Maryland voters and Hollywood may have something in common when it comes to sequels.
Tuesday night’s results in the Democratic and Republican primary elections suggest that the electorate may be interested in a rematch, albeit by proxy, of the two campaigns between Gov. Martin J. O’Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
But despite the similarities, it’s a comparison some Lawrence J. Hogan supporters say attempts to paint the campaign with too broad of a brush.
“I know there’s a tendency to think of Larry Hogan as just a Bob Ehrlich product, but he’s not,” said Mark Newgent, a political blogger and founder of the conservative blog Red Maryland, which endorsed Hogan in the primary. “He’s shown himself to be his own man.”
Newgent, who worked as a consultant to Hogan’s Change Maryland organization, called the comparison between Hogan and his former boss “a cliché.”
“It’s unfair to say this is Bob Ehrlich 3.0,” Newgent said.
The similarities exist, however, and Hogan, the former appointments secretary for Ehrlich, said Tuesday he plans focus on fiscal issues and the record of the O’Malley-Brown administration.
And Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has benefited from his association with O’Malley, whose popularity, especially among Maryland Democrats, is higher than that of former Govs. William Donald Schaefer and Parris N. Glendening at the end of their respective terms.
“If he can convince those that have been dissatisfied with O’Malley, that Brown is just an extension, it may also result in more electoral support,” said John Bullock, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University.
Richard Cross, a former Ehrlich speechwriter turned political columnist and blogger, said he believes the Brown-Hogan campaign is more than just a proxy battle between a departing governor looking to extend his legacy and the man he defeated twice.
“I look at this as establishment versus a voice of change,” Cross said, adding that Hogan needs to be careful not to rely too much on Ehrlich.
“The challenge is for Larry to go his own way,” Cross said. “(Ehrlich) is part of the past.”
The challenges facing Hogan in winning in November, however, are steep. Hogan’s biggest liability, as with Ehrlich, is that he is a Republican in a state where Democrats outnumber registered voters in his party by more than a 2-to-1 ratio.
“Brown received more votes than all of the Republican candidates combined,” said Todd Eberly, an associate political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Mizeur topped Hogan. Brown just topped 50 percent and that’s what he needed to do. A plurality win would’ve been embarrassing but his numbers in Baltimore City were surprisingly low, his support in Baltimore County is clearly weak.”
Eberly said Hogan needs to focus on Baltimore, Anne Arundel and even Montgomery counties “in search of disgruntled Democrats.” The recipe is exactly the same as the one Ehrlich used in 2002 to defeat then Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Kennedy Townsend won, in some cases overwhelmingly, in Baltimore city and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, but Ehrlich took the other 21 jurisdictions. He won Baltimore County by 64,000 votes — which made up the majority of his 66,000-vote margin of victory.
Four years later, O’Malley lost Baltimore County by less than 8,000 votes. He lost in 19 other mostly smaller jurisdictions but kept most of the contests close while blowing the doors off Ehrlich in the city, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and won by roughly 117,000 votes.
“Hogan needs to find a message balance where he is attracting independent voters while not alienating his base,” said Mileah Kromer, an associate professor of political science at Goucher College.
A poll conducted earlier this year by Kromer and the college suggested there is room for Hogan to attract Democrats. That poll found that more than 51 percent of those surveyed felt the state was on the wrong track.
“He was smart during the primary campaign to focus on economic — tax relief and job creation — rather than social issues,” Kromer said.