Are you excited yet? Do you know who you’re going to vote for in the gubernatorial primary elections? Are you not entertained?
Chances are, if you’re like most Marylanders the answers are no, no and again no.
“The candidates are fortunate they are not living in Nevada where they have a ‘none of these candidates’ option on the ballot,” said Herbert C. Smith, political science professor at McDaniel College. “It’s like a Shriner’s parade with all the guys on mini-bikes. There don’t seem to be any giants in the field.”
For now at least, the campaign for the governor, the first time the seat has been open in 12 years, is not capturing the interest or imagination of the voters.
A poll released last week by St. Mary’s College of Maryland found that a majority of the more than 954 registered voters polled — 54 percent of Democrats and more than two-thirds of Republicans — said they remained undecided with about 60 days left in the primary campaign season.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown leads the Democratic pack, which includes Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Montgomery County Del. Heather R. Mizeur.
On the Republican side that same poll shows, Larry Hogan, with 16 percent, is outpacing other candidates including Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Anne Arundel Del. Ronald A. “Ron” George and businessman Charles Lollar.
Susan Grogan, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and director of the Maryland Poll, said the polling, especially on establishment Democratic candidates, suggests a dissatisfaction among voters with the various campaigns.
“They seem to be running on their records,” said Grogan. “It’s a ‘If you like what you see vote for me’ campaign, and people aren’t necessarily liking what they see.”
So, what gives?
Grogan said her polling doesn’t provide a lot of insight into what might be driving the lack of excitement among voters. None of those who are leading in the poll conducted “can be called leaders,” because of the low numbers, she said.
But theories abound, from a lackluster General Assembly session and tough winter to election burnout and an earlier-than-usual primary election.
“It’s not generating a lot of excitement, that’s for sure,” said Melissa Deckman, political science professor at Washington College. “I don’t think any of the candidates have captured the voters’ imaginations.”
Deckman said voters may not yet be fully engaged in the election yet but she expects that to change.
Additionally, she said, arms-length strategies employed by Brown and Hogan, the presumed leaders in their respective primaries, may be helping them to some extent.
Deckman said the lieutenant governor has so far successfully been able to dodge answering questions about his involvement in the state’s health benefit exchange rollout. Hogan has adopted a strategy of attending only a small handful of candidates’ forums and opted for smaller events where he can make more one-on-one contact.
“Maybe that is the new strategy — say as little as possible and see if your opponent implodes,” Deckman said.
A lack of issues could also play into the inability of voters to focus on the respective campaigns.
“There don’t seem to be any real issues,” Smith said.
“This is turning into a high school student council race where it’s about personality and likability,” Smith said.
It could get better
Both Deckman and Smith said voters probably shouldn’t tune out completely. At least not yet.
Both said more voters could decide as campaign ads increase and public debates are held, including the first of three televised Democratic candidate debates, scheduled for May 7.
“The x-factor here is the debates,” Smith said.
Gaffes and strong debate appearances can change the fortunes of candidates on both sides, according to both Deckman and Smith.
“Elections can turn abruptly,” Smith said. “It can turn in two weeks.”