by LEJLA SARCEVIC and MAX BENNETT
Capital News Service
Republican Larry J. Hogan Jr. pulled off a remarkable electoral triumph Tuesday to defeat Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown in Maryland’s gubernatorial election.
Pundits and politicians have been left with plenty to discuss as they reflect on a surprising Hogan campaign, and consider the future of the Democratic party.
Despite a fundraising advantage through the general election, including direct donations of about $4 million to the campaign and $1.6 to the Maryland Democratic Party, and a strong political machine, Brown faltered in the final weeks.
Hogan, 58, who chose to take public funding, was limited to $2.6 million, although other groups spent money on his behalf.
Governors’ associations for both parties each spent over $1 million in ad buys, according to state campaign finance filings and a statement from the Republican Governors Association. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of the RGA, campaigned for Hogan several times in the final weeks.
“It was a combination of a bad campaign and a bad environment that pretty much did Anthony Brown in. That’s the simple explanation,” said Josh Kurtz, political blogger with Center Maryland.
Hogan is the son of former U.S. Rep. Larry J. Hogan Sr., who represented Maryland’s 5th Congressional District — now occupied by U.S. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.
The younger Hogan, a successful businessman, campaigned on a promise of being a financial manager for the state.
Hogan’s tax-cutting, pro-business message hit a nerve: Polls leading up to Tuesday’s win showed that the economy and jobs concern Maryland voters the most, followed by taxes, and education.
“That was brilliant, he made it a single-issue campaign,” said Blair Lee IV, a long-time political commentator. “Hogan was able to handcuff him to the O’Malley record.”
By using this strategy, Lee said, Hogan undermined Brown’s message at every step.
“I think there has to be recognition because (Hogan’s) message carried,” said outgoing Attorney General Doug Gansler, whom Brown defeated in the Democratic primary. “The message he brought to voters was the economy was not doing well and the tax burden was part of that.”
Travelling around the state in a large Hogan/Rutherford campaign bus, Hogan told voters he was not a politician, and characterized himself as a Maryland businessman, concerned about O’Malley-era tax hikes. However, politics have been a part of his life since his father’s first run for Congress, when the young Hogan attended rallies and helped his father hand out pamphlets.
“Hogan was driving his bus all over the state,” Gansler said. “If you are holding yourself out there as a leader of the state, you need to go across the state.”
Brown appeared less accessible to media and voters; for example, he did not take questions after several debates, unlike Hogan, who made himself available for a few minutes each time.
Brown’s campaign staff could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Hogan is the owner and president of The Hogan Companies, a real estate brokerage firm he started in the mid-1980s that has to date handled over $2 billion in property transactions.
In the administration of Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr., Hogan served as appointments secretary, a cabinet-level position where he familiarized himself with the ins and outs of Annapolis.
Hogan’s campaign was bolstered by the national political climate, which turned its back on Democrats across the country.
It’s a pattern that has manifested itself in Maryland previously: In 1994, Republican Ellen Sauerbrey came within 6,000 votes of beating Democrat Parris Glendening; and in 2002, a post-9/11 nation rallied around President George W. Bush, and the Maryland electorate handed Ehrlich the governorship.
In 2010, the conservative Tea Party movement surged nationally, but largely bypassed blue Maryland, said Lee. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in the state.
“They thought they had a mandate to keep taxing because they weren’t hurt in 2010. Now they’ve been punished,” Lee said.
O’Malley’s larger political aspirations also may have played a role in Brown’s disappointing loss.
“His whole campaign for president has been an affront to the people of Maryland,” Lee said. “Every time there was a headline ‘O’Malley is in Iowa,’ ‘O’Malley is in New Hampshire,’ Brown lost a vote.”
But in the last three weeks, O’Malley attended about three dozen events for the Brown/Ulman campaign — appearing at sign wavings, campaign offices and rallies, according to an official with the governor’s PAC.
“The governor worked hard to elect Lt. Gov. Brown — attending countless events, raising money, and organizing support — and was disappointed with the outcome of the race,” said Lis Smith, spokeswoman for O’Malley’s O’Say Can You See PAC.
Hogan remained confident throughout the campaign, despite the fact that most polls showed Brown holding on to win.
The polls tripped up analysts at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site, a polling aggregation blog, which predicted a 10-point Brown win. Hogan won by more than 4 percentage points.
Harry J. Enten, a senior political writer and analyst with FiveThirtyEight, said that political observers were thrown by the result because news organizations stopped polling Maryland with a month to go before the election.
“The (Washington) Post and (Baltimore) Sun stopped polling the race in early October,” Enten said.
Enten added that even Wilson Perkins Allen, a Republican-leaning research and polling firm, didn’t see Hogan ahead until the last week.
Hogan endured continuing attack ads from Brown’s camp, most of which sought to paint the GOP challenger as a dangerous social conservative. Hogan refused to take the bait and continued down the fiscal path.
“He was speaking to the No. 1 concern of Maryland voters,” Lee said. “It was not abortion, it was not gun control.”
Maryland Democrats have been left leaderless and someone will need to pick up the pieces, some observers noted.
The field is now wide open and the leadership for the taking. Some pundits have named Comptroller Peter Franchot, Attorney General-elect Brian Frosh, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, and Brown’s running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.
“Who is the head of the Democratic party? The answer is Peter Franchot,” Lee said. “He can say ‘I told you so.'”
Franchot, who has positioned himself as the fiscal watchdog of Maryland’s Democratic party, was a tremendous help to Hogan, Lee said.
“I think for the first years, he and Hogan will work well together,” said Todd Eberly, assistant professor of political science and coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “They both seem bipartisan and into compromise.”
Eberly said he can see Franchot running against Hogan in 2018 if he is “shrewd and wise.”
“It puts him in an enviable position thinking about four years from now,” he said.
Kurtz said there is no shortage of potential leaders waiting in the wings.
Democratic strongholds are concentrated in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City, and Brown needed a strong showing in those jurisdictions to carry him over the line.
Despite Brown winning all three, plus Charles County, Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery County, said Montgomery did not live up to its turnout standards.
“We definitely underperformed,” she said.
Gutierrez said Montgomery County’s lower turnout may have determined the outcome of the race.
Brown earned nearly 152,000 votes in the county in 2014, out of 245,636 voters, according to preliminary results.
In 2010, the O’Malley-Brown ticket earned almost 199,000 votes out of 291,873 voters in Montgomery.
Delegate Aisha N. Braveboy, D-Prince George’s County, pointed to a lack of grassroots organization and efforts supporting Brown at the precinct level.
Brown, who lives in Prince George’s County, should have garnered more than the just over 175,000 votes he received, said Braveboy. Early results indicate 207,706 Prince George’s County residents cast their ballots this year.
In the 2010 gubernatorial election, turnout for O’Malley and Brown totaled 203,957 voters in the county out of 231,836 who cast their ballots, according to the State Board of Elections.
Not only was overall voter turnout lower in 2014, but the Democratic gubernatorial ticket’s share of that total also dropped in both Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
“We should have come out in stronger numbers to support him” this year, Braveboy said.
While turnout for Brown was not what she hoped, Braveboy said, the black community came out strong in the districts where blacks hold a majority of the voting bloc.
“What that tells me is that angry Democrats came out to vote (for Hogan) and a lot of traditional Democrats stayed home,” Lee said.
Hogan garnered 851,366 votes to Brown’s 774,383 statewide this year, according to preliminary data from the Maryland Board of Elections.
On election night, Brown’s stunned supporters watched as returns slowly, then decisively, ran in Hogan’s favor, and then, the crowd began to thin. Brown conceded just after midnight.
“We’re in shock,” said Devang Shah of the governor’s commission on South Asian affairs at Brown’s election night party at Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center at the University of Maryland. “We took the election for granted. Republicans did not. The only way Democrats can lose in this state is if we don’t show up.”
Capital News Service correspondent Daniel Kerry contributed to this report.
Lejla Sarvcevic and Max Bennett are former Takoma/Silver Spring Voice student interns.