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C. Fraser Smith: Brown needs to make choice clear

So there it was, the poll many of the cognoscenti were waiting for.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown is in trouble. Brown has a 4-point lead over Republican Larry Hogan. The poll has 3.5 margin of error. This race could be a dead heat.

Democratic Party insiders were not surprised.

They think Brown will win, but only if he figures out how starved Marylanders are for someone who seems to care about their concerns.

One of the state’s most active political players offered this outline for the campaign that Brown needs to wage over the next month:

Baltimore County, as I wrote last week, may be out of reach. The anti-tax folks are winning the hearts and minds — and anger — of many in this important electoral battleground. Right now, they say, it’s barely a battle at all. The “wrong direction” crowd is leading in the Essex and Dundalk area by a wide margin.

The election has to be about choices:

Hogan’s suggested $2 billion tax idea will lead, Brown must say, to massive cuts in education funding and school construction money.

In Montgomery County, the choice will be essentially the same for voters. Brown has to make clear where he stands. He should also stand up unequivocally for the Purple Line. Hogan opposes it.

In Prince George’s County, he should remind voters that he is their guy, a resident of their county, and would be the first African-American governor of Maryland, a man who fights for schools and a new regional hospital.

One observer wonders if national Democratic consultants aren’t producing a raft of boring, one-size-fits-all ads.

So far, the Brown campaign seems to be a close outline of his rope-a-dope primary election campaign. He has to create some excitement — particularly in a year when low turnout is again the forecast. He can’t rely on his Democratic colleagues — most of whom are not in trouble — to come to his aid.

Meanwhile, members of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation are off working for congressional colleagues in other states. They apparently think Maryland is another no-contest.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has offered to help, but the Brown team seemed to have no idea what Brown needs from the popular congressman.

Many Marylanders apparently still see Brown as O’Malley 2.0. That should be a good thing. Maryland weathered the recession well, maintained its values. It’s been rated the best school system in the nation for two years.

So the lieutenant governor talks a lot about making it even better. He wants universal pre-k education — a worthy but expensive goal.

Some voters, apparently, see just another expensive social program.

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