“What he realizes is…the Democratic Party in this state is, in fact, a very diverse party, and home to a lot of conservative, white Democrats,” Eberly continues. “In most states, they have left the Democratic Party, but in Maryland they haven’t.”
Franchot’s recent schedule has featured frequent trips to two areas where such Democrats reside: western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
For his part, Gansler questions the notion that he targets the left.
“I’m an unabashed, pro-business, moderate centrist Democrat,” he says. “I’m fiscally conservative, yet I’m clearly progressive on a number of social issues. But as I’m saying that, I’m thinking: Well, I’m in favor of the death penalty for particularly egregious criminals who commit particularly egregious crimes. And that would not be considered particularly liberal.”
Even if he does emphasize his more liberal positions to appeal to a primary base, Gansler has the role of chief state law enforcement officer to inoculate himself from attacks in a general election. “That’s a really strong hand to play from,” Norris says.
Meanwhile, Ulman will have to decide whether to present himself as the de facto Baltimore candidate against a field of Washington suburbanites if a Baltimore-based contender fails to emerge.
“I do think there’s an opportunity in the Baltimore region,” Ulman says, “but I in no way minimize the importance of Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. I’ve got lots of friends and contacts in both of those.”
In 2014, Gansler will be 52 and Brown, 53. But Ulman will be only 40, and he doesn’t rule out a run at one of the other statewide offices.
In addition to geography, there’s also the question of whether Brown could unify and galvanize the African-American primary vote in a state that has the largest percentage of black residents outside of the Deep South—a state that has yet to elect an African-American to its top office.
Some see Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, the first African-American elected to that job, as playing a key role. Leggett, who plans to step down after 2014, foreclosed a run for governor last spring—preventing further fragmentation of the possible field of Montgomery County contenders, but also likely ensuring that there will not be more than one African-American in the race.
A Leggett endorsement could be significant in Montgomery County, where more than 17 percent of the population is African-American, as well as statewide. Will he make such an endorsement? “It is probable that I would,” Leggett says. “I have not made my mind up, and I have not indicated a preference at this time.”
Asked if either Franchot or Gansler could be coaxed out of the race, assuming both run, Leggett chuckles. “I’m not sure what process you would have to do that because you have very strong individuals,” he says. “I would simply say that it’s clear politically that candidates from the same region, same county…tend to create some difficulties for people from that jurisdiction to be elected. And this is no exception to that.”
Blair Lee IV doesn’t think Franchot will run. “I think it will be pretty much Gansler vs. Brown, and perhaps Ulman.” Noting that Franchot spent 20 years in the General Assembly before achieving higher office, Lee adds: “I think he understands that lightning struck once in 2006, that it might not strike again, and I think he will be content to be Louie Goldstein for the rest of his life.”
Goldstein spent four decades as Maryland’s comptroller before his death in 1998, as the position carries no term limit. “Louie Goldstein created a very nice model,” Franchot muses. “Under him, governors came and governors went, and, at the end of his career, Louie Goldstein was the most beloved political figure in Maryland history. At his funeral, it was like burying the king of England.”
Might he follow that model? Franchot quietly answers yes. But he doesn’t sound particularly convincing.
Louis Peck, a Washington-based journalist for the past three decades, has covered politics extensively at the local, state and national level. He lives in Bethesda.