“Cautious” and “shrewd” are two words that fairly describe Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s wildly successful campaign strategy for winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
“Opportunistic” and “gutless” are others.
The safe, easy route prevailed. Brown parlayed a shiny résumé, blue-chip endorsements and a message of bland generalities to secure a landslide anointment as the state’s likely next governor.
His campaign theme: “Building a Better Maryland for More Marylanders.” Who would argue?
But Brown’s refusal to take bold, forward-looking positions on major issues means Maryland voters are set to elect a new chief executive without having a clear sense of where he wants to lead the state.
Sure, Brown would govern as a liberal in the mold of his patron, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). But the Democrats who effectively voted for a third O’Malley term did so without a clue about how it might be different from the first two.
Brown and his team should have been willing to say more, for the sake of securing a true mandate for action. Instead, his disciplined reticence contributed to such voter boredom that the primary had the lowest turnout in memory.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland political scientist Todd Eberly summed up the approach well: “They decided early on, ‘We’re not going to risk anything. We’re not going to propose anything. We’re just going to win.’ ”
Especially relevant is Brown’s fuzziness over his intentions on bread-and-butter economic issues. They will probably be the next governor’s primary concern. O’Malley has already won all the big victories on such social controversies as same-sex marriage, immigration and gun control.
Would Brown’s chief focus be helping low-wage workers, as his union supporters hope? They would like to see universal paid sick leave and accelerated plans to raise the minimum wage.
Or would he emphasize making Maryland more business-friendly, as his corporate backers desire?
Brown claims he wants Maryland to have the nation’s “#1 competitive business climate.” That’s rather a tall order, considering it ranks 43rd, according to one survey.
The question is, how would Brown do it? Apart from a proposal to expand early childhood education, details are few.
In particular, Brown has avoided making specific proposals on the key issue of taxes. He says he’d leave that to a blue-ribbon commission to be named later.
Brown was able to win with such a guarded effort partly by relying on his personal story, especially his Army service including duty in Iraq.
In addition, although he didn’t make the campaign about race, he benefited from the pride that some African American voters took in the prospect of electing the state’s first black governor.
Brown also was lucky that his top primary opponent, Attorney General Doug Gansler, ran a flawed campaign. Gansler started late, underestimated Brown and seemed uncertain about how much to position himself to Brown’s right ideologically.
Perhaps most damaging was Gansler’s failure to do enough to overcome voters’ chagrin over the “Troopergate” and “Beach Week” controversies that erupted last fall and came to define his candidacy.
Gansler blasted Brown, rightly, for his failure to adequately oversee the rollout of Maryland’s health insurance exchange as part of President Obama’s health-care reforms. As I and others anticipated, however, that charge didn’t stick with Democratic primary voters.
They didn’t want to hear anything negative about Obamacare, even if it wasn’t being implemented properly in their own state.
It’s conceivable that a forceful challenge from Republican nominee Larry Hogan would force Brown to take clearer positions for the general election.
In his primary victory speech, Hogan said he wanted to roll back as many as possible of the 40 or so tax and fee increases adopted during what he called the O’Malley-Brown administration.
But it’s just as likely that Brown will stick to the script he’s been using. He starts out with such a huge advantage, given Democrats’ 2-to-1 edge in registered voters, that there’s little reason to change.
In his speech Tuesday evening, Brown told supporters, “This campaign isn’t about where we’ve been. It’s about where we’re going. It’s about what’s next.”
I agree. Before Election Day, he ought to tell us more about what that means.
I discuss local issues Friday at 8:50 a.m. on WAMU (88.5 FM). For previous columns, go to www.