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Md. Democrats in a pickle

Fraser Smith Big

There’s been just a bit of a buzz recently about new hope for Democrats taking back the governorship in 2018.

That very conversation, the buzz, would make some Democrats (and Republicans) wonder if they had fallen into a time warp.

If there were a Republican governor, surely that was an aberration, something to be corrected as soon as the gubernatorial polling places opened again.

But no, it must be said, Larry Hogan, governor and leader of the GOP, has served well enough and has maintained approval ratings in the 60s for so long that many already say he’s out of reach of the Democrats.

In spite of their 2-1 voter registration advantage. Democrats in 2014 failed to keep the state’s highest office after their candidate ran an uninspiring, it’s-my-turn kind of  race.  Hogan seemed to understand what Marylanders wanted and didn’t want. Those bumper stickers that read Owe’Malley were not just a joke.

Change was in the air then, and Hogan felt it — even though O’Malley had been a good governor, coping with big economic dislocations circa 2008. His lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown (Now  Congressman Brown), apparently thought he couldn’t run on the Owe’Malley record. So began the Republican resurgence.

We still don’t know how deep the change may go.

Democrats have hoped they might use Donald Trump as a Hogan albatross, but they haven’t succeeded. This remains the wild card. Might be the only one.

The farther we go into the reign of Trump, the more one might imagine a significant anti-Trump backlash. But Marylanders can see that Trump is not Hogan’s role model.

In fact, says Dr. Mileah Kromer, the pollster and political scientist at Goucher College, Trump’s erratic behavior makes him something of a Hogan ally. Versus Trump, Hogan seems moderate and steady.

Trump’s budget and environmental decisions threaten to hurt the Old Line State and its governor. But Washington’s chronic gridlock may blunt Trump-driven pain — or, at least, delay it.

Taken together, these factors leave Hogan’s re-election chances strong. His win came with a bit more  political infrastructure than Republicans have had in some time.

Republican county executives Alan H. Kittleman in Howard and Steven R. Schuh in Anne Arundel cut into the Democrats’ traditional power in the middle of Maryland. Schuh and Kittleman will be eager to solidify some of the new Hogan-generated strength. With power over redistricting in the cards, the incentives for a strong turnout will be a sweet incentive — for both parties.

The name game

And one other thing:

You can’t beat somebody with nobody.

Quick, name the leading Democratic challenger? Name two or three of the Democrats who say they’re running. OK, take your time. Still can’t name more than one or two? Not surprising, but if you’re a candidate behind in the name-recognition game you are way behind.

There you have the dilemma for Democratic Party planners. Time is short on the political calendar. If there were a strong Democratic candidate he or she should be readily identifiable by now.

Democrats don’t even have a boss to help with the sorting. Many would say being boss-less is a good thing. But decades of power for the party usually depended on someone who could sort out the contenders, allow a frontrunner to gather more power — money, endorsements, etc. — so the Democratic winner would become the “tantamount” elected governor. Tantamount meant winner.

The dominant Democrat majority, led by Baltimore’s machine-governed voters, would easily defeat anyone the Republicans nominated. Republicans had no “bench,” no rising talent, no statewide stars. Both Schuh and Kittleman should be seen as strong statewide candidates for the future.

The Democrats’ most public 2018 prospects will rest for another year on the success of the two Mikes: Senate President Thomas Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch. They have the platform and the leverage to remind Marylanders of their deep-blue, Democratic roots.

They will need help from disparate sources.

A candidate with a name you know,

And a president whose name you surely know.

C. Fraser Smith is a writer in Baltimore. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. He can be reached at [email protected].

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