With the recent blowup of the Change Maryland study I’ve written about a few times over the last couple weeks, it’s clear that Governor Martin O’Malley has been installed into the state’s political conversation to such a degree that we’re forgetting two key facts: one, he’s a lame-duck Governor, and two: he’s not anywhere on the 2012 ballot. Those who bemoan the fact that Democrats are running against George W. Bush two elections on (because President Bush hasn’t run for anything, even dogcatcher, since 2004) may want to consider the fact that Martin O’Malley, while representative of the typical liberal tax-and-spend philosophy, isn’t the opponent in any of these 2012 state races and each of these contests has its own dynamic.
A good example of this is Dan Bongino’s campaign, which has attempted to tie incumbent Senator Ben Cardin and O’Malley together by portraying the Senator as a mute observer of the Maryland political scene as well as the Obama re-election campaign, which IS on the ballot. (By the way, Bongino has some choice words as well about the Obama tactic of insinuating Mitt Romney is a felon.)
But there is a political reality at work when it comes to placing O’Malley as a surrogate on the 2012 ballot. The only way to really know whether O’Malley’s missteps will hurt the Democratic cause this fall is to see polling data on his approval rating, which earlier this year was pegged at 55% in a Washington Post poll and 53% in the Maryland Poll by Gonzales Research. (A useful item in the Maryland Poll is their historic polling, which showed O’Malley’s approval dipped into the upper 30’s in early 2008 after the passage of multiple tax increases the previous fall. But obviously all was forgiven by re-election time in 2010.) If O’Malley’s policies remain popular, such a negative approach toward him may backfire with voters who aren’t paying a tremendous amount of attention yet and only read the spin on his frequent Sunday morning guest appearances.
We know that MOM has been raked over the coals but good from the Change Maryland study as well as bad jobs reports and the ineptitude of the end of the regular General Assembly session this spring. We can add the tax increases passed in the first Special Session and the poor handling of proposed gambling expansion via another on-again, off-again Special Session which may occur to the chalk marks on O’Malley’s negative ledger.
Unfortunately, at this point it’s difficult to tell just how bad of a summer the Governor has had because there aren’t any major polls out there which peg O’Malley’s approval, and I’m not privy to any internal campaign polling to clarify this approach. Obviously if Governor O’Malley is in the same range as he was in early 2008, tying him into other Democratic candidates may work; otherwise, it’s simply repeating the approach of solidifying a base that should be pretty well sewn up by now. I believe that’s the analysis our side gives when we see Democrats blaming George W. Bush for the nation’s ills even though the former President has been quietly living civilian life since January of 2009, so it should probably apply to Martin O’Malley until we see more conclusive proof that the negatives are there to use as an anchor to other candidates.
Notwithstanding the handful of county races or whatever issues survive the all-but-certain judicial process to be placed on a statewide ballot, there are ten key races in Maryland and eight of them feature Democratic incumbents. (That’s eight members of Congress including the six Democrats, the U.S. Senate seat, and Presidential race.) We all know that these incumbent Democrats have run away from their records for the most part because, except in certain limited quarters, who would want to be associated with such a record of failure as that wrought by the man at the top of the ticket? Their only tactic seems to be blaming Bush and lying about how bad things were under his watch – I’d take 5% unemployment right now, how about you?
So I’d really be interested to see just how much this month has affected Martin O’Malley’s approval rating before going all-in on including him with the remaining races to be fought. Having said that, though, because Change Maryland is an organization concerned with the state of the state, I think MOM is fair game for them and I’d be disappointed if they didn’t question his tax-and spend record and its effects on the state’s economy.
If they’ve driven his negatives up to 2008 levels, using it in campaign 2012 may not be a bad play – but let’s see some evidence of that first.