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Brian Frosh
(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

How Frosh pulled off the comeback

In the end, experience and Annapolis connections prevailed over a familiar family name.

It became resoundingly apparent as the voting results trickled in Tuesday night that Sen. Brian E. Frosh was going to soundly defeat onetime front-runner Del. Jon S. Cardin for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.

A few weeks ago, Frosh’s triumph might have been hard to imagine.

Frosh, of Montgomery County, ultimately prevailed by waging a campaign based on a very simple and convincing message — that he was the best-qualified to be Maryland’s top lawyer, having drafted many of the state’s gun-safety, civil-right and environmental-protection laws over the past quarter century.

In his run for the nomination, Frosh garnered a bevy of endorsements from Democratic leaders — including Gov. Martin O’Malley — law-enforcement and civil-rights groups and environmental organizations. Many of those groups appear regularly before the influential Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which he has chaired for the past decade.

Cardin, by contrast has been a back-bencher during his dozen years in the General Assembly. He has held no committee chairmanships. What Cardin did bring to the race was a gold-plated name, as his uncle is Maryland’s widely popular junior U.S. senator, Ben Cardin, a Democrat who had served as speaker of the House of Delegates.

That name association enabled Cardin, of Baltimore County, to jump out to an early lead. A February Washington Post poll had him up 16 percentage points. But Frosh cut into that margin as the focus turned to the primary election after the General Assembly session ended in early April and the endorsements mounted.

Family connections didn’t prevent Cardin from committing a series of blunders that sapped whatever momentum he might have enjoyed.

The Sun reported that he had missed nearly 75 percent of committee votes during the just-concluded General Assembly session. His explanation that he had to leave Annapolis early on those days to care for his pregnant wife alienated voters who cannot so easily take time off from work. And even those inclined to cut Cardin some slack may have reconsidered when The Daily Record reported that he had claimed his full food allowance for the session.

It got worse.

Cardin posed for a photograph with and accepted a $100 contribution from a rapper, Ski Money, who was soon to be indicted on prostitution and human trafficking charges. Cardin said he did not know of the coming charges and returned the money, but the damage was done. Political insiders murmured that such a lack of diligence did not speak well of someone running for attorney general.

The third candidate in the Democratic race, second-term Del. Aisha Braveboy, of Prince George’s County, ran a spirited long-shot campaign but could not match Frosh’s experience or Cardin’s name recognition.

During the campaign, Frosh said often that he would be “the people’s lawyer” as attorney general. He also said companies that pollute would receive just one warning from him — on his first day as attorney general.

That strength of conviction apparently resonated with voters and reflected Frosh’s style as chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Willing to listen, Frosh nevertheless cuts short witnesses if their testimony turns toxic.

For example, this past General Assembly session Frosh told a witness to “litigate away” when she told him that his legislation to make it easier for tenants to sue landlords would spur litigation. Likewise, Frosh went after Cardin on the campaign trail for a lack of judgment in missing votes and accepting Ski Money’s endorsement.

Having prevailed in the tightest campaign of his 27-year career, Frosh will find himself on more familiar footing in the general election, where he will be the prohibitive favorite in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans three-to-one.

Frosh will face Republican Jeffrey N. Pritzker and Libertarian Leo Wayne Dymowski, both Baltimore County lawyers.

For a change, Frosh will be the candidate in the race with the greater name recognition.