McCarthy is looking to pull a Franchot

Comptroller

Maryland Votes 2006

October 25, 2006|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun reporter

In September, Peter Franchot was the underdog who seemingly came out of nowhere to topple a better-known rival, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. Come Nov. 7, Anne M. McCarthy is hoping to pull a Franchot on Franchot.

It won't be easy.

Lagging in the polls and little known to the voting public, Republican McCarthy has no experience in running for public office, is far behind in the polls in her race for Maryland comptroller and doesn't expect to raise enough money to put her campaign on television.

She is running against a veteran campaigner with 20 years of General Assembly experience, a bounce in name recognition from his defeat of a Maryland political legend and a formidable ability to stay "on message."

But the 48-year-old business professor and entrepreneur is counting on the same type of grass-roots upsurge that carried her to victory in the Sept. 12 Republican primary to propel her to a more surprising general election victory over the Montgomery County lawmaker.

Franchot and McCarthy are seeking election to a statewide office that no Republican has won for more than a century. The comptroller is the state's chief fiscal officer, responsible for tax collections and revenue estimates, and sits on the powerful Board of Public Works -- along with the governor and state treasurer. Both promise to remain independent whether or not the governor is of the same party.

McCarthy has come out swinging in the general election, portraying Franchot as a "very, very, very left-wing liberal" and criticizing his voting record in the House of Delegates.

Franchot, 58, won a three-way race for the nomination with a tightly focused appeal to the most activist, liberal segments of the Democratic primary. It was a strategy he executed to near-perfection, staying under the pollsters' radar until the last week of the campaign before winning with 36.5 percent of the vote.

Franchot has since shifted strategy, emphasizing his expertise on Maryland budgets as a member of the House Appropriations Committee and his willingness to work with business leaders.

And with a nearly 2-1 lead in a September poll for The Sun and a similar advantage in party registration, he is purring down the high road on cruise control.

During a recent interview in Annapolis, Franchot declined to criticize the former University of Baltimore business school dean. He said he is concentrating on getting out his message that he will be "an independent voice" on the powerful Board of Public Works, whether he serves on that panel with a Republican or a Democratic governor.

And much like McCarthy, he is laying claim to the mantle of the late Louis L. Goldstein, an immensely popular Democrat who served four decades as comptroller before his death in 1998. He is adding a tribute to the 50-year career of the man he defeated, as well.

"I'm going to be a fiscal watchdog in the tradition of Goldstein and Schaefer," Franchot said.

Franchot is not backing away from his record as a self-described "progressive Democrat." In fact, he boasts that he is the only comptroller candidate who is putting his political affiliation on his campaign signs.

But he is putting more emphasis now on some of his more mainstream legislative achievements, hoping to attract the votes of Republicans and independents.

Franchot noted his House subcommittee's restructuring of financing for the proposed Inter-county Connector -- claiming it saved taxpayers $200 million by substituting cash for debt.

He is also reminding voters that he was the lead House sponsor of a 1999 bill that shifted property tax payments from an annual to a semiannual basis. That law required mortgage banks to refund half of the money they were holding in homeowners' escrow accounts -- putting sizable checks in many Marylanders' pockets.

"That returned $700 million to about 900,000 families in Maryland," he said. "That was not public money but was their money."

McCarthy said such issues are not an accurate reflection of Franchot's record. "I think he wants to be seen as less liberal than he is," she said during an interview last week.

But in at least one case, McCarthy, a resident of Maryland for four years, seemed hazy on Franchot's record.

The Republican said Franchot voted against the income tax cut passed under Gov. Parris N. Glendening. But General Assembly records show that Franchot, then a member of the Democratic leadership, co-sponsored and voted for the 1997 bill that trimmed state income tax rates by 10 percent.

McCarthy also criticized Franchot's position on estate taxes, noting that he voted in 2004 for a budget bill that included a provision that kept Maryland's threshold for payment of the tax at $1 million rather than raise it to the $3 million set in a new federal law. She contended the state is losing tax money because the decision prompts wealthy individuals to leave the state.

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