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C. Fraser Smith: GOP finds candidate with coattails

Meet Larry Hogan, master GOP party builder.

Maryland Republicans have hungered and thirsted for a “bench” — not a place to sit, but a launching pad. With the party perennially bereft of candidates for governor — or any other office — the press has pointed to the lack of any Republicans in lower-level jobs: county executive, primarily.

That ended with Tuesday’s election.

Thanks significantly to Larry Hogan, the hapless Maryland Republicans now have three county executives, a handful of new legislators and a rock star congressional candidate.

Dan Bongino, the well-spoken new GOP star, almost won a seat in Congress, pushing the incumbent, 6th District Rep. John Delaney, to the brink of defeat.

Allan H. Kittleman is the Howard County executive-elect. Del. Steve Schuh won in Anne Arundel County, and state Sen. Barry Glassman will run Harford.

Voila! The aforesaid bench.

All of this arguably is owing to the strong campaign of Gov.-elect Larry Hogan. Suddenly, the party’s candidate has such capacious coattails. The national wave of unhappiness with politics and government helped, but Hogan was transported into party leader in a very big way. His opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, and some other Maryland Democrats may have underestimated him. No more.

On the other hand, a bench isn’t everything. Look at Brown, the latest victim of Maryland’s habit of giving no love to its lieutenant governor. Blair Lee III didn’t make it in 1978 after Marvin Mandel flamed out. Sam Bogley was dropped from the Harry Hughes ticket after the first term. Mickey Steinberg, William Donald Schaefer’s sidekick, flopped. Joe Curran inexplicably didn’t do well. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend got no traction. Michael Steele ran well in a bid for U.S. Senate but fell short.

Anthony Brown found himself running in the wrong year. Wonder if he knew — or when he knew. I heard alarms about him two months ago. There was no anti-Brown “wave,” insiders thought. But they were uneasy, suggesting that a wave was possible. Was it ever.

The Maryland Democratic Party is, no doubt, a very good and well-rehearsed get-out-the-vote team. In a close race, the team wins. In a “wave,” it’s overmatched. A voter tide cannot be turned.

So, I am thinking there was ultimately no way for Anthony Brown to win. We are all enumerating the failures of his campaign. Fun for us.

A little beside the point, though. Nothing Brown could have done to win. He was an “in” in a change election. End of story.

One thing I am wondering about: Has history run its course as a way to inspire the black vote? Brown would have been Maryland’s first black governor. That prospect does not seem to have produced an urgency to vote in the black community.

I met a black woman who was voting early who said she wanted change because she was unable to find scholarship aid for her daughter. Another black woman refused to vote for governor because she did not know Hogan — and Brown offended her by failing to take responsibility for the failed health care rollout.

Black voters, no doubt, were motivated by the same issues that motivated whites. Making history may still be important. But President Obama has used up most of the mileage there. And I am guessing that history has to compete with jobs and scholarship aid for the focus of black voters.

For Hogan and Kittleman, Election Day was a little like Father’s Day.

Hogan’s father might well have been governor in the 1970s but for Watergate. The senior Hogan, a Republican congressman, voted for the impeachment of Richard Nixon. Maryland Republicans were outraged.

So, instead of backing him in his race for governor in 1974, Louise Gore, then the GOP’s national committeewoman, ran against him in the primary and won. She was then beaten handily by Marvin Mandel. Hogan Sr. would probably have been more competitive.

Allan Kittleman, too, has followed his father into politics. Bob Kittleman was a member of the House of Delegates and state Senate. He was one of those who labored in the vineyards for years, hoping to make the GOP a force. Didn’t really happen, but Bob Kittleman soldiered on. He believed in the two-party system. His son, who has been one of the party’s thinking moderates, follows proudly in his father’s footsteps.

I think it is true that Anthony Brown ran a poor campaign. He failed to adequately introduce himself. He missed the major issue: the personal economies of middle-class Marylanders.

Surely, he should have defined himself more clearly with his early television ads. Surely, he should have shied away from assertions that were not true — or certain to be rejected by thinking adults. Larry Hogan was not offering guns to children. That suggestion was in one of the anti-Hogan ads.

Brown should have done more door-to-door campaigning.

Some are suggesting now that Brown’s running mate, Ken Ulman of Howard County, should be glad he didn’t win — glad, that is, if he wants to be governor. Spending eight years in the lieutenant governor’s office stunts your growth.

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.