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Fraser Smith: Time to step up in Baltimore mayor’s race

Every day seems to bring more good news for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Every day, it seems, there’s a new candidate for mayor. The more the merrier, she may be thinking.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh, in a fund-raising letter, says she’s running.

Former City Council member Jody Landers has been at it for awhile.

Former city Planning Director Otis Rolley is making the rounds and issuing position papers.

Councilman Carl Stokes says he’s in.

Who knows what the next two months will bring? Candidates can essentially test the waters for the next month or so and stay or withdraw up to the July 6 filing deadline.

Active interest in the race is not surprising. In a sense, it’s an open seat. Rawlings-Blake is an unelected incumbent. She got the job when Sheila Dixon was forced to resign after being convicted of helping herself to money intended for the poor.

Challengers know Rawlings-Blake has to prove herself at the polls. Still, if the field stays relatively crowded, the mayor and her team will be suppressing their smile reflex.

It’s not because any of them will applaud the democratic aspects of the candidacy rush. It’s all about the electoral dynamic — the political arithmetic probably favors the mayor.

Culling the field

If there’s an anti-Rawlings-Blake vote out there — and surely there is, however large or small — that opposition will be splintered and shared by the challenger field. If the challengers included a consensus choice, the incumbent mayor’s prospects would be diminished.

The more likely prospect? The field gets smaller. Some of the really, really “in” candidates may be out when they digest the reality they face: big hurdles in the form of money and message.

One or two of them might leave the race or drop down to run for City Council president, for example.

That might occur if one of the early field contenders starts to gain real traction — an impressive bundle of campaign contributions, perhaps, or an idea that strikes the imagination of voters.

It may be too early to know the fund-raising capabilities of the early field, but the incumbent has done a good job of getting ahead — enough potentially to warn others out of the race. Even technically unearned incumbency helps. If the mayor looks strong, the smart money won’t be likely to stray.

As always, the dollars-raised figure is a shadow candidate: Money reflects support — and organization.

Rawlings-Blake heads into the race with clear support from U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski who endorsed her relatively early in the game, something that did not escape the attention of the inside players.

The O’Malley connection

Gov. Martin O’Malley has been on board from the start. It was assumed his campaign team would be firmly behind the mayor, fielding his well-tuned organization on her behalf.

Should there be any doubt, the mayor’s brother, Peter O’Malley, recently moved into City Hall as the mayor‘s chief of staff.

Rawlings-Blake will undoubtedly face the charge that she’s not her own political person. Opponents will say the O’Malley team is calling all the shots. She needs to show she’s in charge.

But there would seem to be far more positives than negatives for the mayor in the O’Malley connection. Many of the Baltimore senators and delegates are likely to back the governors’ candidate, Rawlings-Blake.

He’s the governor. He can help or hurt you politically — especially this year when he’ll be drawing new legislative district lines.

The city is likely to lose one of its senators due to population shifts. Which senator will be drawn into a less-than-ideal district? Will support be based on who supports the governor’s candidate?

You can bet it will — or, at least, incumbent senators will try to minimize the possibility of causing unhappiness in the governor’s office.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is