Douglas F. Gansler was running late Wednesday as he arrived in a second-floor classroom at Salisbury University. A half-dozen experts waited to talk to him about the latest topic he plans to take on if elected governor of Maryland: chicken waste.
For the next hour, he peppered his guests with questions, exploring different methods for converting manure into an alternative energy source. He spoke with a near giddiness about the issue, at one point apologizing for interrupting so much.
Two days later, Anthony G. Brown confidently strode out of the convention center in Ocean City to a podium flanked by U.S. and Maryland flags as a half-dozen aides hovered. Brown was there to accept his latest batch of endorsements for governor, this time from 23 county-level elected officials across the state.
In a tightly scripted event, a beaming Brown spoke in broad generalities about his plans if elected governor next year, pledging “to build a better Maryland for more Marylanders.”
While the two leading Democrats are similar in many ways — both are progressive, Ivy League-educated lawyers who have spent the bulk of their careers in public service — they have taken widely divergent paths in the early stages of the 2014 race to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
Brown, the lieutenant governor who declared his candidacy in May and named Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) as his running mate shortly thereafter, has spent the first act of the campaign enlisting supporters and trumpeting the bold-face names of the Maryland political establishment who back him. It’s all been part of a strategy to create a sense of momentum before Gansler even officially joins the race.
Gansler, the attorney general who plans to declare his candidacy next month, has said he’s holding off because no one is paying attention yet. He’s made many public appearances, but they have felt less like campaign rallies than college seminars on topics including chicken waste, government transparency and easing the transition of former prisoners back into society.
While the primary remains 10 months off, the tactics so far reflect a race between a candidate positioning himself as a popular insider and one who is casting himself as more of an outsider with no shortage of ideas.
Both campaigns say their strategy is the right one.
“I’m not about rolling out endorsements and that kind of thing. I’m about ideas,” Gansler told a few dozen people who stopped by an ice cream social he hosted Friday night in Ocean City as part of the annual statewide conference of county officials there.
Brown and his aides say that he will roll out plenty of policy proposals, too, but that it makes more sense to do that in the fall — when more voters are paying attention. According to an aide, Brown will have proposals on many big-picture issues, including job creation, education and the environment. Some will build on work that Brown has done with O’Malley over the past 6 ½ years.
At his endorsement rally Friday, Brown told reporters that those kind of events are important as well. Brown’s backers include O’Malley, U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). He also has the support of state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D).
“Endorsements matter because it is a reflection that within the community of public servants . . . there are strong relationships, that there are shared beliefs and values, and there is confidence . . . [in] the vision that I’m articulating,” he said.
Gansler has already demonstrated a far greater willingness to attack the status quo and seems less concerned about alienating fellow Democratic officeholders. He was criticized by Brown supporters last week for comments he made to volunteers that were secretly recorded. In the recording, Gansler suggested that Brown — who would become Maryland’s first black governor if elected — had few accomplishments and is relying on his race to get elected.
But Gansler’s advisers said the comments were misinterpreted and have not scared off any supporters. They said he’ll receive many endorsements before the race is over but that they won’t all come from politicians.
A third Democratic candidate, Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), entered the race last month. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said Friday that he is still weighing a run.
Gansler initially portrayed his later start as a testament to his commitment to his current job. But in June he launched a tour, during which he has been laying out his policy ideas.
Gansler, for example, hosted an event in Baltimore this month at which he talked about strategies for easing the transition of prisoners back into society upon their release. The idea that generated the most attention was his plan to give inmates computer tablets while behind bars to further their education.
Gansler has also laid out ideas for preventing domestic violence and promoting in-state manufacturing.
He held his “transparency” event in a back room at Harry Browne’s, an Annapolis restaurant where lobbyists and lawmakers are known to cut deals. Among the ideas Gansler floated: the creation of an inspector general to facilitate more access to public information and public disclosure of meetings that take place between state employees and outside parties during the regulatory process.
At Wednesday’s stop on the Eastern Shore, Gansler argued that converting chicken waste to energy would provide struggling farmers with a new source of income and help the environment, because nitrogen runoff from the manure, which farmers use as a fertilizer, is a serious contaminant of the Chesapeake Bay.
“This is an issue I feel very strongly about,” Gansler said. “You used to think it was like talking about putting a man on the moon. . . . Now it’s become part of the mainstream dialogue.”
Gansler pledged to take several steps to further the evolving technology, including a new grant program to encourage the use of energy sources that could reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. He said the initiative would offer “InnoBAYtion” grants.
During his talk at the Friday night event, Gansler briefly previewed another focus: reducing the minority achievement gap in Maryland’s public schools. Although the state has some great schools, others are abysmal, he said.
“It’s morally outrageous — you wouldn’t send your enemy’s child to some of these schools,” he said to the audience, where many were nodding in agreement.
Gansler’s advisers say he is choosing issues that have not been adequately addressed by the current administration and that demonstrate his willingness to tackle important topics even if they don’t rank well in polls.
Mizeur’s campaign has hosted a series of house parties in recent weeks, and she has led her volunteers in service projects, such as painting schools and reading to children. Those are an effort to “stand with our neighbors, trying to solve problems,” she said.
She plans a series of policy proposals starting in the fall on issues including economic development, criminal justice reforms and environmental protection.
Ruppersberger, who was also in Ocean City last week, said he plans to make a decision this fall about whether to run for governor.
He said he has been turned off by what he calls the recent negativity of the race.
If he doesn’t run, Ruppersberger, a former Baltimore County executive, said he is likely to endorse another candidate based on “their ability to run and their issues.”