I was actually going to wait until the Sunday before the primary to do this, but realized with early voting I probably should put this out at a time when I can maximize the effect.
When the filing deadline came and went in January, we ended up with ten people on the ballot seeking to challenge incumbent Senator Ben Cardin on the Republican side. (There are also eight Democratic challengers who, with the exception of State Senator C. Anthony Muse, will be lucky to see 20 percent of the vote as a collection.)
But if you look at the ten on our side as a group, you can start to pick out those who have a legitimate chance pretty early. Some have been on the ballot before, but have never come close to grabbing the brass ring. You know, one would think guys like Corrogan Vaughn or John Kimble might get the hint at some point but they soldier on nonetheless, appearing on ballot after ballot every two years for some office. This is Vaughn’s fourth Senate try (counting an abortive 2010 run) and Kimble’s third, although he’s been on a ballot every two years for some federal office since 1996. Another 2012 candidate, Joseph Alexander, ran in the 2010 Senate primary and finished a distant third with 5.9% of the vote.
Others have been in local races and lost. Rick Hoover ran twice for the Third District Congressional nod in 2004 and 2006 and didn’t distinguish himself enough to not be an also-ran. William Capps took on an incumbent State Senator and lost in 2010, while Robert Broadus had the unenviable task of attempting to win as a Republican in the Fourth Congressional District. While Broadus only gathered 16% of the vote, it was a better showing than the Republican winner had in 2008 against Edwards. But even Broadus lost in the 2008 primary – he was unopposed in 2010.
There are four others who are making their first run for statewide office, with Brian Vaeth and David Jones the lesser-known duo of the group. I haven’t heard anything from Vaeth, but David Jones is a candidate who, with some polish and a more appropriate race for a single dad to get into (on the scale of a countywide or House of Delegates district contest) could have a future in the political arena. He had a message which was trying to come out, but a statewide campaign presents an awfully steep learning curve.
Out of the eight I have cited so far, the battle for third place shapes up between Broadus, based on his performance in a difficult district and the ready-made issue he has with his position as head of Protect Marriage Maryland, Alexander (simply based on 2010 results), and Jones (as a hard worker who’s quite likable.) One of the others might surprise me, but these are the guys who seem to me as the aspirants for Miss Congeniality.
Yet the race is really coming down to two men. Each brings something unique to the table.
Richard Douglas began his campaign with some advantages: as a staffer for the late Senator Jesse Helms, he knows about how the system works and where it can be taken advantage of. He also garnered the support early on of two key groups: foreign policy experts, personified by Ambassadors Roger Noriega and John Bolton, and many among the Maryland GOP brass, most notably former Chair Audrey Scott.
A lot of what Rich spoke about early on came from the realm of foreign policy, the understanding of which is a Senator’s duty. But it didn’t seem to be a message which resonated much beyond the five percent or so of Republicans who truly follow that aspect of political life. So in the last month Douglas has shifted his approach to emphasize more of a populist, anti-incumbent appeal. He’s hammered Ben Cardin of late on a number of taxation issues, many of which come on a state level, and blasted Ben for a lack of interest in job creation.
On the other hand, Dan Bongino has mainly stuck to economic issues as his strong suit. But he also brings a willingness to not concede the votes of the minority community; instead he wants to broaden the Republican base by exploiting certain wedge issues which resonate with urban voters – a prime example is school choice. Moreso than Douglas, he notes a background which plays well with certain aspects of the community as Bongino grew up poor and worked his way to success in the law enforcement field.
When the campaign was relatively young, I realized that the race would probably come down to Bongino and Douglas. It was at that point that I assessed the following:
So the question for voters is going to be an interesting one if you presume Rich Douglas and Dan Bongino are the two leading candidates. It’s obvious that Richard’s forte is foreign affairs, while Bongino seems to have a lead with those who favor smaller government – the TEA Party crowd. So how will the pair cover themselves on what would be perceived as their weaker points?
Obviously it appears Douglas is trying to move into the territory Bongino set for himself early on. But while I didn’t necessarily agree with Bongino’s Afghanistan stance at the time, the more I study on the subject the more I think he could be correct. And something Dan related to me after the Lincoln Day Dinner, in a conversation I didn’t elaborate on at the time, convinced me he isn’t completely naive about foreign affairs. When you’re placed in charge of a security detail in a war zone, you must either know a little bit about the lay of the land or you’re a quick study. In either case, Bongino was given that responsibility.
So it comes down to this. If Richard Douglas is the GOP nominee on April 4, I would be very comfortable working for his election to the Senate. He’s a candidate who’s shown me that he has the skills necessary to be a Senator and also that he’s not afraid to take on his opponent. Of course, he’ll be at a distinct financial disadvantage against Ben Cardin and his later entry in the race has taken the time away from developing the grassroots support he’ll need by November.
But there are two key areas which have set Dan Bongino apart, and they’re the ones which tip the scales in his favor.
One is the willingness to fight for every vote that I have cited and the reason he’s doing so is because, as Dan has often stated, he has no “Plan B.” One could say he was foolish to give up a Secret Service gig but if love of country is that important to him then Dan should be commended for his sacrifice. I don’t think he’d be unemployed too long if he lost.
But another important thing Bongino is doing is nationalizing the Maryland U.S. Senate campaign. To some extent, Andy Harris showed us how this could be done: the Club for Growth was instrumental in putting him on the map and there was a huge amount of national interest in the First District rematch in 2010 because of it. It’s true that Frank Kratovil’s 2008 victory was somewhat of an anomaly because Barack Obama’s coattails were long enough for Kratovil to win an R+13 district, but beating an incumbent Congressman is a difficult task that Andy Harris has actually accomplished twice, in part by nationalizing the race. The effects of this show most in Bongino’s fundraising and grassroots support, both of which are formidable by GOP standards.
Thus, I finally came to the decision that Dan Bongino is the better choice. But if you’re already set to vote for Richard Douglas, I think you should since he’s a quite qualified candidate as well. It’s the 15 to 20 percent who were planning on voting for the other eight who should seriously reconsider their decision and instead press the screen to place the X next to Bongino’s name. Those eight are all good men who care about the state, but we need all hands on deck to defeat a man who has lived off the voters for 46 years, inheriting his original position from his uncle (who shared the Cardin surname.)
Now I want to say a few words about some of the Congressional races.
There are five Republican members of the General Assembly who have the luxury of “running from cover” in this cycle; unfortunately the timing of the primary has meant that all five have had to do so around the ongoing General Assembly session.
Honestly, I haven’t followed the races enough to be an expert on all of the candidates running for Congress. But what I can tell you about these five is how they have fared in the monoblogue Accountability Project.
In 2011, the candidates received these mAP scores:
- Nancy Jacobs (running in the Second Congressional District) – 92%
- Kathy Afzali (running in the Sixth Congressional District) – 88%
- David Brinkley (running in the Sixth Congressional District) – 84%
- Tony O’Donnell (running in the Fifth Congressional District) – 80%
- Rick Impallaria (running in the Second Congressional District) – 80%
Bear in mind 2011 scores were based on 25 votes so each got between 20 and 23 “correct.”
Lifetime mAP scores (for all except Afzali, these are based on five years since I began the mAP in 2007):
- Afzali – 88% (based on 2011 only)
- O’Donnell – 85%
- Impallaria – 77%
- Jacobs – 77%
- Brinkley – 75%
This is compiled over 5 years and well over 100 votes in most cases. Take from it what you will about my order of preference in those races, but as a measure of comparison Andy Harris had a “lifetime” score close to 90 percent in the four years I compiled his voting record.