In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans on paper by a 2-to-1 margin, and sometimes more when it comes to actual voting, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown’s ascension to the governor’s office should have been assured.
Smart with a solid political pedigree, Brown had the early backing of nearly every elected Democrat in the state, including his boss of eight years, Gov. Martin J. O’Malley. Brown had the political and financial backing to become both the state’s first black governor and the first lieutenant governor to be elected to state government’s highest office.
But in the end, voters saw things differently.
“It was a wave, a tsunami that knocked everyone out,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a six-term congressman who was re-elected Tuesday to a seventh term.
A confluence of political forces—a Republican wave and an anti-incumbent sentiment nationally along with localized concerns about taxes, jobs and the state economy — combined to derail Brown. Observers, including some within Brown’s own party, say their candidate contributed by running a bad campaign that attempted to force a discussion on social issues while voters told pollsters this was a pocketbook election.
“You can avoid talking about social issues, but you can’t avoid talking about taxes,” said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College. “Brown made a miscalculation of the issues central to Marylanders.”
Kromer, in polls she conducted for the college, found voters were focusing on pocketbook issues such as taxes, jobs and economic development. Meanwhile, Brown was running a campaign straight from two years ago focused on guns, abortion and birth control.
After all the commercials and appearances by presidents, former presidents and want-to-be presidents, candidates still have to give people a reason to vote for them and the motivation to do so.
Brown failed on both accounts.
Statewide, voter turnout was more than 1.6 million or around 48 percent, the lowest in the last four governors’ elections.
And while turnout in counties such as Baltimore and Anne Arundel and rural counties east and west of the metro area appeared solid, counties where Democrats hold gigantic voter registration advantages over Republicans — such as Baltimore City, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — were lackluster.
Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College, said Brown failed to persuade traditional Democratic voting blocs, such as black voters, that they should support him. As a result, those groups sent out a collective message Tuesday night.
“I think they said, ‘You do have to earn our vote. Don’t just assume our vote will be there if you don’t give us a reason to be there,’“ Eberly said.
Ruppersberger added that Hogan’s campaign did a better job introducing the Republican candidate and focusing on the issues that mattered most to voters.
“Hogan’s people ran a really good campaign, really good ads,” Ruppersberger said. “What happened with Brown was that he did not define himself in the Baltimore region.”
Some said a part of that miscalculation was the mounting of an all-out negative campaign that left some Democratic legislators privately scratching their heads.
“Larry Hogan should send Justin Schall (Brown’s campaign manager) a big bouquet of flowers and a note thanking him for running a bad campaign,” said Eberly.