Author: McHenry Lee, Johns Hopkins University
After serving 8 years in Annapolis, Governor Martin O’Malley will have to step down this year as he reaches his term limit. That means that on November 4th, the citizens of this fine state will head to the polls and choose his replacement. On the ballot are Republican Businessman Larry Hogan and Democratic Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. Despite not being up for re-election, O’Malley’s legacy as governor is perhaps the most important and defining issue of this race.
As O’Malley’s current Lieutenant Governor, Anthony Brown has to deal with the fact that his boss is extremely unpopular at the moment, despite being re-elected to office only 4 years ago. His approval rating stands at a measly 41% and a whopping 6 out of 10 Democrats in the old-line state say that they wouldn’t vote for him in a presidential primary. Anthony Brown has the difficult job of carrying this baggage. As second in command of the current administration, Brown was part of the decision-making process in unpopular middle class tax hikes that raised the personal income, sales, corporate, gas, tobacco, and alcohol taxes. O’Malley also failed to deliver on his campaign promise of lowering BGE gas rates for Maryland customers, something that has hurt middle class families. Despite these obvious shortcomings, perhaps his administration’s greatest publicized debacle was the rollout of the Maryland Healthcare Exchange. As part of the Affordable Care Act, Maryland created a website where uninsured consumers could compare and shop for health care policies. Unfortunately for the plan’s advocates, the Maryland website was plagued by many glitches and bugs that required a huge increase in public spending to fix it, and even then the website still crashed for many users. As costs got out of control and the quality of the exchange still floundered, the website was eventually scrapped for a new system borrowed directly from the successful exchange in Massachusetts. The public largely blamed O’Malley and Brown for this debacle because they both promised that the new exchange system would be an improvement over the status quo. The increase in taxes, energy prices, and the initial failure of the Affordable Care Act in Maryland were all deeply unpopular and have received criticisms from both sides of the aisle.
O’Malley’s perceived failures have forced Brown to tout some popular social legislation that he helped enact in his time in Annapolis while. He has been campaigning on marriage equality and gun control largely because the O’Malley administration actually succeeded in these areas. Specifically he is highlighting his endorsements from gay rights groups for his role in getting same sex marriage legalized in the state while also running TV ads advertising his role in making guns harder to buy. Brown is also trying to paint Larry Hogan as an extremist Republican who would try and roll back these polices. Specifically he says that Hogan would restrict gay couples from tying the knot and would allow automatic weapons to be sold. Brown is also trying to make his education policy a centerpiece of his campaign. During his time serving under O’Malley, Brown pushed for a $1 billion increase in funding for the Baltimore City school system, and he promises to increase funding statewide. He is largely steering clear of tax policy because of his baggage on the issue and his ties to O’Malley. In sum, Brown is trying to shape the race as one on social issues, gun control, and education, policies that are wedge issues for liberal Maryland voters. However, given Hogan’s stance on these issues, Brown’s attacks are somewhat misleading.
Despite Brown’s insistence to the contrary, Larry Hogan has in fact come out in favor defending marriage equality. On the issue of guns, he couldn’t likely enact any major changes to the current policy, even if he wanted too, The Maryland state legislature is so largely dominated by the Democrats that he wouldn’t be able to pass any changes to the law. Therefore Hogan has been campaigning on providing Maryland with some economic relief. He is playing up Brown’s ties to the O’Malley administration’s tax increases in an effort to show that he would lift the burden on middle class voters. Hogan has also made attracting jobs and business back to Maryland a center point of his campaign, arguing that O’Malley’s restrictive tax policy forced jobs elsewhere. If social policy remains in line with liberal Maryland, Hogan represents the best of both worlds to the average middle class Marylander. He likely wouldn’t change the popular social policies of the O’Malley administration but he promises to repeal the tax hikes that so marred O’Malley’s popularity and hurt middle class families and small businesses. If Hogan can successfully convince Maryland voters that this is the case, he might stand the chance of pulling off the upset.
This might be is wishful thinking, however. Maryland is after all a deep blue state with almost a 2:1 registration advantage for Democrats. The Republican Governors Association has not put any funding into the race while their Democratic counterparts have already spent over $1 Million. Despite the odds seemingly stacked against him, Hogan is still running close. In some recent polls he is only trailing Brown by single digits, and this deficit is getting smaller and smaller. Perhaps scarred by the possibility of a Republican upset, Brown’s campaign has begun to drum up support from black voters in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County in an effort to draw out their liberal base for the election. Specifically, the Brown campaign has sent out direct mail attacks aimed at Hogan, which included attempts to tie the white businessman to the controversial practices of the police department in Ferguson Missouri. Although there is no basis for these unfounded attacks, it shows that the Maryland Democrats are getting nervous about Hogan and are trying to turn out their base for the election. Chris Christie, head of the Republican Governors Association, also recently began to campaign for Hogan, meaning that some national money could be headed his way. Even though it is a long shot, Larry Hogan stands the possibility of pulling off an upset. Specifically he would have draw large turnout from the conservative western and eastern parts of the state and somehow manage low Democratic turnout in the liberal DC-Baltimore corridor. It’s been done before, with Republican Bob Ehrlich’s gubernatorial victory in 2002 and it could be done again on Election Day.
There is no doubt that the events of November 4th will be heavily affected by Martin O’Malley’s 8 years in Annapolis. The people of Maryland are faced with a stark contrast between two candidates who differ greatly on O’Malley’s policies as governor and their choice on Election Day will either solidify or reject his future aspirations for higher office.