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C. Fraser Smith: Do negatives add up to positive?

What do we make of the new gold and blue political signs sprouting all over Baltimore?

“Vote for the Democrats,” they urge.

They are planted alongside signs put up by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown.

In most years, an additional layer of signs wouldn’t have been necessary. Apparently, they are necessary this year. Brown is trying to hold off a strong challenge from Republican Larry Hogan.

Why has it been such a struggle for him? There are nine times more Democrats in Baltimore than Republicans. In Maryland as a whole, the ratio is a more modest 2-1. Winning the Democratic primary nomination as Brown did has been tantamount to winning the general election.

Not this year.

I’m wondering if the additional signs are a subtext that might read: If you’re not really excited about Brown, go to the polls anyway and vote for your party. You know you don’t want the Republican.

And, it could be added, vote Democrat for your party’s president, Barack Obama. We know you support him. Turn out for Barack.

Brown? A harder sell.

“He’s lackluster, but people do like him,” says a Baltimore County loyalist gamely. At the same time, she wonders about the Brown campaign’s sharp turn toward negativity.

“His campaign going negative was a bad decision,” she says.

Bad because Brown may have been insufficiently introduced to Marylanders. Odd to say about someone who has been second in command of the state for eight years.

Odd, maybe, but Maryland has yet to promote a lieutenant governor to the top job. It could be argued, I think, that serving eight years in obscurity stunts your political growth. Having gone negative, the campaign lost its opportunity to offer a better sense of who its candidate is.

The die is cast, however. It’s too late to change direction. Thus we see Candidate Brown continuing to press his assertion that Larry Hogan is bad or even dangerous for Maryland.

Hogan will, Brown insists, slash more than $450,000 from the state’s budget for school construction. Hogan repeatedly denies any such plan. The charge, he says, is based on an arithmetic mistake. Brown does not relent. The mistake, he suggests, betrays Hogan’s underlying intent.

Once you “go negative,” it’s difficult to walk yourself back to solid ground. You don’t want to admit you’ve been wrong. You have to have the courage of your misrepresentations.

And the rest of us, the voters? We are asked to understand that Anthony Brown had a dilemma. He must have known his partner, Gov. Martin O’Malley was a liability in some parts of the state.

You could see it in the bumper stickers: “O’Malley, Obama, Oh dear.” And referring to the tax issue: “Owe-Malley.”

Some important segment of voters wants change, and O’Malley’s second in command probably doesn’t look like it. Detractors call him “O’Malley 2.0.”

And yet, he may still win. This is the time when Maryland Democrats call on every resource the majority party has accumulated over time.

The most recent public polls showed Brown’s lead over Hogan shrinking. Is it still shrinking? The party has to assume it is. So Brown needs that extra layer of signs. He needs the party’s usually strong election day get-out-the-vote effort.

He needs what Democrats call their coordinated campaign.

Wednesday, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, Sen. Brian Frosh, called on Larry Hogan to come clean on gun control. Hogan runs for governor with a score of A-minus on the National Rifle Association’s candidate questionnaire.

Frosh assumes Hogan’s NRA answers will reveal a much closer relationship with the gun group than Maryland voters would like.

Finally, this:

A party mailer urges black voters to defeat those who would stifle their vote. Hogan is not accused, but nationwide, Republicans have embraced this tactic.

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.