Anthony Brown’s last political campaign ended in humiliating defeat. After eight years as Maryland’s lieutenant governor, the Democrat lost the 2014 governor’s race to little-known Republican businessman Larry Hogan. Now, Brown is searching for redemption in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District.
Democratic insiders say the six-way contest for the party’s nomination is Brown’s to lose. He won 84 percent of the gubernatorial vote in Prince George’s County, the heart of the district, and has the widest name recognition and the strongest ties to the political establishment of any candidate. His name will be listed first on the alphabetical ballot.
“But that doesn’t mean he can take anything for granted or not work hard,” said Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), who dropped out of the race in early February. “Upsets do happen, and certainly Anthony knows that to be true.”
Brown so far has been outdone in fundraising — and out-worked, some observers say — by his two closest competitors, former Prince George’s state’s attorney Glenn F. Ivey and Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s).
While Brown’s Twitter account lay dormant early in the race, for example, his rivals were producing digital videos, broadcasting their messages, announcing endorsements and setting up meet-and-greets.
“There are a few people who are working very hard and are certainly in the hunt,” said former governor Parris Glendening, 73, who lives in the district and still follows Democratic politics closely. “Ivey is working hard . . . Peña-Melnyk is firing people up.”
The other candidates in the race — retired Army Lt. Col. Warren Christopher, former Census Bureau employee Terence Strait and retired U.S. marshal Matthew Fogg — are not well known and have not held public office. They have not been able to raise the money or their profiles enough to be competitive, party leaders said.
At campaign forums and appearances and in their literature, the 4th District candidates mostly agree on the issues: increased federal funding for education and technical schools; making college affordable; raising the federal minimum wage; tax relief for middle-class families; closing tax loopholes for corporations; and more stringent gun-control measures.
Ivey and Brown spend most of their time vowing to fight Republicans if elected to Congress, while Peña-Melnyk has tried to stake her claim as the “progressive fighter” of the three.
Strait, the lone millennial in the primary race, speaks extensively about climate change and developing forward-looking policies. Christopher and Fogg are targeting their messages to voters who feel left behind economically and ignored by their political leaders.
The district has been represented since 2008 by Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), who is giving up the seat to run for the U.S. Senate. It is comprised largely of federal workers in dense areas of Prince George’s but stretches out to more conservative Anne Arundel County.
On the Republican side, four candidates are vying for the nomination. But in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of more than 4 to 1, whoever wins the Democratic primary on April 26 will be the overwhelming favorite to capture the seat in November.
Ivey was the first to announce his candidacy and assemble a team: consultants from the Washington-based public affairs firm SDK Knickerbocker, fundraisers from Baltimore’s Mellinger Group and field organizer Jesse Hassinger, who worked on Attorney General Doug F. Gansler’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
The Ivey name is well known in Prince George’s political circles. His wife, former state Del. Jolene Ivey, ran for lieutenant governor on the Gansler ticket in 2014, losing a bitter primary race to Brown and his running mate.
While Glenn Ivey visits two to three churches each weekend, his wife — who has publicly discussed her interest in running for county executive in Prince George’s in 2018 — works the phones on her husband’s behalf with their five sons.
“We want to try and bring a fresh perspective to every issue and find the most effective policy,” Glenn Ivey said. He pledged to “take the fight to Republicans” who want to undo policies enacted under President Obama.
Ivey’s pollster, Ron Lester, ran a survey of 400 likely Democratic primary voters in January that showed Ivey in a dead heat with Brown. That same poll found 23 percent of voters were undecided.
Peña-Melnyk joined the race about a week after Ivey. She courted national progressive groups such as Emily’s List and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee early and amassed the largest pool of PAC money in the race.
Peña-Melnyk has close ties to unions, nine of which have endorsed her. Ivey has four union endorsements locally, and Brown has one.
Top Democrats say that if Brown and Ivey split the votes of African Americans, Peña-Melnyk could have a shot — albeit a remote one.
“I want to make government work for you,” Peña-Melnyk, a state delegate since 2006, told the audience at a recent forum. “For nine years, I have listened to your struggles and found solutions to those problems. I do not quit. I am a fighter.”
Brown, meanwhile, has promised to correct the mistakes of his failed gubernatorial bid. Two years ago, he was criticized for being austere and aloof. This time, he says, he has knocked on 3,000 doors and spent “quality time” with voters. To bolster his ground game, he hired veteran campaign manager Derrick Green, who led Jack Johnson’s successful 2002 campaign for county executive.
“A lot of our message is acknowledging Obama’s legacy and building on that,” Brown said in an interview. Referring to his 2014 loss to Hogan, he said: “Every voter that I talk to, in the course of their life, has experienced defeat. And in many ways, it only strengthens my connection to the voter.”
Brown has won what could be crucial support from influential Prince George’s Democrats such as Sens. Ulysses Currie and Joanne C. Benson, who are known for getting African American senior citizens and women out to the polls.
Precincts in their districts represent “the mother lode of votes” in the congressional district, said Davis, the delegate and former congressional candidate. Brown was a state delegate in Currie’s district before becoming lieutenant governor.
The southern Prince George’s district represented in Annapolis by Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D) is also flush with reliable voters, however, and Muse has yet to declare his support for a candidate.
Experts do not expect a huge turnout for the primary, although the presidential primary and the competitive Senate race between Edwards and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, of neighboring Montgomery County, could spur some interest.
“It is just hard to delineate the differences between them and what they will bring to the table that would be unique,” William Lewis, a political science professor at Bowie State University, said of the 4th District candidates. “To me, it’s not clear yet.”