At a meet-and-greet for Sen. Brian Frosh this past Sunday in Baltimore’s Roland Park neighborhood, Delegate Maggie McIntosh – who represents the area in Annapolis — wasted no time addressing the major hurdle facing Frosh’s bid for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.
“First and foremost, Brian has an uphill battle for no good reason – he’s running against a name.” McIntosh declared. “It’s an important office, and we have to overcome a familiar name. We really do.”
That “familiar name” is Cardin. As Frosh himself put it later Sunday at a second Baltimore meet-and-greet: “My opponent’s name is Jon Cardin. He’s not a United States senator, but he has a great last name – and people think they’re voting for his uncle sometimes.” Indeed, recent polls indicate many voters this year are not drawing a distinction – at least not yet — between Delegate Jon Cardin of Baltimore County, and his uncle, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.
How Frosh goes about drawing such distinctions in the three months left before the June 24 primary will help determine whether a long career in elected office – dating back to his 1986 election to the House of Delegates in Bethesda-based District 16 – continues.
It could be tricky. “[Frosh] has got to figure out some way to mount a ‘Cardin is not Cardin’ campaign,” said Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College. “You basically have to let people know who the guy is — and who he isn’t. But given the fact that the Cardin name is respected and liked, I think trying to go negative backfires.”
In nearly three decades in Annapolis — the past 20 in the Senate – Frosh has amassed a distinguished legislative record that has won him the endorsement this year of what he characterized as a “supermajority” of his Senate colleagues. McIntosh is among five of six House of Delegate committee chairs who are backing him.
But, having never before appeared on the ballot outside of District 16, Frosh is well short of a household name among the statewide electorate – notwithstanding that he has been running unofficially for attorney general for almost 18 months. Recent polls by the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post have him mired in single digits.
“The biggest thing we have to accomplish is to get my name out, to get my qualifications out,” Frosh acknowledged during an interview this week in his Bethesda law office. But even as some supporters are restive – privately wondering why Frosh has not taken advantage of his 2-1 lead over Cardin in fundraising to run targeted ads to boost his name ID – Frosh appears confident there is ample time remaining.
“It’s still early – the thing about the attorney general’s race is that it’s under the radar for almost everybody,” he said. “People are just now beginning to focus on the fact that there’s a gubernatorial election. And they don’t start thinking about the down-ballot races until it gets very close to the election.
“And so it makes sense to tailor the media outreach to…when people are focusing on the race,” he added. While declining to discuss media strategy in detail, he suggested his campaign will not be on the air before May – less than two months prior to the primary – with paid advertising.
Recent polls, putting Cardin in the lead with between 18 and 22 percent of the Democratic primary vote, also show up to two-thirds of the electorate to be undecided. As of Jan. 8, when incumbent legislators were restricted from fundraising until the end of the three-month legislative session, Frosh had almost $800,000 in his campaign treasury, compared to $375,000 for Cardin. But, once fundraising resumes with the end of the session next month, the polls could help Cardin play catch-up.
However, in addition to endorsements from much of the state’s Democratic establishment, Frosh also has lined up the support of virtually all of the state’s labor unions and leading advocacy groups, who traditionally make a major push to see that their members vote on Primary Day.
“Everybody who has compared us, who has met us both, has come to my support,” Frosh said, referring to himself and Cardin.
If Frosh, 67, is running against a name, Cardin, 44, seems intent on demonstating that he is more than just that.
“If I have a very well-respected last name, I am greatly appreciative of the…mentorship and the counsel of my uncle,” Cardin said in a telephone interview. “Be that as it may, I have been in the Legislature now for 12 years. I would venture to say that I have done some tremendous legwork on legislation and policy initiatives that have helped me to promote my own vision [for the office of attorney general].”
Frosh may be up against not only a name, but political geography as well: Among the major Democratic contenders for governor and attorney general this year, Cardin is the only Baltimore-based candidate.
Cardin appears hopeful regional loyalty will give him a boost. “Every single Marylander needs to feel as if his voice is being heard,” he said. “I believe one of the ways we deal with that is a diversity of regions being represented — and a diversity of interests.”
There is a third candidate in the contest: Prince Georges County Delegate Aisha Braveboy, chair of the Black Legislative Caucus. She had a mere $43,000 in her campaign treasury as of early January, prior to three-month fundraising freeze on incumbent legislators. But the recent Post poll put her second behind Cardin, at 12 percent, and running well in her home county – potentially complicating Frosh’s efforts to solidify a base in the Washington region.
A fourth candidate, District 16 Delegate Bill Frick, dropped out of the attorney general contest last month to seek re-election. Frosh and Frick, whose relationship was clearly strained by their rivalry in the attorney general race, spoke recently.
Frosh said the possibility of a public endorsement from Frick was not discussed, adding, “We just re-established a good, cordial, friendly relationship.”
Said Frick: “It was a personal conversation between two people who were really close once. That was the important part.”