Has the mayor already sewn up governor's race?

December 11, 2005|By C. FRASER SMITH

Masters of the political universe love to make outrageous predictions - outrageous because so much can happen to make you look foolish. But that's the fun of it.

Take the 2006 race for governor of Maryland.

"It's O'Malley's to lose," says one of these prognosticators.

He's referring, of course, to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the politician with charismatic biceps, the political rock star.

But notice the subtle caveat. Mr. O'Malley has the better of the early indicators, but he could squander the whole shooting match. A hotheaded outburst would do the trick. How about a display of arrogance beyond the expected political norm?

He must first defeat Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who plays high school principal to Mr. O'Malley's garage band lead singer.

There are Democrats who like Mr. Duncan because, as one of them says, "I want an adult for governor." This is a shot at both Mr. O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. O'Malley have their boyish qualities - charming and alarming in the same breath.

But much of the Democratic Party just wants a Democrat, and it sees Martin O'Malley as the best bet. You can find Democrats who believe Doug Duncan would be a stronger candidate against Mr. Ehrlich. Not surprisingly, they say the Ehrlich forces would rather face Mr. O'Malley than Mr. Duncan.

They argue that the mayor can be damaged by calling him ambitious - looking past the State House toward the White House. Mr. Duncan, they say, just wants to be governor.

But hardly anyone disputes the mayor's front-runner status. Even some Republicans concede he's ahead of their governor. He's leading both rivals in the polls. Some campaign givers will hedge their bets and give to all three men, but the lead gives Mr. O'Malley the edge.

And one thing leads to another.

On Thursday, Del. Anthony G. Brown of Prince George's County, a Harvard-trained lawyer, African-American and Iraq war veteran, was officially announced as Mr. O'Malley's choice for a running mate. Smart and well-spoken, he was on everyone's short list for lieutenant governor.

He actually wanted to run for attorney general, but that job is occupied by J. Joseph Curran Jr., Mr. O'Malley's father-in-law. Some have thought Mr. Curran wouldn't run again. But if he does, it means Mr. Brown is blocked - and, as it turns out, available for the lieutenant governor spot. How's that for family support?

There's significance here in the world of blue smoke and mirrors. Mr. Brown could have chosen to run with Mr. Duncan, who apparently courted him. Why didn't he go with the man from Montgomery County? Because he apparently thinks Mr. O'Malley is the better man. But don't undervalue the buzz, the idea that Mr. O'Malley has what George H. W. Bush used to call the Big Mo. Mr. Brown' s decision accelerates that momentum.

His early decision, urged no doubt by the O'Malley forces, leaves the Duncan campaign looking a bit off balance. It wants to match the O'Malley pick - and, so far, it doesn't have anyone. Its spokesmen say Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. was under consideration. Mr. Mitchell, who supports the mayor, says no one in the Duncan campaign told him.

Mr. Ehrlich has considered - and may have chosen - former Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry as his new running mate, replacing Michael S. Steele, who's running for the U.S. Senate. The governor has to re-create a winning chemistry.

Once again, you could argue, it's advantage O'Malley. For him, things are falling into place. And how.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Mr. O'Malley said he was more afraid of the Bush administration's failures in homeland defense than he was of al-Qaida. That remark had gaffe stamped all over it - the kind of self-destructing outburst that leads some to say the election is his to lose. But then there was the Bush administration's Katrina stumble, seeming to reinforce what the mayor had said.

When your excesses begin to look good, it's no wonder people say it's your race to lose.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Sundays. His e-mail is fsmith@wypr.org.

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