Everyone in politics can tell you what John Nance Garner thought of the vice presidency — not worth a bucket of something.
The job of lieutenant governor elicits no higher praise. You usually don’t do much, and you can’t count on it as a stepping stone. One of them, Samuel W. Bogley III of Prince George’s County, was dumped unceremoniously after one term of official anonymity.
Harry Hughes, courtly and gracious in most things, recruited Bogley out of desperation. Bogley had to ask if he’d heard correctly when Hughes offered the job. He thought Hughes was looking for a campaign volunteer.
But then, Hughes came out of nowhere to win — and to discover that he and Bogley had sharply differing positions on things like abortion. Hughes served eight years, but Bogley was history in four.
Thanks for nothing, he might have said. No one in Maryland has gone from second to first banana. It must be said, of course, that like Bogley, running-mate candidates are often undistinguished. It must be difficult to step up to the big job when your claim arises from a willingness to be a second thought.
This year could be — already is — quite different.
We’re being treated to three talented running mates, two men and a woman who might be shinier lights — on the campaign trail in particular — than the gubernatorial candidates they’re running with.
-Howard County Executive Ken Ulman has more administrative experience than any of the three candidates currently in the Democratic field. He’s conversant with virtually all the issues. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown should be and has been congratulated for successfully recruiting him.
-The Rev. Delman Coates, pastor of the 8,000-member Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Prince George’s County, gives Del. Heather Mizeur a well-spoken, even passionate running mate. Coates will be a formidable advocate for her and her message. He could bring a significant base of support from the important Prince George’s County electorate. No one else, including Ms. Mizeur, will be as effective on the stump
-Attorney General Doug Gansler’s choice of Del. Jolene Ivey gives him an attractive and well-spoken wing person. She, too, will be able to introduce her political partner to important Prince George’s allies. She’s already shown an appetite for the parry and thrust of campaigning, one of the jobs of running mate.
Thought to be a candidate himself for many months, Ulman chose not to run. He knew Brown was the heir apparent — because Gov. Martin O’Malley and his formidable campaign team was behind him. Polling has shown Brown, who is black, running very well among Democratic primary voters. He’s been criticized for running as the candidate of history — offering himself as potentially the state’s first black governor. The fact is that black voters are a dominant segment of the primary electorate. Ulman apparently found the numbers convincing.
His decision to run with Brown made Brown look smart, quick off the starting blocks and well-organized. Political professionals say voters will see that Brown has a good eye for talent and for moving to address what some may see as a weakness: less than optimum administrative experience. Lieutenant governors, again, are lieutenants, not governors.
Coates may be the best of the three as a campaigner. He will seem independent and even courageous with his support of same-sex marriage, not a favorite position among many black ministers. Mizeur, who is gay, knows Coates well from their successful effort to on behalf of gay civil rights.
Ivey may be the least well-known of the three. But her colleagues have been impressed with her grasp of issues. She brings Gansler a bright presence in Prince George’s, and she is no stranger to the politics of that politically active and voter-rich, predominantly black county.
Some voters may find themselves wondering why one or all of these candidates didn’t go for the big job.
C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is email@example.com.