Initial impressions

Already there has been occasion for me to write about possible 2014 races, and I noticed via my Facebook feed that political blogger Richard Cross is putting up his thoughts about the Democratic nominee who would succeed Martin O’Malley. I told you we were getting to the silly season, and quite frankly there’s not much to learn about the 2012 race at this point since we know who the nominees will be and no one but junkies are paying a whole lot of attention anyway.

But we all have to have something to write about, so I wanted to bounce off Richard’s post with a couple thoughts in general.

We all have heard the saying that the 2012 election is the most important one in our lives, and to the extent that it represents a break in the direction our nation is heading, that’s true. Granted it’s not as clean of a break as many might prefer, but above all fears is the fear of the unknown. Sadly, much as I would have liked it, no radical conservative was going to win after the runaway liberalism we’ve experienced over the last three years. Pendulums rarely swing that quickly.

Having said that, however, it’s interesting to reflect on just how sharply the 2010 election served as a repudiation of the so-called “wave” election of 2008. And remember, 2006 was considered payback for the conservatism which had run its course over 12 years, since the Gingrich-led takeover of the House. I would argue that the 2006 theory is incorrect simply because there wasn’t all that much conservatism exhibited by the House after 1995, and even when we had a supposedly conservative President in George W. Bush it’s not like the era of big government came to an end by any means. Instead, we got more federal control over schools and a new permanent entitlement in return for a ten-year tax rate cut. At any rate, given the recessionary economy and the financial panic of the fall of 2008 people were probably more willing for – and less thoughtful about – a change of any sort than in any election over the last 80 years.

So the obvious question for 2012 is whether the push back will come at the expense of the Obama regime or the TEA Party-led Republican majority in Congress. Through my admittedly colored viewpoint I would suspect the former, and let’s say for the sake of argument that indeed occurs – on November 6 Barack Obama and Harry Reid are handed their walking papers as President and Senate Majority Leader, respectively.

And let’s further assume that under a Romney administration the economy comes roaring back to an extent where, even if federal jobs are cut, the growth in the private sector in and around Washington means that part of the state doesn’t suffer as much as many fear should a conservative takeover put a lot of useless pencil-pushers out of work.

Given those two assumptions, the question for 2014 would become the following: do Maryland Democrats get credit for the likely budgetary success which would come from prosperous times?  While their tax hikes were made retroactive so certain wage-earners will be giving the state a larger chunk of their income next April, it’s quite possible that a Romney win in November may make the Christmas shopping season unlike any other in recent memory, as confident shoppers once again decide to splurge. (Martin O’Malley would be cursing his bad luck at not sweet-talking the General Assembly into a sales tax increase at that point.) With a grand Christmas the state would make up for any income tax losses created when they decided a “soak-the-rich” policy was the way to go, rather than prudent spending cuts.

Obviously the majority party in Maryland banks on short memories. Martin O’Malley, who raised taxes more than any governor in our state’s history, still won re-election in 2010 – a terrible year for Democrats elsewhere – because he could state the claim about Bob Ehrlich that he did it too because “a fee is a tax.” Voters had nearly three years to “get used to” the higher taxes so there was no real complaint by the time O’Malley’s re-election rolled around.

Similarly, the increased taxes passed over the last two years will be part of the cost of doing business by the middle of 2014, so if the economy really improves it would be a dead issue. In essence, Republicans then would have to nationalize a state election by comparing the muddled mess of Maryland government in 2014 to our federal government in 2012. Sure, things are prosperous now, they would say, but we can make them even better.

At this early stage, though, we don’t know what the future will hold. If I were to lay odds at the moment I would think the 2014 race for governor would pit Peter Franchot vs. David Craig – a pair of technocrats well-versed in the levers of government as Comptroller and Harford County Executive, respectively. It’s not likely a legislator would be successful in seeking the job since in the last fifty years, only Bob Ehrlich has been elected governor without some sort of executive experience. But all that can be changed if the conditions were right, and the horses who break out front early on rarely lead wire-to-wire.

The other key factor is where the O’Malley fatigue certain to occur will be expressed. Democrats will be hoping that it’s extinguished after the primary election, while the GOP would dearly love to see it carried out all the way through November and be so rampant that a GOP winner has broad coattails. Few would predict the GOP takes over the General Assembly, but getting a minority of 55 to 60 in the House and 20 or so in the Senate would be a milestone for the Maryland Republican Party. They could use that to help a GOP governor enact needed reforms.

But we have to remember we are 2 1/2 years away. It’s fun to handicap a state race, and those who run statewide – particularly as Republicans – need to make an early start, but don’t forget matters closer at hand.