Anthony Brown knows about ‘Zaching.’ His opponent apparently didn’t.

Campaign staffers for Larry Hogan, who on Tuesday won Maryland’s Republican gubernatorial nomination, were searching for photos to use in an ad mocking his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. They clicked through a Facebook album on Brown’s public profile and struck gold: a pic of Brown and his running mate flexing their muscles, with confident smiles on their faces. That photo became the last image in a Web commercial that calls Brown “the most incompetent man in Maryland,” a spoof on the Dos Equis beer commercials featuring “the most interesting man in the world.” The Maryland Democratic Party flipped out. That’s not a photo of the two candidates showing off their brawn, the party explained in a statement, it’s a tribute to Zach Lederer, a University of Maryland student and men’s basketball team manager who died in March after a battle with brain cancer. After one of his surgeries, Lederer posed for a photo, flexing his muscles in his hospital gown. The photo went viral, and “Zaching” quickly became a thing. Justin Bieber did it. So did comedians Dane Cook, Adam Sandler and Jay Leno. Even Hulk Hogan got into it. Soon after Lederer’s death, Brown and his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, flexed, snapped and shared via social media. (The photo was posted at least twice on Facebook, once in March with a full explanation and again in May without a caption.)

The Maryland Democratic Party called Hogan’s creation (the politician Hogan, not the Hulk one) “a despicable ad politicizing the struggle of recently deceased cancer victim.” Party chairwoman Yvette Lewis said in a statement: “I can’t understand how Mr. Hogan could actually think that it’s appropriate to exploit Zach’s message of hope for his own political gain.” The Hogan campaign had “absolutely no idea” that the pose was tied to a movement, said spokesman Adam Dubitsky. He pointed out that it is sometimes difficult to keep up with all of the activists memes out there — and that the campaign in no way meant to involve Lederer. “All they saw was two guys flexing their muscles,” he said. “We didn’t get it.” Dubitsky said that there’s no plan to swap the photo out, and the campaign stands by the ad. And he puzzled over why the Democrats would respond to this photo and not all of the heavy accusations levied against the lieutenant governor — like labeling him “the most incompetent man in Maryland.”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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