More than 17 months before Maryland chooses its next governor, politicians who want to succeed Martin O’Malley made it clear Monday that a long, tough campaign is already underway.
Harford County Executive David R. Craig became the first major Republican candidate to make his 2014 bid official; a prominent Democratic contender, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, announced Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as his running mate at a rally in Columbia; and Michael S. Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman, confirmed that he is “looking at” the race.
The announcements underscored the uncertainty in the contest to replace O’Malley (D). Some candidates are clearly eager to get started. But with a year to go before the primaries, there’s a second school of thought taking shape, too: wait until more people are paying attention.
Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor who is now an MSNBC analyst, seemed in no hurry to make a decision, suggesting he could wait until the end of the year.
And Brown’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, stressed that he would start his campaign on his own timetable. That’s likely to be in the fall, after family vacations, Little League games and other summer activities have passed.
“The reality is, it is still very early,” said Gansler strategist Doug Thornell. “For a campaign desperate to demonstrate that their candidate can stand on his own record, rushing out to name a running mate this early seems odd.”
Part of what’s driving the divergent strategies is an earlier primary date than what Marylanders are used to. Both parties will pick their nominees next June, instead of in September.
Whether any of the campaigns can sustain momentum for more than a year remains to be seen. Although he has been barely visible, Gansler has stockpiled far more money than any of his 2014 rivals and is spending little.
A third Democrat, Del. Heather Mizeur (Montgomery), is likely to enter the race officially in coming months, while a fourth, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), has said he is considering running but has no plans to announce anytime soon.
Craig, who announced his candidacy to a few hundred people gathered near his home in Havre de Grace, cited the early primary as one reason he entered the race now. But he said he also wants to take time to travel the entire state, where he is largely unknown.
“I think it’s important to reach out to people far ahead of time and to listen,” said Craig, following a second event Monday at an American Legion post in Dundalk that attracted a few dozen people.
In his remarks, Craig stressed his longevity in government — he has been a mayor and a state legislator — as well as his accomplishments in his current post as executive of Maryland’s seventh-largest jurisdiction. At each station in government, he said, he has worked “to take as little money out of your pocket as possible.”
Del. Ron George (R-Anne Arundel) plans to enter the race on Wednesday with an event in Annapolis. The jewelry store owner’s platform will be centered on economic growth.
From there, as many as half a dozen other Republicans could join the field.
Steele, who served as understudy to former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., would start the race as the best-known candidate. But his RNC tenure was marred by questions about his financial stewardship that could provide fodder for critics.
Others looking at the race include Blaine R. Young, the outspoken president the Frederick County Board of Commissioners.
Young, who hosts a local talk show, described himself as an “extreme conservative” during an appearance Saturday at the convention of the Maryland Young Republicans in Rockville. He boasted of deep cuts in county government, called the state legislature’s approval of same-sex marriage “a travesty” and touted a resolution passed by his board declaring English the official language of Frederick County.
Young said he probably will decide whether to move forward with a bid by late August or early September. Among the factors he’s considering, he said, is whether he can raise enough money to withstand Democratic attacks on his conservative record.
Speaking to the same group, Charles Lollar, an African American businessman, said that to win in a state like Maryland, Republicans must stay true to their conservative principles but also be “bold enough to go where people don’t agree with us.”
Lollar, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010, said that he is “leaning heavily toward running for governor” and that he is likely to make an announcement this summer.
Another potential candidate is Larry Hogan, chairman of the grass-roots group Change Maryland and a former Ehrlich appointments secretary.
Meyer Marks, a political activist from Montgomery County, is also looking at the race.
Before Monday, the only Republican to file as a candidate was Brian Vaeth, a retired Baltimore firefighter. By his own admission, his chances aren’t very good. Last year, when Vaeth ran for U.S. Senate, he finished 10th in a field of 10.