Douglas F. Gansler runs for Maryland governor — just not officially

Rebecca D'Angelo/For The Washington Post - “Right now I’m preparing to be a candidate for governor,” Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) says. “In September, I’ll do a formal announcement.”

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A look at who’s lining up for the race to lead Maryland.
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The Democrat recently launched a three-month “Building Our Best Maryland” tour to start sharing his policy ideas for the state. When he arrived in Rockville on the first stop, there was even a “tracker” from an opposing campaign there poised to film any missteps.

But does he say he is a candidate?

No. At least not officially.

“Right now I’m preparing to be a candidate for governor,” Gansler explained. “In September, I’ll do a formal announcement.”

For now, he is content to just announce his announcement.

Gansler, Maryland’s attorney general, is hardly the first politician to dance around his candidacy. In modern politics, deciding whether to run is, like the campaign itself, an often drawn-out affair. Candidates “eye the race.” They form exploratory committees, consult focus groups and pore over polls.

By the time they get around to the announcement — the formal announcement — it can feel like an anticlimatic ritual that is full of pomp but largely devoid of surprise, not unlike a national political convention. Timing is often dictated more by strategic calculations than a need to tell voters something that isn’t already obvious.

Gansler vs. Brown

In Maryland, the primary is a year away, but already the timing of the candidacy announcements has provided the first contrast in styles — and salvos.

Gansler’s chief Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, announced his candidacy to a crowd of hundreds at a staged family-style cookout in Prince George’s County back in early May — and he has been off to the races ever since.

Brown already has announced his choice of a lieutenant governor candidate — Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) — and started rolling out endorsements, a move that some political observers said was designed to make Gansler look slow out of the gate. Just recently, Brown claimed the support of Baltimore’s mayor and 70 elected municipal officials. On Monday, he has an event planned with President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager.

Gansler’s team, by contrast, calculated that the better strategy is to make an announcement after the summer vacation season, when more people start paying attention to an election that is still a long ways off.

Gansler was dismissive of Brown’s decision to announce in May, saying voters appreciate elected officials who focus on the jobs they already have.

“I don’t see an appetite among the public for longer campaigns,” Gansler said. “Campaigns are already long enough.”

Some, however, see a downside in Gansler’s wait to officially join the race to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

“You look silly for one reason: Everyone knows he’s running for governor, but for some reason, he doesn’t want to say that,” said Todd Eberly, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Besides the tour, Gansler has made some other moves that have struck some as thinly veiled campaigning.

Recently, for example, there was his widely publicized letter to O’Malley urging him to appoint a special prosecutor to hold members of his administration accountable for the scandal at the Baltimore jail where a federal indictment alleged that gang members took over the institution. Brown, the No. 2 member of O’Malley’s administration, has largely avoided talking about that issue.

Gansler said that he is just doing his job and that his non-candidacy is liberating in some respects.

“One of the great things about not being an announced candidate is when you walk across the street, you don’t get accused of doing it for political gain,” he said.

Many others have walked the same awkward walk.

In Virginia, gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) announced that he had “officially launched his campaign” at a May 5 event — seven months after he told supporters he was running and six months after he started a campaign committee and began raising money for the bid.

Perhaps most famously, Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) launched a “listening tour” of New York state about 16 months before the 2000 election that made her a member of the U.S. Senate.

In Maryland, O’Malley had spent months sparring with his Democratic primary rival, then-Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, by the time he announced his 2006 candidacy.

If O’Malley moves forward with a 2016 presidential bid, his actual announcement will come a couple of years after early trips to Iowa and New Hampshire and a flood of speculation by the news media about his intentions.

While the recent cover of Capitol File magazine says O’Malley “plays coy on his plans for 2106,” his aides said he is truly undecided about running.

An undefined position

In Maryland, the legislature’s decision to move next year’s gubernatorial primary up to June from September has forced everyone considering the race to rethink the timing of their campaigns.

The recent stop in Rockville highlighted the undefined space Gansler now occupies.

Gansler, a former Montgomery state’s attorney, spent more than an hour exchanging ideas about domestic-violence laws and policies with about a dozen social workers, prosecutors and law enforcement officers affiliated with the Montgomery County Family Justice Center.

Gansler pointed to the center, an organization partly funded and supported by the county that provides an array of services for victims of abuse, as a model for the state. Gansler’s campaign manager accompanied him during the visit, and the news media was invited to attend in an advisory sent out by a campaign consultant.

During a discussion, Gansler never mentioned that he was running for governor. And in an interview after the event, Daryl Leach, the center’s director, said she understood that Gansler was there strictly in a “fact-finding” capacity.

“He is not here in a capacity as a candidate for governor or for any other office,” Leach said. “If this was political, it would not have happened. We’re not a political entity.”

As he was leaving, Gansler was asked if he considered the event political.

“It depends how you define a political event,” Gansler said. “Were there endorsements being handed out and balloons flying? Of course not.”

He said he was there in three capacities: “the prior state’s attorney, the current attorney general and the future governor.”

His campaign said future stops on the “Building Our Best Maryland” tour will focus on education, manufacturing, the proposed Purple Line rail connection in the Washington suburbs, the Chesapeake Bay and other issues. Gansler said he expects to hold at least 10 events before his September announcement.

Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said Gansler is smart to be highlighting his interest in issues that fall outside his immediate purview as attorney general.

“He’s doing exactly what he should be doing right now,” Schaller said, arguing that if candidates do not hold their announcement event before Memorial Day, there is limited value in doing so before Labor Day.

There is also limited value, Gansler argued, in rolling endorsements out this early. He mocked Brown’s announcement last week of the support of 70 local elected officials, saying the figure amounted to about 3 percent of the elected municipal officials in Maryland.

Gansler said there will no doubt be endorsements coming his way, too, although he does not expect any before September.

“It would seem odd to receive any endorsements for an office I haven’t made an official announcement about,” he said.

 
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