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C. Fraser Smith: An odd race for the White House

This year’s GOP presidential primary looks like an overloaded raft of laughing teenagers with a sign saying, “Always Room for One More.”

Very funny. Let the jokes begin.

“Is it my imagination or are half the governors in the nation running for President?” asked Gail Collins in The New York Times.

Maybe it’s not her imagination. Maybe it’s an expected result of global warming.

More likely it’s the usual campaign year tropism – a rush toward a politicians’ version of the light.

“If you ever had any thought of running for president,” says Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College, “this would be the year.”

Ego, as always, plays a significant role, he observes.

Donald Trump is in, for example.

“He holds himself in very, very high regard,” Eberly says. “He can run, so he’s running. In New Hampshire he’s running second. He’s sort of a caricature, but clearly he has appeal.”

Others are running – all the governors, one imagines  – because they don’t want to miss a good opportunity (large field, anyone can win). Nor do they want their wannabe opponents to seize the day, bizarre as it may seem.

But why is it happening now? We are in the 20s and counting as one governor or another declares.

It’s an election with no heir apparent. No incumbent. And no guiding party principal that might dissuade some aspirants before they jump in.

And there’s no official or unofficial party gatekeeper – no authority strong enough to back a candidate or candidates toward the party’s best hope of winning. Republicans are acting the way Democrats used to act – running in great numbers when they had an opportunity.

What’s the significance for the voter, the Maryland voter in particular?

This usually Democratic state might see more of these worthies in the early weeks of the campaign. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was in Baltimore recently. And the businessman/developer/TV personality Trump was here this week. Trump reportedly helped the Maryland Republican Party raise $100,000.

After Larry Hogan’s win last year, Republicans may see Maryland as friendlier to Republicans. Maybe candidates will see an opportunity to score primary points here. (The general election will almost certainly go Democratic.)

But there is the possibility of negative consequences as well.

With such a large field, the Republican primary winner could emerge with a very small percentage of the votes. How representative would that be?

And then we have the Democrats, where there seems to be an heir apparent, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She lost to Barack Obama in 2008. Now it’s her turn. She’s the sentimental favorite. Or maybe not.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is running closer to her than some expected in neighboring New Hampshire.

Martin O’Malley’s numbers are not encouraging, but if there is a real anti-Clinton movement out there he might do well in Iowa. If their campaigns were working together, Eberly says, a two-state attack on Clinton might really test her strength. Sanders would handle New Hampshire. O’Malley would put all his energy into Iowa.

Surely they’re not working together, but if Clinton were to lose or to do poorly in these states more Democratic candidates might re-consider their decision to stay out. Some have wondered why Vice President Joe Biden has stayed out. Others want to see Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the race.

Usually, the fields come into focus as time goes by.

But this is already an unusual year.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.