If Ehrlich gets in, expect another big-spending campaign

March 09, 2010|By Thomas F. Schaller

As Marylanders wait to hear whether the rumors are true of a potential bid by Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to recapture the governor's office he lost four years ago, a report released in recent weeks by the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, College Park, provides a detailed snapshot of the fundraising results from the epic 2006 governor's race Mr. Ehrlich lost to then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

The big story that jumps out from the report, co-written by David Searle, James Curry and CAPC director Paul Herrnson, is the sheer magnitude of the sums raised and spent by the two party tickets. Democrat O'Malley and his running mate, then-state Del. Anthony Brown, together raised about $16 million; Mr. Ehrlich and his choice for lieutenant governor, Kristen Cox, raked in almost $19 million.

To put these totals into comparative context, in Minnesota, a state with roughly the same population as Maryland, the two major party candidates raised less than $7 million combined in a very competitive 2006 race ultimately won by Republican Tim Pawlenty by less than 1 percent of the vote statewide. Of course, Maryland political candidates are blessed by the fact that, according to Forbes' latest rankings, the Old Line State is home to four of the 25 richest counties in America, in terms of median income: Calvert, Charles, Howard and Montgomery.

To put the Maryland totals into historical perspective: When adjusted for inflation, the 2006 totals for Messrs. Ehrlich and O'Malley were about eight times what the two parties' nominees raised in 1990. To be sure, this astounding rise in the span of just four electoral cycles is further evidence of the increasing costs of running campaigns, particularly the ad costs of the expensive media markets in Baltimore and, especially, Washington, D.C. But the huge price tag from the 2006 campaign also reflects the titanic and competitive battle between the then-mayor of Baltimore and the first Republican governor in two generations.

The Center for American Politics and Citizenship's report contains some other interesting findings. Mr. O'Malley raised a higher share, about 26 percent, of his money from out-of-state sources, while Mr. Ehrlich collected about 17 percent of his funds from outside Maryland. Beyond Washington, New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles were the top three veins mined for out-of-state money.

Within the state, Baltimore County provided both gubernatorial candidates with the most money of any single jurisdiction, but the Washington metropolitan area accounted for about 30 percent of their funds.

What lessons might we draw from the fundraising results four years ago for this year's possible rematch?

First, having a Republican with significant statewide appeal like Mr. Ehrlich in the race automatically ups the ante for Governor O'Malley. With apologies to former Republican nominees Ellen Sauerbrey and William Shepard, the reason 2006 fundraising obliterated totals in previous cycles was that Mr. Ehrlich in 2002, and again as an incumbent in 2006, was the most competitive candidate for Maryland Republicans in perhaps a half-century. (Because Spiro Agnew won in 1966 in an odd three-way race, one must look all the way back to Theodore McKeldin in the 1950s to find a comparable Republican.)

Second, because of the recession, donors may be clutching their wallets a little tighter this cycle. Although Governor O'Malley raised more than $4 million in 2009, he might not reach his total from four years ago. And if former Governor Ehrlich does jump in, he will have a tough time duplicating his record 2006 total, which he raised during the course of four full years in office and with all the advantages of incumbency. Although Mr. Ehrlich should have enough cash to be competitive, he may be at a fundraising disadvantage this time around against Mr. O'Malley.

Finally, get ready to be inundated with campaign advertisements. Both sides of the aisle may have less overall money to spend than they did four years ago, but if Mr. Ehrlich does throw his hat in the ring, Marylanders' televisions, radios and mailboxes will soon be flooded with political ads.

The country may be in a recession, but deep-pocketed Marylanders will still pony up for what could be a titanic, Ehrlich-O'Malley rematch.

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is schaller67@gmail.com.

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