Maryland Gubernatorial Campaign 2010: The explainer
Updated: November 1, 2010 - 02:02 pm
This explainer originally incorrectly included a sentence that said, "Democrats were enthusiastic, and either stayed home or crossed party lines." It now correctly says "unenthusiastic." We regret the error.
There's an addendum to this explainer here.
Welcome to TBD’s guide to the 2010 Maryland governor’s race. Any questions?
Tell me about the race.
How much time do you have?
I’m not that into this race. It seems boring. I’ll give you a full paragraph.
Republican former governor Bob Ehrlich is running against Democratic incumbent Martin O’Malley. The race is expected to be close, though O’Malley might be pulling away.
That’s it? No story line?
Less than a month from the finish, this race lacks a narrative.
None of the usual ones fit. Americans are (supposedly) fed up with government, so every candidate in this election cycle is hoping to exploit anti-incumbent feeling. They want to be "outsiders" or "underdogs." Neither O’Malley nor Ehrlich can capitalize on this. Both have been politicians for two decades, and both have a gubernatorial term under their belt.
Of course, each campaign has its own story of the race. O’Malley is telling Marylanders he’s “on your side,” which implies Ehrlich isn’t. He wants you to believe Ehrlich is little more than a shill for big corporations. The Republican tells voters O’Malley is “makin’ stuff up,” implying that Ehrlich doesn’t. He wants you to believe O’Malley is a shameless liar.
Getting either of those ideas embedded in the mind of the electorate has proven difficult so far. Both are well-known among the electorate, so there’s no blank slate for the campaign to draw on. Old Line State residents have fixed images of the candidates already, and those images are pretty positive. Sixty-four percent view O’Malley favorably, and 55 percent have a good opinion of Ehrlich. Another problem is that the two candidates are very similar.
Wait, isn’t one a Republican and one a Democrat?
This is America. What other parties would they belong to?
You said they were similar.
Not in terms of policy. They’re similar in terms of background. Both were born into middle-class white families — Ehrlich in 1957, O’Malley six years later. The broad sweeps of their lives are similar. They both went to private high schools and private colleges before getting law degrees. Both married fellow lawyers and settled in the Baltimore region. Both entered politics at the local level. Ehrlich started as a state delegate, O’Malley as a Baltimore councilmember. They advanced up the political ladder, becoming, respectively, a U.S. representative and mayor.
Wait? O’Malley is Tommy Carcetti!
Sigh. David Simon has said O’Malley was one of “several inspirations” for Carcetti. Also, The Wire is a work of fiction. Can I keep going?
Basically, you have your choice between a liberal white baby boomer lawyer from Baltimore and a conservative white baby boomer lawyer from Baltimore.
That all seems pretty superficial.
It is. But it removes identity politics from the equation. Neither can claim to be more "American" or "Maryland" than the other. Unless O’Malley decides to go on tour with his band or start reciting his favorite Irish poems — and it wouldn’t be unheard of for him to do so — identity politics won’t decide this election. (Even if he did, Maryland’s population is only 12 percent Irish, so it might not swing things.)
So what will decide it?
There's a reason Ehrlich was the first Republican governor since Spiro Agnew. Democrats have massive institutional advantages in Maryland, including a a two-to-one registration advantage. This isn’t fertile ground for a Republican pickup.
On top of that, O’Malley has all the natural advantages of incumbency, including the cash. As of Sept. 4, he had $6.5 million on hand to Ehrlich’s $2.5 million.
So why is Ehrlich even trying?
He thought he could replicate 2002, when he was able to defeat then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. As a moderate, he can win over Democrats, particularly in Baltimore County.
Like 2002, this is a Republican year nationally, and Ehrlich was encouraged by gubernatorial wins in 2009 by Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia. (Christie recently hosted a fundraiser for Ehrlich.)
The economy is far worse than it was in 2002, when it was merely sputtering. Unemployment has doubled under O’Malley, and there’s a lot of voters who were probably better off economically during Ehrlich’s four years.
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