Miles of farmland, rolling hills and clipped lawns across the state of Maryland, and there’s one crop that seems a little sickly this year: the gubernatorial lawn sign.
“Ugh. I just don’t know. I can’t really decide on anyone I want to vote for,” said the woman doing her early morning grocery shopping in Edgewater over the weekend, just three weeks from Election Day.
“I don’t care about people and parties. I just want someone who can end the gridlock, get the business of the state done,” another woman said as she grabbed a coffee in Olney on a Sunday afternoon.
Maryland may be on the brink of making history by electing its first African American governor, but you wouldn’t know it by the lack of enthusiasm that the election is generating.
Most major polls show Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) with a lead among likely voters. But his Republican challenger, Larry Hogan, a real estate broker who was in former governor Bob Ehrlich’s Cabinet, has been closing the gap, according to last week’s Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, which showed him nine percentage points behind.
Brown would be the state’s first black governor and only the third elected black governor in the nation. He’s a veteran of the Iraq war; he adopted his son. In an overwhelmingly Democratic state, Brown should be killing it.
But when I crisscrossed Maryland over the weekend to talk to folks about this? Shrugs. I dunnos. And election fatigue.
The first concern of nearly every person I talked to — black, white, young, old, homeless or shopping for yachts at the Annapolis boat show — was jobs.
“We’re losing companies, jobs, businesses. Seems like everything is going to Virginia,” said a 58-year-old woman outside the mega-yachts section of the boat show. She has typically voted for Democrats. This year? She’s up in the air.
The Post’s poll and reporting showed that many voters are considering crossing party lines.
The other thing that folks talked about was health care. Specifically, the debacle around the Maryland health exchange, a disaster that celebrates its one-year anniversary this month.
The seeds for the calamity were planted four years ago, when Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) announced his bid for the White House — I mean, he announced that his state would be a leader in implementing the Affordable Care Act.
After $170 million, bickering, litigation, fighting and gobs of money going to contractors in Fargo, N.D., and Ukraine, the Web site that was supposed to sign up hundreds of thousands of Marylanders for health insurance could only let four people into the system when it launched last Oct. 1.
This was Brown’s big project, his baby. But it was a disaster. And the people of Maryland who tried to sign up, who looped around in six or seven circles of Internet hell, who waited at sign-up centers for hours or even days, haven’t forgotten it.
“Health care is really important for me,” said a 42-year-old grocery store clerk who is African American and was not sold on voting for Brown. “I don’t mind paying more taxes if everything works well. But it has to work.”
The best Brown has offered as an apology?
The health exchange rollout “wasn’t pretty,” he admitted during a NewsChannel 8 debate Monday morning hosted by Bruce DePuyt. But he didn’t really admit it was a mess and take responsibility. And that frustrates folks.
The Monday debate was a great example of the cross-talk between Hogan and Brown, and why folks say things like what the woman at an Annapolis Starbucks told me: “I want nothing to do with politics. No one knows who to believe anymore.”
During the debate, Hogan said he wants to tackle taxes and rein in state spending. He said he has no plans to roll back any of the state’s socially progressive laws — those regarding gun control, same-sex marriage and immigrant sanctuary.
But when Post reporter Jenna Johnson asked him about his conversations with two gun-rights advocates who told her that Hogan privately told them he would fight on their behalf, he dismissed Johnson’s question and the reporting of The Post’s John Wagner.
One woman I hunted down in the pasta section of a grocery store in Maryland said she is voting for Hogan “to get our guns back.”
Who can be trusted?
O’Malley, who once called slot machines “a pretty morally bankrupt way” of funding education, pulled a giant slot handle to ceremonially open the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore this summer.
He said he wouldn’t raise taxes. But there were nearly 40 new or increased taxes under his administration.
Brown has made the no-new-tax pledge. Hogan has made the no-repealing-laws promise.
What is it that voters are supposed to believe?
A few of the voters I talked to said it all feels like a gamble. And, despite what our elected officials once said, gambling is now big in Maryland.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.