Brown attacks on Hogan seem shady, even desperate

Democratic front-runner's counter-strategy suggests a close race

  • GOP candidate Larry Hogan (left) shakes hands with Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown before a gubernatorial candidate's forum at Charlestown Retirement community.
GOP candidate Larry Hogan (left) shakes hands with Lt. Gov.… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
September 30, 2014|Dan Rodricks

I went on YouTube to watch a gruesome video of a wild animal called a fisher, or fisher cat, attacking a silver fox — someone told me it would be educational, if you must know why — but I had to watch Anthony Brown tear into Larry Hogan first.

It was a 30-second political ad that opened with a question: "Who is Larry Hogan?" and went on to say Hogan, the Republican candidate for governor in November's general election, opposes a woman's right to choose an abortion, even in the case of rape or incest.

Of course, Hogan had positions like that more than 30 years ago, so the ad, employing the present tense, stretched things to make Hogan sound "dangerous" for Maryland in 2014.

Going back three decades to find material for attack ads strikes me as shady and even a little desperate.

And, given Brown's mostly positive, mostly inspiring campaign ads before the primary, his big win in June, and his front-runner status as the Democratic candidate in one of the bluest states in the nation, you wonder what's going on here.

Hogan seems to have a sound strategy: Stay away from divisive social issues and focus on the economy. Keep telling people taxes are too high, that businesses are fleeing the state, that the budget needs a fix. Promise to avoid the emotional stuff — guns and abortion, for instance — because those battles have been exhausted and most people, particularly the independent voters you need to win, aren't interested in extreme ideology. They're interested in electing a competent person with a moderate approach to governance.

I heard Hogan say essentially this in a couple of interviews before the primary. He was all business. He sounded like the guy you hire for a job in your kitchen; he works for Just Cabinets, and that's all he does. He won't paint an elaborate mural of Bacchus because that's not his thing, and because the only person he knew with a name like that was the guy who played Thurston Howell III on "Gilligan's Island."

Hogan is not trying to win a congressional seat in red-meat Texas. He's trying to become governor in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1.

So, no Bacchus mural. Keep it simple. It's the economy, stupid.

Nobody asked me, but, given Hogan's underdog status, his strategy sounded like the way to go.

What's strange is the counter-strategy, the reaction from the people running the campaign of his Democratic rival, Brown, the two-term lieutenant governor.

They've decided to bring up the kind of stuff Hogan wants to avoid, and they've reached back, in the case of abortion and other issues, three decades to find material to depict Hogan as an extreme conservative.

Now, it's all fair game and even somewhat amusing — if not thoroughly uninspiring — to watch. I mean: Have at it.

But, after daily doses of statements about how Hogan is "dangerous" and "hiding from his past," you start to wonder: What's up with all that Brown negativity? The lieutenant has so much going for him — he's a Democrat in a blue state; he should have a well-funded campaign; he has good looks and the force of history as potentially Maryland's first African-American governor. What's he doing shooting spitballs at Hogan nearly every day?

One of several press releases showed up from the Brown campaign, with the headline: "Why is Hogan Getting Away With Denying His Past?"

And then this arrived: "New Brown-Ulman video Holds Larry Hogan Accountable for Opposing Common-Sense Background Checks and a Ban on Assault Rifles and High Capacity Magazines," and

"Hogan supports a Dangerous Agenda for Maryland."

As I said, it's all fair game.

But I asked Jared Smith, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, why Brown felt a need go on the attack against Hogan.

"Voters deserve to know the truth about Larry Hogan's conservative record," he said. "If Larry Hogan refuses to put out a single policy paper and refuses to give any details about his agenda and what he would do as governor, then we will — based on his words, his record and his years of advancing a conservative ideology."

OK, but that sounds like the kind of thing you do when you have a poll showing your opponent riding too close to your bumper. You have to put a little distance between you and the other guy by dropping a few nails in the road, or by leaving an oil slick, which was the really cool thing James Bond did in that chase scene in "Goldfinger." The bad guys who were shooting at Bond hit the slick and their car went over a cliff and exploded.

Hogan didn't explode, but he overreacted, calling Brown's "the most deceitful, most dishonest campaign that I have ever witnessed in my entire life."

Nobody asked me, but Hogan has to keep his cool through these attacks, and stick with his original strategy and message. Otherwise, he starts to sound as desperate as Brown, oddly, has started to look.

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