The monkey wrench in the system

In writing a future post, I got kind of curious about the field for the 2016 U.S. Senate race Maryland will have. It’s presumed Barb Mikulski, the 30-year incumbent who will be a new octogenarian by the time the election is decided, will run for yet another term but there’s this former governor who might be looking for a new gig once his quixotic attempt at the Oval Office peters out.

In either case, there’s been very little talk on the Republican side about trying for a Hogan-style upset in another statewide race. But there is a candidate who’s already filed with an interesting approach; one which has a slim potential of upsetting the apple cart like Rob Sobhani did in 2012.

I say it’s a slim potential because Greg Dorsey, the candidate in question, is fresh off a write-in campaign for Delegate where he gathered 128 votes in District 43 – a scant 0.2% of the vote that placed him 139 votes behind the aggregate total of all the other write-ins. His candidacy was the minor speed bump on the highway to victory for the three Democrats who were on the ballot.

Dorsey, however, is an avowed and unapologetic unaffiliated candidate, one who has created what he calls The Unaffiliated Movement of America. In decrying “the system” Greg postulates that:

Our two party system seems to be played out like a sporting event.  There is a red team and there is a blue team, and each time they collectively step onto the playing field (ie., voting on and creating legislation), their team goal is to win at all cost, to take the victory and retain league dominance.  They sometimes win fairly and by the rules, and sometimes they cheat.  A quick rib strike here, a calf/achilles stomp there, aggressive trash talking, jersey holding, you name it, and all behind the referee’s line of vision even though the spectators have a clear view.  And sometimes, with impulsive and subjective emotions on the line, a player will blatantly cheat with such malicious intent that they are penalized and removed from the game.

I’m sort of guessing Dorsey is a soccer player based on the analogy, but this is an increasingly widespread view. I’ll grant that promoting a book by Jesse Ventura on his site isn’t going to win Dorsey a ton of converts on this side of the fence, but if nothing else Ventura stands as a blueprint for an unaffiliated candidate to be elected.

I used Sobhani as an example because, for Dorsey to get on the ballot he would have to use the same petition approach and solicit the signatures of 1% of Maryland’s registered voters – that would be roughly 40,000 signatures required. In essence, Sobhani self-financed that part of his campaign which presumably Dorsey cannot do – otherwise he probably would have been on the District 43 ballot (and may have stood a slim chance of winning with no Republicans on the ballot given his conservative-leaning platform.)

It may take time on the GOP side, but considering the 2016 ballot will be just like the 2012 ballot (primarily federal races, including a Senate seat) we may see one or two ambitious members of the Maryland General Assembly try a statewide run from the cover of a legislative seat. Recent examples of this are State Senator C. Anthony Muse running against Ben Cardin in the 2012 Democratic primary and former State Senator E.J. Pipkin getting the GOP nomination in 2004 but losing to Mikulski in November. I could see at least one General Assembly Republican giving it a go, and maybe there will be a Democrat who sticks his or her neck out – on that front all bets are off if Mikulski decides to retire.

So it may be later this spring before the race begins to take shape, but there’s not a lot of time to waste as the primary will be April 5, 2016. Dorsey may be first to file but I suspect he will have a lot of company by the filing deadline next January.

For U.S. Senate

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.

Continue reading “For U.S. Senate”

‘I can’t lose this…I gave up everything’

On Wednesday evening I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a conference call with U.S. Senate candidate Dan Bongino, and I was joined by a handful of other political bloggers around the state. Insofar as I know (and I haven’t checked today, so I may now be incorrect on this assertion) no one else has written about this call, and that’s sort of a shame.

The call itself was timed just before Dan’s “20 on 20” moneybomb, which turned out to be, in his words today, “an incredible success” which “surpassed our one-day goal.” But Dan lauded the support of the Maryland conservative blogosphere, which had been “absolutely invaluable” to his campaign, arguably moreso than the mainstream media’s. I’m not sure I would agree with that totally, but when you stop to consider the interests of our audience (which is more attuned to politics and forms the backbone of donors, volunteers, etc.) I can see his point. The mainstream is more valuable for building up name recognition, though.

Speaking of volunteers, Dan assessed his campaign as “in great shape” as far as that goes; still he conceded “we need a little help” in fundraising – “but we’re doing okay.” Much of the fundraising would go toward media, and it’s no secret that whoever wins the GOP primary will have to contend with Cardin’s massive warchest, $1 million of which he’s purportedly spending on media buys in the runup to the primary. And while Cardin has a contested primary, with the main opponent being State Senator C. Anthony Muse of Prince George’s County, it’s probable that the lone question surrounding the April 3rd contest is the over-under on Cardin’s margin of victory. As others are finding out on a more limited scale, it’s difficult enough to run a campaign during the General Assembly session let alone attempt a statewide one as Muse is attempting. You can also factor in the tacit disapproval of state Democratic party brass as another hindrance to Muse’s upstart bid.

But Dan brought up a good point about Ben’s media buy – why is this necessary after 45 years in public office, particularly when he’s run for election 16 times? Granted, Ben hasn’t been on the ballot since 2006 but he’s obviously a familiar name in one of the state’s two leading media markets, and it’s not like he won’t get the covert backing of the state’s key media outlets either.

I asked a question of Dan regarding the Muse challenge and what it means to the minority vote: what percentage of the vote are you looking for? “All of them,” he replied. But to Dan that sphere of voters presents a “target-rich environment” where several conservative issues can resonate. There’s no doubt that Bongino is basing his campaign on kitchen-table issues – “I know what it’s like to be hungry,” he said, regarding his upbringing in a impoverished family – but there are other “wedge issues” out there like school choice, which “resonates strongly” in many areas, where the incumbent is working against the interests of minority voters. “We can do better” with them, assessed Dan.

Other issue-based questions dealt with the recent CBO re-estimate of Obamacare’s costs, which Dan remarked is “not realistic…not even close” to the true costs and what he felt were key issues: of course the economy and jobs topped the list. “Folks want to hear about putting Cheerios on the table right now,” said Bongino.

He was also pleased to get the endorsement from the Gazette website, which is based in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., along with additional coverage from Newsmax and the G. Gordon Liddy radio program. “Seven million eyeballs” saw the Newsmax piece, beamed Bongino.

All in all, the conference call, which lasted a few ticks short of a half-hour, was a valuable tool in gauging the strength of the Bongino campaign at this point. There’s no doubt he (or any other of the ten GOP aspirants for the nomination) will have an uphill battle this fall, but there are reasons to believe Democrats in general have cracks in their Maryland armor. Will the base turn out for Obama? And what about the two referenda which will most likely be on the ballot – will they drive conservative turnout?

I’m not sure how much Bongino or any of the other Republicans who will survive the primary will tie themselves to these issues, as we have a long way to go to find out whether the gay marriage question will even be on the ballot. Moreover, and quite frankly, gay marriage can be characterized as a side issue in a race for federal office. But these ballot issues will bring conservative voters out and we know Cardin is foursquare behind placing the support of same-sex marriage in the Democratic party’s platform so we don’t necessarily have to be strongly against gay marriage in federal races.

But I appreciated being included in the call, and know that the campaign begins in earnest once nominees are selected April 3.

It’s worth noting that, while Bongino doesn’t have a local event scheduled I’m aware of, two of his opponents will be in the Salisbury area on Monday, March 26th. Richard Douglas is the featured speaker for the Wicomico County Republican Club meeting at the Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Salisbury while fellow GOP officeseeker Robert Broadus will address the Wicomico Society of Patriots meeting at Adam’s Ribs in Fruitland.

The sprint to the finish

Standing as we are eight weeks out from the primary, if you were to consider the primary campaign calendar analogous to the general election calendar, we are at Labor Day. In the fall campaign, Labor Day is considered the point where people begin to pay attention to the election and start to make their final decision.

Because this is a Presidential election year, Republicans and Democrats in most of Maryland will only have a few choices to make when primary voting arrives in late March. (Some will also have local races to consider.) In seven out of eight districts for both parties voters will have a choice for Congress, while all Maryland voters who participate in the primary will select their party’s standardbearer for the U.S. Senate seat. Only Republicans will have a choice for President as no one stepped forth to challenge Barack Obama on the primary ballot. There is also only one Republican running in the First Congressional District – incumbent Andy Harris – while Dutch Ruppersberger enjoys a similar free ride in his Second District Democratic primary. Convention delegates are also at stake for both parties in each Congressional district.

Now that the stage is set, it’s very likely that only two or three GOP presidential candidates will be left standing by the time the race reaches Maryland on April 3. The good news is that Maryland and the District of Columbia may be pretty much the only game in town that day. Wisconsin voters will be much more mindful of the effort to recall Governor Scott Walker and, depending on whether the Texas legislative districts go to court or not, their scheduled April 3 primary is likely to be pushed back.

Continue reading “The sprint to the finish”

The votes are finally cast, and the filings nigh

And it’s about time. It will be interesting to see as the evening wears on whether any of the candidates who are currently in will exit the field after today’s New Hampshire primary.

But closer to home, we found out that both parties are now represented in all eight Congressional districts, so no incumbent gets a free ride in November. Andy Harris filed today to retain his First District seat, while Republican Charles Shepherd of Gaithersburg filed to run in the Fourth Congressional District to fill out the puzzle. As of now, here’s the breakdown of how many are in each Congressional primary:

  • First District: 1 Republican, 2 Democrats
  • Second District: 4 Republicans, 1 Democrat
  • Third District: 4 Republicans, 2 Democrats
  • Fourth District: 1 Republican, 3 Democrats
  • Fifth District: 3 Republicans, 2 Democrats
  • Sixth District: 7 Republicans, 4 Democrats
  • Seventh District: 3 Republicans, 3 Democrats, and 1 unaffiliated (who is automatically advanced to the General Election in November)
  • Eighth District: 2 Republicans, 2 Democrats, and 1 Green Party (also automatically on November’s ballot if nominated by the Green Party.)
  • U.S. Senate: 10 Republicans, 9 Democrats

At this point, with a day and a half to go, the only two incumbents to not have primary opposition are Andy Harris in the First District and Dutch Ruppersberger in the Second.

Another interesting item is the number of General Assembly members now running:

  • State Senator Nancy Jacobs is running for the Second District Congressional seat.
  • Delegate Tony O’Donnell seeks the Fifth District Congressional seat.
  • The Sixth District race is a no-holds-barred firefight with representatives from both General Assembly chambers: Delegate Kathy Afzali jumped in today to join Senators Rob Garagiola and David Brinkley.
  • The U.S. Senate race now officially features State Senator C. Anthony Muse, who also filed today.

We also have yet to hear from Delegate Pat McDonough, who made overtures to both the Second District Congressional and U.S. Senate races over the past year. But there’s still this afternoon and all day tomorrow; however, it’s more likely any member of the General Assembly won’t wait until the last minute because the 2012 session commences tomorrow as well. Former Senator and current Maryland GOP Chair Alex Mooney hasn’t filed as of this writing, either.

I’ll update this post as events warrant in both New Hampshire and Maryland.

Update #1: As of late this evening, this is how the Maryland Republican Presidential primary ballot will shape up:

  • Newt Gingrich
  • Jon Huntsman
  • Fred Karger
  • Ron Paul
  • Rick Perry
  • Buddy Roemer
  • Mitt Romney
  • Rick Santorum

Not surprisingly, Barack Obama is the lone Democrat on the ballot. All 9 are shown as having filed today.

And by the way, Eric Wargotz IS running – to be a delegate to the national Republican convention from the First District. He has not added his name to the list for U.S. Senate, however.

With just under 50% of the vote in, Mitt Romney was long since called as the winner in New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, he’s strongest in the two counties (Hillsborough and Rockingham) which are closest to the Boston area. Ron Paul is second, but runs closest to Romney in Cheshire County in the southwest corner of the state and Coos County, which is pretty much the northern third of the state.

Update #2: According to the Washington Post, Alex Mooney is taking a pass on the Sixth District race and endorsing Roscoe Bartlett.

So here’s my questions: one, will he again assume the leadership mantle of the Maryland Republican Party? (Hey, I’m just glad I don’t have to go to a special convention just to pick a new chair.)

Second, and more importantly, what’s he going to do with the $100,000 or so he raised? Can he give it to the MDGOP? I know state candidates have the ability to do so when they close out their campaigns, but I don’t know about federal law.

A second look before he leaps?

Well, we can’t count Eric Wargotz out can we?

In a move which both piques interest and certainly cheers a certain segment of the Maryland Republican Party, the aforenentioned 2010 GOP Senate candidate is reportedly taking a “second look” at the race, according to the Baltimore Sun and other blog reports. As examples, David Moon at Maryland Juice has the port side view on this while Richard Cross, who briefly worked with the 2010 Wargotz effort, also weighs in at Cross Purposes.

Obviously, this could be much ado about nothing. For one thing, there are only four days before the filing deadline, and while Eric likely has a portion of his team in place and certainly hasn’t closed out his campaign accounts from 2010 he’s already facing a field with some established frontrunners and an uphill battle to secure the same proportion of the primary vote he received two years ago.

But it appears Eric’s logic regarding a primary battle is sound to a certain extent – obviously Ben Cardin has a serious opponent. Yet on the other hand, it appears the Maryland Democratic Party is going all in for Cardin despite their own bylaws prohibiting the practice. While our state is perceived as a safely Democratic state, anything is possible and Democrats have to protect the seats they have in the Senate, bylaws be damned.

And there’s always the “testing the waters” theory: perhaps this trial balloon has been launched to see what sort of buzz is generated by the possibility of a late Wargotz entry. Obviously it’s enough to make me write something during an NFL playoff game, and perhaps there is a chance that disillusioned minority Democrats here in Maryland – who will surely turn out to vote for Barack Obama – make that vote and then cast a ballot for the Republican to punish Ben Cardin for running against one of their own. But I only see that as adding 2 to 5 percent to the total of the eventual GOP nominee, and whoever runs needs to make up the 10-point deficit Michael Steele had in the 2006 race.

Certainly Eric is free to toss his hat into the ring, as I always think the more primary choices I have the better. But no one is going to hand him the GOP nomination and many of the factors which led him to initially skip the 2012 contest will remain in place regardless of how the Democratic race goes. My thinking at the moment is that C. Anthony Muse has a steep climb in order to beat Ben Cardin, even without the state and national Democrats putting their thumbs on the scale. Sometimes the first gut instinct is the best one.

Selling minority voters down the river

There’s an interesting dynamic shaping up in the U.S. Senate race on the Democratic side. It seems the message being presented to minority voters is one of “we want your votes for our side every other November, but in this case we want you to vote for the white guy – we know what’s best for you.”

Brian Griffiths of Red Maryland pointed out that the Maryland Democratic Party tweeted their support of Senator Ben Cardin through this video featuring Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, despite the fact that State Senator C. Anthony Muse is also in the race (as are a host of other, mostly perennial candidates.) Obviously they don’t have something like Rule 11 in the Maryland Democratic Party. (Actually, according to Brian, yes they do.)

So where are the catcalls for Baker as an “Uncle Tom” or “Oreo”? He’s supporting the white guy over a qualified black candidate from his own county who’s biggest claim to fame of late was objecting to the Congressional redistricting map because it didn’t do enough for minorities.

Continue reading “Selling minority voters down the river”

A parting on the left

It looks like the rumors may be true, the exploring is over, and Republicans can rejoice in the fact there will be a potentially divisive primary fight for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Ben Cardin. (h/t: Maryland Juice.)

State Senator C. Anthony Muse of Prince George’s County will emerge as the first serious challenger to Cardin from the left. While there are several others who also share the Democratic line, the reality is that most are perennial fringe candidates (take Lih Young as a nearly incomprehensible great example) who would be fortunate to pick up 10 percent between the lot of them. As proof of their perennial nature, four of the other Democrats vying for Senate were on the ballot just two years ago: J.P. Cusick and Ralph Jaffe picked up the 13% of the vote Martin O’Malley didn’t get in the Democratic primary for governor while between them Chris Garner and Lih Young bagged just under 9% in the 2010 Senatorial race. (Garner did finish second, a respectable 75 points behind incumbent Barbara Mikulski.)

But Muse presents a different sort of challenge, making the race perhaps a little more reminiscent of the 2006 primary where Cardin emerged victorious from a crowded 18-candidate scrum with only 44% of the vote, beating Kweisi Mfume by just three points. While Cardin has the obvious advantage of incumbency, he may have the same difficulty in Prince George’s County – where Mfume trounced Cardin by 55,000 votes – but fewer names to split the other 12,000 votes from there which went to the sixteen others in the 2006 race. Moreover, the disadvantage to Muse in not being as well known in the Baltimore area as Mfume was would likely be negated in the rapidly growing counties of southern Maryland, where Muse is more recognized. So there is a definite path to victory in Muse’s case.

However, one handicap for Muse which will help Cardin immensely is that the primary campaign will overlap with the General Assembly session. Unless Muse is willing to give up his State Senate seat, he’ll have one hand tied behind his back insofar as fundraising and campaigning goes.

So what does this mean to the Republican who emerges from the GOP primary? For one thing, a strong primary challenge to Cardin will help negate the monetary advantage he’s certain to have – as of the September 30 filing Cardin had a war chest of $2.3 million he was sitting on, with no Republican even into six digits with their total. It goes without saying that a Democrat in Maryland is going to have a financial advantage over a Republican, but it would be more advantageous to see some of that used up well before November.

But there are two other possible effects. Muse was the lone Senate Democrat to vote against the Congressional redistricting plan Martin O’Malley and his cronies foisted upon the state because it was felt that minorities got the shaft. Add the bruised feelings sure to occur when minority voters feel put upon by the Democratic establishment once again because they’re expected to unquestioningly back a white candidate who defeated one of their own in the primary and, though they’ll turn out in droves to support the top of the ticket, the remaining races may see serious undervoting. The trick will be getting Republicans who know the state is likely written off by the national GOP to turn out and vote for the whole ballot. Most Marylanders will only see three races: President, Senator, and their local Congressman. (A smattering will get other local races and ballot issues to vote on as well.) While turnout is usually best for a Presidential election, it’s still nowhere near 100 percent.

It’s nice to see a little bit of drama on the other side for a change, and it could serve as a warmup for the real battle royale sure to come once 2014 rolls around and offices aplenty open up across the state.

Maryland’s reborn spectator sport: how many General Assembly members will run for Congress?

We don’t have a representative from all eight districts quite yet, but the news that Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell is going to challenge entrenched Fifth District Congressman Steny Hoyer brings up the question of who will be minding the store?

Let’s look at it district by district:

  • Obviously the First District has been made more safely Republican, as former State Senator Andy Harris won the seat in 2010 and hasn’t seen any significant Democratic opposition yet. At one time State Senator Jim Mathias was thought to be interested in running, but that may not be in the cards due to a increase in the GOP base there.
  • In the Second District, where Dutch Ruppersberger has been in office for several terms, the name originally linked to a run was Delegate Pat McDonough. But he’s been waffling over the last months over whether to run for that seat or a statewide U.S. Senate seat; meanwhile former Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs stepped down from that post in order to explore a Second District run.
  • In the Third and Fourth Districts – John Sarbanes and Donna Edwards, respectively – no member of the General Assembly has stepped forward to make a challenge. In those cases, we’ll probably have to wait until they retire.
  • As noted above, Tony O’Donnell is challenging Steny Hoyer in the Fifth District.
  • The Sixth District is a bipartisan circus as Democrats gerrymandered the district into being much more Democrat-friendly than the previous rendition, presumably as a favor to State Senator Rob “Gas Tax” Garagiola to run. But the GOP has its share of politicians doing battle, with current State Senator David Brinkley being joined by recently-deposed former Senator Alex Mooney in the fray – a challenge which also leaves the state GOP scrambling for a Chair during an election year. All of them will have to deal with longtime incumbent Roscoe Bartlett.
  • So far the Seventh and Eighth Districts, represented by Elijah Cummings and Chris Van Hollen, have also been quiet.
  • Along with the possibility of Delegate McDonough seeking a Senate seat against incumbent Ben Cardin, some have also spoke about a primary challenge from State Senator C. Anthony Muse of Prince George’s County.

Obviously some of these running will survive the primary, but it will be an interesting exercise in time management to see how they juggle the prospect of a primary battle with the demands placed on them by the “90 Days of Terror” known as the annual General Assembly session. It so happens the filing deadline is also the opening day of the 2012 session and the primary itself will occur just a few days before sine die. Particularly in the Sixth District, this fact may handicap those serving in the Maryland legislature who face opponents which can devote more time to the race.

There’s no question that serving in legislative office at a local level is considered the best training for higher office: many of those who serve in a local Council or Commission graduate to become Delegates or Senators, and in turn they gain the experience voters seek in electing Congressmen and Senators. Fully half of Maryland’s Congressional delegation once served in the Maryland General Assembly.

Obviously those who are seeking election this time, with the cover of incumbency to protect them if they should lose, hope to add to that total.