Take a look the two current leading Democratic gubernatorial tickets in Maryland, and it's hard to ignore that the political power in the state has shifted from the Baltimore area to the District's Maryland suburbs.
Yes, that means Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) calls Prince George's County home. Brown, who was the first black Democrat elected lieutenant governor in Maryland, is running for governor. Brown has chosen Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) to run as his lieutenant governor. Attorney General Doug Gansler (D), a former state's attorney in Montgomery County, also is running for governor. This week he formally announced his running mate would be State Del. Jolene Ivey (D). Like Brown, Ivey is black and makes her home in Prince George's.
In this election, some longtime political observers in the state think its a good--but not sure--bet that next year's Democratic primary winner gets the governor's mansion. If that is so, then a Democrat from Prince George's County will end up either as Maryland's first black elected governor or the United State's first black female elected lieutenant governor.
"In Maryland, the center of power has been in Baltimore and its environs, places such as Baltimore County and other counties outside of Baltimore City," said Paul S. Herrnson, who recently left a position as director of the Center for American Politics and Government at the University of Maryland.
Herrnson and others said that the first hint of the shift toward the Maryland suburbs of the District came in 1994. That was the year Marylanders elected Parris Glendenning, a former Democratic county executive in Prince George's to the first of two terms as governor.
As recently as about eight years ago, conventional wisdom held true for those seeking Maryland's top elected office: The thinking was that the governor/lieutenant governor ticket in Maryland had the best chance of winning if it were comprised of a duo from the Baltimore area and the D.C. area. In 2006, then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D), who was elected governor, selected Brown to run with him as lieutenant governor.
In introducing Ivey as his running mate this week in Beltsville, Gansler said he made his decision based on "one thing and one thing only. To find a person who shares his passion" for getting things done and pushing against the status quo. Maybe so. But campaigns also count votes. And when you do that in statewide races in Maryland, the numbers don't lie.
“Sure they count votes," said Maryland State Sen. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George's). "It's evidence of the strength of Prince George's County. People are starting to pay attention. Just look at the votes."
In the past two statewide general elections, in 2010 and 2006, Montgomery County cast a total 389,823 votes for the Democratic governor ticket, according to the Maryland Board of Elections. Prince George's County residents cast a total of 366,856 votes for the Democratic governor ticket. In the general election for those two years, Baltimore City residents casts 248,204 votes for the Democrat governor nominee, and Baltimore County 277,369 votes.
"There are large numbers of people in the Maryland suburbs of Washington," said Herrnson, who now is executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut. "They turn out to vote, and they identify themselves largely as Democrats."
And as for the racial element of the tickets?
"It would be very difficult to remove the racial component from the race," said Herrnson, who still makes his home in Prince George's. "The fact is that both Anthony Brown and Jolene Ivey are talented, popular politicians. Their home base is one of the leading majority black jurisdictions in the country with highly-educated people who follow politics. And they vote.
"You're getting to a point in the state where it is simply good strategy."
But how do you get from a "good strategy" to tangible benefits for Prince George's County, in particular, such as moving some state agencies to the county or more operating or capital funding for education? It's a matter of whether the politicians elected to the state's two highest offices have "the wherewithal to pull it off," one longtime state Democratic fundraiser told me.
If election predictions are on target, Prince George's County--and the rest of Maryland--should start getting to weigh those political skills sometime after the June 2014 Democratic Primary.
Keith Harriston lives in Prince George’s County and has two children in county public schools. He teaches journalism at Howard University, where he edits hunewsservice.com.