The old saying is that “you can’t fight City Hall.”
Bucking the establishment is hard, even with a little bit of outside help. Maryland gubernatorial candidate Brian Murphy is finding this out the hard way as the first-time candidate isn’t just going up against former governor Bob Ehrlich in the September 14 primary election but also against a party establishment stacked in Ehrlich’s favor.
Before Palin had surprised observers with her backing of Murphy, the only two backers of any consequence Brian had were Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and former Maryland GOP chair Jim Pelura, who stepped down last year amidst continued financial woes for the state party. Jenkins opted to back Murphy due to his hardline stance on illegal immigration and became the first elected Republican to openly do so.
Slowly, though, other Republicans not yet elected but seeking office are beginning to back Murphy – some publicly while others exhibit more tacit approval.
Troy Stouffer, who’s running for the Republican nomination for the Second Congressional District seat held by C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, announced in a note on his personal Facebook page he was backing Murphy, but was careful to note that he’d back Ehrlich in the general election should he survive the primary.
In essence, it all comes down to principles with him. “The Republican Party elite have been telling us for years that a Conservative simply cannot win in (Maryland), but yet we are greatly outnumbered in the House and the Senate in Annapolis and we rarely make any significant gains in our numbers in either voter registration or our elected representation,” Stouffer remarked. “The voters want to see someone with a backbone stand up for what they believe, not some politician sticking their finger in the wind to see which direction the wind is blowing. You either stand up for your principles or get out of the way.”
“I promised that I would not turn into some politician that was willing to compromise on my core values and principles just to gain a political edge.”
It was a sentiment agreed with by local candidates as well. Julie Brewington is a work-from-home mother of twins, a co-founder of the local Americans for Prosperity chapter, and a first-time candidate running for the House of Delegates in District 38A, which covers much of the rural southern reaches of the Eastern Shore along the Virginia border. Her house has a Brian Murphy sign out front and she’s posed for a picture with Brian at one of his recent local appearances, but in speaking to Julie I found her hesitant to make a public endorsement of Brian so as not to alienate Ehrlich backers – conversely, she’s much more open in showing her support for fellow conservative and U.S. Senate hopeful Jim Rutledge. Like Stouffer, Julie promised to support the GOP primary winner and “will be enthusiastic to do so.”
Rani Merryman, who’s another first-time candidate running for a House of Delegates seat in a suburban Baltimore County district, agrees.
I like what Murphy has to say, though I really don’t get into the whole endorsement thing. When people ask me about the governor’s race, I usually respond with factual information and follow it (by saying) ‘for too long, political parties have been choosing who the people would support,’” said Rani, another political outsider making her first run for office.
On the other hand, there are a number of officeholders who make no secret of their support for Ehrlich. Candidates across the state have adopted signage featuring both their name and the stylized blue-and-white Ehrlich moniker. Some hopefuls are even using the Ehrlich brand to fatten their coffers among fellow GOP supporters.
One example is John Phoebus, a Crisfield attorney who’s running against Brewington and two others to take that District 38A seat, a seat which opened up upon the death of two-term Delegate D. Page Elmore (His wife Carolyn was appointed as a caretaker for the seat; she is not running for election.) Phoebus recently held a fundraiser featuring Kendal Ehrlich as the guest speaker – Marylanders are almost as familiar with her as they are with Bob as the couple has co-hosted a Saturday morning radio show since Ehrlich left office in 2007. That familiarity extends to Phoebus, who has known the Ehrlichs since 2002 and said he was “honored by their support of me in this fashion.”
Still others simply wish Murphy would just pack up and go home, with a few diehard Ehrlich supporters even creating a Facebook page called, “Tell Brian What’s his name to Drop Out!” In it, they claim that, “A vote for Marty (sic) September 14th is a 1/2 a vote for O’Malley. Remember that Murphyites when you vote.”
Even so, their cause is not a large one as the page has only about thirty fans. And when I asked one of them, House of Delegates District 18 candidate Josephine Wang, about her presence as a fan of the page she replied, “I was never anti-Murphy because I didn’t know he was running. I thought that Ehrlich was the only one running.”
It’s a perception perhaps too many Republican voters have given the amount of name recognition Bob Ehrlich has and the template within Maryland’s dominant media to wish the “grudge match” which would sell papers and attract eyeballs to their evening news programs and websites.
When Bob Ehrlich takes the opportunity of a debate challenge from Brian Murphy to presumptively begin discussions with Martin O’Malley’s camp on a fall debating schedule, it means either one of two things: he’s extremely confident of victory in September or he’s trying to deflect attention away from a candidate who appeals to conservatives within his own party who recall Ehrlich’s fairly moderate record as governor. In either case, he ignores the conservative voter bloc at his peril.
This was originally written for Pajamas Media, but they decided not to run it unless Murphy surged in the polls. So it’s appearing here instead.