Before the first official debate between the three leading Democratic contenders for Governor, many of the state’s political pundits discussed expectations.
For the most part, there was general consensus on several issues.
First, the nomination is Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s to lose—even with more than 50 percent of Democrats saying they are undecided.
Second, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler needs to go on the offensive but that his off the cuff remarks can make him his own worst enemy.
Finally, that Del. Heather R. Mizuer is in third place but can rise above her two opponents if she can be aggressive and show her leadership qualities and policy experience.
The debate will be televised live from the University of Maryland in the Washington area on WRC NBC4 Washington and live streamed online on the station’s website and on Maryland Public Television’s high definition channel. You can also follow the debate on Twitter with the tag #mddemdebate.
Here, in alphabetical order, are some pre-debate expectations and keys to victory for each of the top three Democratic candidates from some area political experts.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown
John Bullock. professor of political science, Towson University: Brown needs to come come across as personable and competent and answer questions succinctly.
Melissa Deckman, political science professor, Washington College: For Anthony Brown, it’s key to avoid any missteps. I’ll be anxious to see his response about the bungled healthcare rollout. If he makes it to the general he needs to find a good way to address this issue. He also needs a bigger more compelling message as to why voters should pick him.
Todd Eberly. political science professor, St. Mary’s College of Maryland: Brown has been coasting and playing it safe. He’s been skipping forums and avoiding events that are not heavily controlled and scripted. The debate will be neither and he will directly face his opponents. All of this has led to whispers that Brown is afraid to debate and afraid to practice without a net (and an emergency parachute). So Brown has to appear confident and in command. He’s acting like an unchallenged frontrunner in a race where he loses to “no preference” by double digits – he needs to demonstrate that he actually deserves to be the frontrunner.
Mileah Kromer, political science professor, Goucher College: There’s the concern that this could be like the first Obama-Romney debate. He can’t show up like that. It’s his to lose. The rollout of the healthcare website is his major weak spot. It’s a contentious issue and there is nothing the public hates more than government waste. He’ll have to answer questions about that. Debates are not planned press conferences. There’s no real incentive for him to go on the attack, no real incentive for him to be tremendously bold.
Richard Vatz, professor of rhetoric and communication, Towson University: He’s going to have to talk about the healthcare website. He simply will not be able to take a pass. He has to show there is some separation between himself and O’Malley. He’ll have to show that he has his own ideas and what they are. It’s really Brown’s nomination to lose.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler
Bullock: Gansler needs to avoid making verbal gaffs while challenging the record other candidates.
Deckman: Doug Gansler needs to make an impression; if he hopes to break away at this point he needs a terrific performance. Any bungling here will likely spell the end of his campaign.
Eberly: Gansler’s reputation is very much on the line, he’s a two-term attorney general who scared off all challenges in 2010 and won more than 90 percent of the vote — and yet he’s trailing Brown and in some polls barely breaking into double digit support. Gansler has to be in control and show people that he can be thoughtful and cool-headed. He also must link to Brown to all that people dislike about establishment politics. Brown has received the endorsement of every key member of the state Democratic party establishment. He is their man. Gansler needs to raise doubts that Brown would ever be willing to stand up to the entrenched interests that have created him. Gansler needs to champion the affordable care act, to celebrate it, and then to scold Brown for mismanaging it and giving ammunition to Tea Party opponents the law. Gansler should emphasize as well that he is likely to strongest candidate in the general election. Mizeur is simply too liberal to win statewide and Brown carries the weight of the O’Malley legacy. And Brown won’t be able to use his “run out the clock” strategy in the Fall.
Kromer: He needs to avoid gaffs like the comment about the military and this being a real job. There will be these moments where Gansler will speak his mind and not be as careful as Brown or Mizeur would be. There’s almost this Joe Biden quality. But voters like genuine people running for office and being genuine can help Gansler but at the same time, it the military stuff happens again this close to the election, it’s really not good.
Vatz: It’s between Brown and Gansler and I don’t see a lot of chances for Gansler to win a majority of Marylanders unless he attacks Brown and says he’s not qualified for the job. Gansler has got to take it to him.
Del. Heather R. Mizeur
Bullock: Mizeur needs to come across as a legitimate choice while highlighting impact on controversial campaign issues.
Deckman: Heather Mizeur has the most coherent vision of the three candidates but she will have to address her electability on the fall: is she too progressive for MD? Does she have enough executive experience?
Eberly: Mizeur needs to stand separate from the battle that will likely take place between Gansler and Brown. She should say that she is the only candidate not beholden to the system in some way. She should argue that both Brown and Gansler are delivering messages crafted by advisors and geared toward playing it safe. When they do endorse truly progressive issue like universal pre-K or decriminalization they are usually following her lead. She should ask voters whether they want a governor who will fight for what she believes in or a governor who will fight for what the establishment thinks is safe and not too controversial. If Mizeur comes out of this unscathed and goes toe-to-toe with the better known Gansler and Brown, she is likely to emerge the winner.
Kromer: Mizeur is the policy wonk of the three and she’s not gaff prone. She will have to be aggressive here. She needs to assert herself in these debates and demonstrate her leadership and policy skills. Voters get tired of bickering between candidates and she’s run a real clean, positive campaign. It’s a long shot for her. She has to go big or go home.
Vatz: For Mizeur, it’s impossible. She’s not impressing enough people with any kind of centrism. She hasn’t shown any vote getting power.