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C. Fraser Smith: Candidates talk to … not you

Sniping, snarky, negative campaigns are a turn-off for many voters. But strategists insist they work: Mudslingers win.

So these guys on TV in Maryland this fall, the ones that nobody you know really likes? They have a tar-baby grip on snark and snipe. They can’t let go. So they hammer each other, letting the rest of us twist slowly in the breeze.

Have you been waiting for some sort of inspiring message from Republican Larry Hogan and Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown?

Good luck.

They’re not speaking to you.

And they’re missing an opportunity to actually lead.

We’re buffeted by the prospect of another war in the Middle East, by a stock market suddenly in turmoil and by the reality and the threat of Ebola. Not to speak of a U.S. democracy with diminishing participation.

So do you hear a lot of people planning a write-in vote for Heather Mizeur, the class of the primary season? Or do you hear people saying (even more than usual) that they may not vote at all?

And guess what? These guys are running for an open seat — open right now!

Maryland’s actual governor, Martin O’Malley, is almost permanently on the road. Did I miss it or is there a provision in the state Constitution that grants governors time to campaign in New Hampshire or wherever? I don’t think so.

Does it matter?

It does. Has O’Malley met with the experts at the University of Maryland Medical Center or Johns Hopkins Hospital? Are they — is he? — helping President Obama and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Shouldn’t our governor be visibly involved, quelling fears, offering reassurance?

Or would O’Malley’s presence be a fearsome thing — suggesting that he’d only come home if the Ebola threat were real for us?

Could he do more than wring his hands?

We need our leaders to lead, assuring us we are in good hands while Ebola and whatever else threatens us is dealt with.

Surely, O’Malley gets glowing introductions as he tours presidential testing sites. He deserves them, in my book.

He and the General Assembly got Maryland through the Great Recession with minimal damage.

He and the legislature have given us one of the best public school systems in the nation.

An array of difficult issues has been resolved, from gay marriage to gun control to repeal of the death penalty.

And yet, voters in this blue state give him little if any love. Just 14 percent of a recent poll support his presidential travels. Some in the sample said they might check him out when they see who’s running. Smart and prudent. At least some of us haven’t given up on politics.

I’m guessing a lot of the O’Malley antipathy is rooted in financial concerns. Like the rest of the nation, many Marylanders have had no pay increases for 15 years or so. On the other side of the scale, of course, taxes have gone up — 40 straight times, as candidate Hogan intones.

And surely this governor suffers from voter fatigue — fed up, real anger. O’Malley overwhelmed former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. by 14 percentage points in 2012. When voters saw the alternative then, O’Malley did surpassingly well.

But those Marylanders will be forgiven now for concluding that O’Malley is no longer engaged with them.

His designated heir, Anthony Brown, engages with Larry Hogan.

The rest of us?

We’re on our own.

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