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March 15, 2005

Mr. O’Malley’s March

There’s a glint in the eye of the Chief Executives in both Baltimore City and Montgomery County, and the fundraising and expectation raisings have begun for the next Democratic nominee for Governor.  What seemed four years ago to be the likely death of the Baltimore stranglehold on higher state office over the Washington suburbs, now seems a premature prognostication.  Instead of the joint power of the Montgomery – PG nexus at the forefront, a popular and perennial populist appears poised to command the battlefield once again.

O’Malley enjoys a favorable rating around Baltimore that outpaces the long love and support enjoyed by hometown hero William Donald Schaefer.  Elected by a 90% margin and re-elected by 87%, while uplifting the image and hopes of the populace gives him a formidable advantage, not just at home, but in outlying liberal areas. 

O’Malley kept his heart at home when he could have followed Ehrlich’s lead to the county while using the political and power bases of the City to his advantage.  Instead, he stayed and he believed, as he has asked the City to do with him.  That wins huge points in black Baltimore, a so-called ‘brown’ town, and it can carry its resonance over to wealthier PG County too.  How much more liberal advantage can you buy than being a positive white boy-brother in the hood?

He’ll be forgiven the failure of reducing drug deaths, by everyone, but especially by the suburbs, no one expects any one man to be able to solve a total community problem of long duration and tenacity when built on a host of underlying social issues.  Could anyone point to Mr. Schaeffer and blame him for its growth during his own tenure?  It defies belief.

Forget the nefarious allegations of an affair, even if they were true, O’Malley has already weathered that storm and turned the knife back upon Ehrlich and his corps of kinder, gentler lackeys.  All the while Duncan stood from the fray and missed any opportunity to fling his own mud.  Did he even say that it was an unfortunate rumor, or that politics shouldn’t include such low ground? 

Playing the sympathetic fellow politician and holding back on his cards for a later attack would’ve been the prudent move for the County Executive.  But Montgomery is just too high class for the old fire in the belly we require statewide.  It saves its fireworks for more local issues.

Duncan is in his own right a force, his policy and moves intelligent, his handling of the sniper situation hit all the right notes, you could see the organization and determination before the cameras, the concern behind the words and operations. He has a bold stand and concrete action on health care for the uninsured.  But he stands vulnerable to being a rich boy playing white liberal politics, not down in the game and with the real people, in the way Martin projects himself at home.

It’s classic Irish versus English.  If Martin starts singing Danny Boy, then tosses a couple grenades Doug’s way on the differences in his policy and politics from current trends in PG County, Doug will be dying in the water.  There are elements of division between the Washington counties, including the benefits of the Inter County Connector.  PG will likely be looking more fondly long term on the Route 1 – Laurel connection to Baltimore than the beltway ride over to Rockville.

Then there’s the issue of slots.  Duncan is clearly opposed, and publicly so, and has already attacked O’Malley’s position as weak.  The question is whether that can supply enough of a moral wedge to cross over the PG church inspired voters for Duncan.  

O’Malley can play both ends with his ambiguous support for a moral wrong; when the wind blows, you’ll find his beliefs stronger against slots, and if they prevail, he’ll say, I told you so, you’ve got slots but lives are being ruined.  My people are suffering.  Moses will see the promised land once again, and it ain’t slots baby!  But if we get slots, and he’s elected Governor, then those funds will come in handy too.  It’s pretty nice to have it both ways.

At question is:  Who will leverage the growing Hispanic votes, or will they simply split?  Who will liberal Democrats in Montgomery, like Del Brian Frosh support?  Or Speaker of the House Busch?  

Who will speak to the program cuts of the Ehrlich administration, and its partisan excesses? 

How will the top contenders for the Sarbanes Senate post play out against the gubernatorial races?

Now we know that Ruppersburger and Mfume are vying for the post, either could sway a large electoral support to their favored candidates, and both have deep Baltimore roots.  There will be excitement afoot. 

Will the party rally its money and support behind Ehrlich, or will a serious challenger arise?  A true ideologue would probably strengthen Ehrlich, and a true populist with a damaging angle on the big boy might cripple him, a true blue believer with the political sense to compromise the ones that can’t be won will expose Bob’s weaknesses.

Here, in Frederick County, neither Duncan nor O’Malley will win, but if they can inspire the liberal vote locally, those numbers will add up to a significant part of any victory. 

The boy Governor will play to his strengths here, as the demographics of more diverse counties are reversed here.  More expensive homes, farther out from downtown, means a subtle white flight and a quest for better school systems.  It continues an aberration of a Republican lock on wider electoral races.  It will not be easily overturned.

Any county that holds onto both a Bartlett and a Mooney in higher office is too far right to be swayed by policy, economics, or simple reality. 

But perhaps we’ll see a few tears in the blue beers locally next round. 

We can only hope that intelligence, and speaking truths, like the expressed fact by O’Malley, that cutting block grants is like nuking the cities, will prevail. 

We’d still have our loonies, moonies and goonies, those Republicans gone wild. 

And we’ll still look lily white and rich and like a place where farming matters, whatever Annapolis cast predominates.