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Political Animal

'Tis the Season

By Brian Morton | Posted 1/6/2010

There is a time in the day of anyone who decides to run for office that that person despises.

It entails sitting down in a small room, possibly with a staffer, and a phone and a piece of paper. On that piece of paper is a list of names.

And that candidate--whether in office or just aspiring to run--will pick up the phone, start calling, and ask the people on that list for money. It is ugly, it is demeaning, it is humbling, and it is absolutely necessary. For statewide office, the candidate will need to raise anywhere between $8 million and $12 million. For lesser offices, the amount is not as much, but if the candidate is running while serving as a state senator or delegate, he or she is handicapped by the 90-day legislative session, which starts next week.

Right now, the state Republican Party is coming off the giant beatdown that came about in 2006 when Martin O'Malley upended Robert Ehrlich, despite Ehrlich's generally good personal ratings. Remember that even as the media touted polls as late as Nov. 1 that year claiming that the election was "a toss-up," O'Malley beat Ehrlich by 7 percentage points, and the other marquee race found Ben Cardin clobbering Michael Steele for U.S. Senate by 10 points.

Unfortunately, as state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36th) found out the hard way when he ran against U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski in 2004, Maryland remains as blue a Democratic state as can be found, and shows no real sign of changing in the polarizing politics of the new millennium. And while it may be a cliché, the saying remains as true as ever: In politics, you can't beat somebody with nobody.

So now former Democratic delegate and Ehrlich cabinet member George W. Owings III--who could legitimately be characterized as "a Republican with a thin coat of paint"--is saying he plans on running against O'Malley in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Owings is going to run at O'Malley from the right, as if there are enough Democrats in the state who feel O'Malley hasn't been conservative enough. There may be such people, though they are normally referred to as "Republicans." (Also, one can imagine what the people at the offices of the Maryland Democratic Party think of Owings' run: "George who?")

If Ehrlich plans on running, one must assume he has either found a secret stash of money buried somewhere in Baltimore County or he thinks voter dissatisfaction with O'Malley during a recession has grown enough that voters want to go back to the good old days of the early-to-middle Aughts, when Ehrlich's aides could turn out the lights and pretend not to be in the office in order to try and pocket-veto bills passed by the legislature. But Ehrlich, according to The Sun's Paul West, is claiming he can raise up to $12 million, proving that perhaps Republicans were the only people who made any money during the Bush years.

Another problem facing Ehrlich is that the signature issue he ran on in 2002 is off the table. Now that the state has passed the slots bill, the former governor can't run claiming that they'll be the panacea he said they'd be, since right now it's hard enough getting companies to apply for the licenses, much less finding a place to put them where the local residents won't rise up in arms about it.

Should Ehrlich decide against a rematch--and what is it with gubernatorial rematches in this state? Doesn't WBAL-AM pay well enough to keep Ehrlich or Ellen Sauerbrey on the radio?--another Ehrlich lieutenant, Prince George's County scion Lawrence Hogan Jr., is poised to jump in.

Hogan has deep roots in that county, where his father once was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and later elected county executive in the 1970s. In the post-1990's redistricting (thanks to the persnickety Gov. William Donald Schaefer), Hogan almost knocked off now-U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-5th), which caused Hoyer to slide precipitously to the right in more recent years. But the fact remains: Hogan ain't Ehrlich, and after him, there isn't much of a bench at all.

Meanwhile, Mikulski can cruise along as the most popular politician in the state, knowing that after the shellacking she gave to Pipkin in 2004, nobody of any credible status is even going to think halfway seriously about trying to knock her off. Recall that after Pipkin's loss, he was quoted to the effect of saying that perhaps the state wasn't as conservative as he thought it was.

Yeah, it's kinda like that.

So right now, anyone who's anyone has about a week left to sit down in that little room and start dialing for dollars before the legislature begins. There are about 11 months to load up the bank account, hire staff, conduct polling (despite how inaccurate polling is getting in the cell phone era), and write position papers.

And if you're a Republican in Maryland, this year isn't going to be an easy one. Good luck--you're gonna need it.

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Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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