2014: Race and Place (continued) -- Gazette.Net

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Last week, we noted that both the cicadas and Maryland’s gubernatorial hopefuls are emerging from their holes in the ground to serenade us with their annoying mating calls.

We also noted that 2014 is a so-called “watershed” election because the term-limited governor’s office is vacant. And, as a host of lesser elected officials run for governor, their seats, in turn, open up, sparking even more contests down the political totem pole.

So far, the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates are Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur. This lineup presents race and place problems for the Democrats.

All three Democrats are from the D.C. suburbs. In fact, under one plausible scenario, Maryland’s next governor (Gansler), next comptroller (Peter Franchot) and next attorney general (Brian Frosh), would all be Montgomery County residents. Not bad for an unliked jurisdiction that’s never elected a Maryland governor.

But will notoriously parochial Baltimore allow the governorship to slip from its grasp? Seven of the past nine governors hailed from Baltimore. And Baltimore city, the nation’s most subsidized city, depends for its lifeblood on money from Annapolis.

This would be the first Democratic primary in memory without a Baltimore gubernatorial candidate. The late William Donald Schaefer, who once went ballistic when the feds belittled Baltimore (he thought) by failing to list it as a likely terrorist target, must be spinning in his grave.

That’s why Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger is seriously eyeing the race.

Reasons why Dutch might run: He’d be a regional favorite son; he’s a former Baltimore County executive; he’s term limited as the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking member, and Democrats are destined to minority status (i.e. impotency) in Congress for the remainder of the decade.

Also, Dutch almost ran for governor during the previous “watershed” election in 2002, but deferred to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who was considered unbeatable.

But here’s why Dutch might not run: If two white guys (Ruppersberger and Gansler) run against one black guy (Brown) in a Maryland Democratic primary, the black guy is almost certain to win. That’s because blacks, 30 percent of Maryland’s population, make up 35 percent or more of the Democratic primary vote.

That’s why Franchot dropped back to his safe comptroller’s seat. He did the racial math and realized that his gubernatorial candidacy simply elected Brown.

Likewise, race and place considerations deeply shape running mate choices. Gansler needs to balance his ticket with a Baltimore area black (Del. Keiffer Mitchell?) and Ruppersberger, if he runs, needs a D.C.-area black (Montgomery’s Ike Leggett?). But are high-profile black politicians willing to torpedo Brown’s chance of making racial history? Does accepting the number two spot on a white candidate’s ticket make you a race traitor?

The Democrats’ race and place dilemma even extends to the attorney general’s contest. Four Democrats are running to succeed Gansler: Sen. Brian Frosh and Delegates Jon Cardin, Bill Frick and Aisha Braveboy.

Frosh has the gravitas, Cardin has the name (and Baltimore address), Frick has the looks and Braveboy has the race and gender (African-American woman).

In an election in which Anthony Brown is waging a race-based campaign, calculating that the black vote is enough to win the primary, will Braveboy’s race and gender alone be enough to defeat her three white male opponents? Even if she is the least qualified of the group? Welcome to the new Maryland.

OK, how about the Republicans? Relevancy, not race or place, is the GOP’s chief problem. If the purpose of a political party is to win elections and control the government, Maryland’s GOP is merely a rumor, not a party.

Maryland Republicans make up 25.7 percent of the electorate, won only two governors races in the past 55 years and seem mostly focused on in-fighting. Almost half of Maryland’s population (Baltimore, Prince George’s, Montgomery and Charles) are exclusively represented by Democrats, from U.S. president to clerk of the court.

In a one-party state with a one-party media, Republicans can only win the governorship when the Democrats screw up. That’s what happened in 1966 (Agnew defeated George P. Mahoney) and in 2002 (Ehrlich defeated KKT).

In 2014, the Democrats could screw up again, either by failing to nominate a Baltimore candidate or by defeating Brown, causing blacks to stay home in November.

Of the half-dozen Republicans eyeing the race, Harford County Executive David Craig, who’s expected to announce soon, is the most formidable. A former school teacher, he’s served in both houses of the state legislature and at both levels of local government. He’s moderate, experienced, intelligent and unexciting.

If the Democrats screw up, it’s unlikely that Craig has the charisma to win over Democratic voters and the media.

But there’s a potential superstar Republican who’s new on the scene and could be the ideal “crossover candidate” for disaffected Democrats. Laura Neuman, Anne Arundel’s attractive new county executive, was born poor in Baltimore City and used her brains and work ethic to become a self-made millionaire. She would be Maryland’s first woman governor and has a life story right out of Central Casting.

If Neuman decides to run, next year’s election is a whole new ball game.

Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in the Business Gazette. His past columns are available at www.gazette.net/blairlee. His email address is blair@leedg.com.