The scene at a community center in Chevy Chase on Saturday was a familiar one in the campaign of Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D). The candidate stood at a podium flanked by the latest group of fellow politicians to endorse his gubernatorial bid, and they had nothing but good things to say about one another.
“We’ve made a lot of progress with the help of so many standing here today,” Brown said as part of his pitch to continue work begun in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration. “We know that we can build on those successes.”
With the Saturday afternoon event featuring Montgomery County politicians — and a similar one during the morning featuring Baltimore politicians — Brown has now rolled out endorsements from more than 180 Democratic elected officials, including both U.S. senators from Maryland and the state Senate president and House speaker.
To date, Brown’s chief Democratic rival, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, has formally announced no endorsements.
The numbers reflect a race in which one candidate is running as the favorite of the Democratic establishment and current administration and another has positioned himself as an outsider, wearing his lack of endorsements as a badge of pride.
But while Brown has eagerly embraced the successes of the administration of O’Malley (who was among Brown’s earliest endorsers), he is also being forced to defend the administration’s less popular aspects, including tax increases and ongoing technical glitches with the state’s online health insurance exchange.
During Saturday’s events, Brown was peppered with questions from reporters in both Baltimore and Chevy Chase about Friday night’s resignation of the exchange’s executive director and the problems the system has encountered since its launch.
And after lapping up praise in speech after speech, he conceded: “We’ve had difficulties.” He said there were also signs of progress. Gansler, meanwhile, has accused Brown of “ducking responsibility” for the shortcomings of the exchange, and he routinely talks about the damage done by 40 tax increases on the watch of O’Malley and Democratic legislative leaders.
Brown’s aggressive courting of endorsements is “clearly a strategy of creating the appearance of inevitability,” said Laslo Boyd, a longtime consultant and analyst of Maryland politics.
While he said Brown may have generated “a bandwagon” effect, he and others questioned how much impact the endorsements will ultimately have on June’s primary, where voters “typically don’t look to see who senator so-and-so is supporting.”
Allan Lichtman, a historian at American University, said there is some potential downside.
“It can backfire if the storyline that he is a tool of the Democratic establishment catches on,” Lichtman said. “The Democratic establishment cares about gaining and holding power, and they believe Anthony Brown serves that purpose. They know they can’t control Doug Gansler. Whatever else you think of Doug Gansler, he’s entirely independent.”
Brown aides say the momentum being generated has already helped with fundraising and recruiting volunteers. But the most heavily endorsed Democrats in Maryland don’t always win. Last year, now-Rep. John Delaney (Md.) triumphed over then-state Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (Montgomery) in a 6th District congressional race where Garagiola had been embraced by the party establishment.
“Our campaign has been and always will be about getting things done, fixing things that are broken,” said Gansler campaign spokesman Bob Wheelock. “The Brown strategy from the beginning was to gather endorsements in the absence of any substantive policies.”
Brown has offered some policy proposals, including a major expansion of pre-kindergarten programs and a tax break for military veterans. But both Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery), who is also running, have put a greater emphasis on detailing what they would do if elected to succeed O’Malley (D), who is term-limited and must step down in January 2015.
Wheelock said Gansler will tout some endorsements in coming weeks and more during the 90-day legislative session that begins in January. While the campaign has chosen not to announce formal endorsements, Gansler clearly counts some elected officials among his supporters.
When he announced his campaign in September, for example, Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. (D-Baltimore) and Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt (D) were unveiled as the co-chairs of his campaign in Baltimore. And state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) helped introduce Gansler to in Rockville.
Besides O’Malley, those who have endorsed Brown include the president of the Montgomery County Council, the chairman of the Prince George’s County Council and four Democratic congressmen, including Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer.
As of Saturday, Bernard C. “Jack” Young, president of the Baltimore City Council, is on board, too. He was the biggest name present at an event in Brown’s new campaign office on the west side of Baltimore. The city’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had previously endorsed Brown, was on hand, too.
The 14 new names unveiled in Montgomery were a combination of state lawmakers and local officials.
The event — which took place on the home turf of Gansler, a former Montgomery state’s attorney, and Mizeur — was also meant to send a message.
“To truly represent Montgomery County takes more than an address,” said Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery), who said he wanted to support a governor who could work with colleagues and who understood the challenges facing his jurisdiction.
Brown campaign manager Justin Schall said the endorsements Brown has unveiled are “important not just to win this election, but as evidence of Anthony’s ability to build crucial governing coalitions in office.”
Analysts caution, however, that not everyone who endorses is able to carry large swaths of the electorate with them.
“In some places, there are endorsements from kingmakers that really make a difference,” said Mike Morrill, a longtime Democratic strategist in Maryland. “Maryland hasn’t had that kind of politics for 20 to 30 years. What really matters is what you do with these endorsements — if you can turn them into effective election-day support.”
In that respect, Brown could be better served by some of the traditionally liberal-leaning interest groups that have also endorsed his campaign. His Web site lists 11 of those, including several labor unions and the state’s largest teachers lobby.