Outgoing U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown appears headed to victory in his historic Democratic primary battle against former Baltimore judge Katie Curran O’Malley in the race to be Maryland’s next attorney general.
Brown held a 60,000-vote lead after in-person votes were tabulated. O’Malley hopes to overcome the 60% to 40% deficit after mail-in ballots are counted beginning Thursday.
The winner of the Brown-O’Malley fight will be the odds-on favorite to win the general election in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 and which has not had a GOP attorney general since 1954.
The current attorney general, 75-year-old Brian E. Frosh, chose to retire rather than run for a third four-year term.
If elected, Brown would become Maryland’s first Black attorney general — a post once held by Roger B. Taney, who as chief justice wrote the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott opinion that Blacks have no standing to sue in federal court.
“Our campaign’s message has resonated with voters and tonight’s results prove it,” Brown said in a statement late Tuesday. “An attorney general can either be a champion for progress or a defender of the status quo.”
O’Malley, 59, would be Maryland’s first female attorney general.
She said in a statement she is “cautiously optimistic” the mail-in ballots will bring her victory.
A Brown win would be largely due to a resounding 50,000 in-person vote margin in his home county of Prince George’s County, which he has represented in Congress since 2017 and in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1999 to 2007.
O’Malley performed best in Montgomery County, where she was ahead by 5,200 votes in in-person voting.
Victory would give Brown the opportunity to avenge his defeat in his previous statewide election: his 2014 loss in the gubernatorial contest against Republican Larry Hogan by a 51% to 47.2% margin.
“That was a tough loss,” said political scientist Mileah Kromer, who noted Brown’s defeat made national news because a Republican had beaten a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.
“You have to hand it to him,” added Kromer, director of Goucher College’s Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics. “This is a big bounce back. He is poised to be the next attorney general of the state.”
Political scientist Todd Eberly confidently predicted that — if current vote results hold after mail-in ballots are counted — “Anthony Brown is not going to suffer the same fate” he did eight years ago.
Based on current results, Maryland Republicans have nominated for attorney general former Anne Arundel County councilmember Michael A. Peroutka, who is more conservative than his primary opponent Jim Shalleck, former president of the Montgomery County Board of Elections and an ex-prosecutor.
“The mainstream Republican lost,” Eberly said, calling it “virtually impossible” for a far-right attorney general candidates to win in left-leaning Maryland.
“There is no question but that Brown is going to win this race,” said Eberly, a professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “This race is settled at this point.”
Brown and O’Malley hold virtually identical policy positions, with both saying they would endorse and enforce strict gun control laws and a woman’s right to choose at a time when the Supreme Court is interpreting the right to keep and bear arms more broadly and overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.
Brown, if elected, will likely inherit a case now pending in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that challenges Maryland’s ban on assault-style firearms, including the AR-15 that has been used in many mass shootings in recent years. The losing side in Bianchi v. Frosh, which pits gun rights advocates against the state, will most likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Anthony Brown is going to have a full docket of work lined up,” Eberly said.
Lacking policy differences, Brown and O’Malley stressed their disparate legal experience in their bid to become the state’s chief lawyer.
O’Malley focused on her 10 years as an assistant Baltimore County state’s attorney and 20 years as a Maryland District Court judge in Baltimore. In televised campaign ads, O’Malley said her years in the courtroom on both sides of the bar qualified her to be attorney general, whereas Brown’s years in Congress were ill-suited for the job.
Brown, 60, responded that attorneys general spend little time themselves in courtrooms and that his legislative experience — nearly six years in Congress and eight years in the House of Delegates — have prepared him well to advocate for the laws the attorney general’s office enforces.
Brown, who was in private practice from 1994 to 2006, said he has the civil litigation experience more suited to the attorney general’s role of representing the state and its agencies in court than in prosecuting, which is the function of county and Baltimore city state’s attorneys.
O’Malley’s father, J. Joseph Curran Jr., served as Maryland attorney general from 1987 to 2007. She is married to former Gov. Martin O’Malley, for whom Brown served as lieutenant governor from 2007 to 2015.
On the Republican side, Peroutka held a 32,000-vote, 58% to 42% lead over Shalleck after in-person votes were counted.
On his campaign website, Peroutka, 70, endorsed what he called “the American view,” which he defined as, “There is a God. Our rights come from him. The purpose of civil government is to secure our God-given rights. This is the American View of Law and Government!”
Shalleck, a 76-year-old who served for many years as a state prosecutor in New York and with the U.S. Justice Department, said fighting violent crime would be his top priority as attorney general.