Charles Lollar, a Republican who took on U.S. House Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Dist. 5) in 2010 and won the Southern Maryland counties of St. Mary’s and Calvert.
With funding thin, Republicans will find winning a major challenge unless Democrats falter with a scandal or weak candidate, said James Gimpel, political science professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Although the percentage of unaffiliated voters has grown in the state, they aren’t particularly well informed and are influenced by those around them, he said.
Voters tend to cast ballots “in personal, short-term interests,” and in Maryland, where many voters rely on government employment, that tilts the scales toward the Democrats, Gimpel said.
“The only Republican who would have a good chance would be a populist,” said Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Dist. 7) of Middle River. “I think there are issues a Republican can run on that would resonate.”
The story should have said that in 2010, 5th Congressional District Republican candidate Charles Lollar won St. Mary’s and Calvert counties in Southern Maryland, but lost the Charles County vote.