Attorney General Doug Gansler, who spent eight years working in Rockville as state’s attorney, will open a field office there Sunday — the latest of nine such outposts Gansler is establishing around the state in his bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
The establishment of the Rockville office follows the opening of a similar outpost last weekend in Prince George’s County, home base of his chief rival, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. Gansler’s comments at that event bluntly questioned Brown’s efforts on behalf of Prince George’s, and triggered a multi-day round of sniping between the two sides after first being reported in the Washington Post..
But the latest instance of Gansler’s in-your-face tactics raises a question of larger political significance: How effective have he and Brown have been in securing support in their respective home counties, where strong showings are key to their chances for success in the June primary?
A comparison of recent endorsements shows Gansler and Brown in roughly equivalent positions among their home county delegations in Annapolis. Gansler has the backing of 16 of Montgomery County’s 32-member General Assembly contingent, with four senators (Brian Feldman of Potomac, Jennie Forehand of Rockville, Richard Madaleno of Kensington, and Karen Montgomery of Brookeville) and 12 delegates publicly behind him. By the same token, Brown has the backing of 15 members (five senators, 10 delegates) from among the 30-member Prince George’s delegation.
Gansler, whose running mate is Delegate Jolene Ivey of Prince George’s, plans to release a list of endorsements from other Prince George’s state legislators and countywide officials soon, according to a campaign spokeswoman. Meanwhile, Brown has made inroads in Montgomery, picking up the backing of five members of the county’s state legislative delegation – including Sen. Nancy King of Montgomery Village, who cites her friendship with Brown dating back to their service together in the House of Delegates.
There is, however, a striking disparity in the level of support for Brown and Gansler among their home county councils: While Brown has the public backing of six of the nine members of the Prince Georges Council, Gansler has yet to attract the endorsement of a single member of the Montgomery council.
In fact, Brown has picked off three members of the Montgomery council (President Craig Rice and Councilmembers Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer). Two others, Councilmembers Phil Andrews, who is running for county executive, and George Leventhal indicated they do not plan to endorse a gubernatorial candidate before the primary. “I respect all the candidates, [but] I don’t see how my constituency benefits from my making an endorsement,” said Leventhal.
A perceived lack of enthusiasm among many in the county’s primary electorate over the current gubernatorial field (highlighted by the recent speculation about a possible 11th hour entry by U.S. Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac) may help explain why some elected officials are in no rush to get off the fence. “I’m not hearing a lot of excitement, one way or another,” observed Councilmember Nancy Floreen, whose endorsement is one of four still in play on the Montgomery council.
Councilmember Marc Elrich, another of the neutrals members, said he is still awaiting a fuller discussion of key issues. “Nobody has had a full-scale debate,” Elrich said. “I don’t feel a wild urge to make up my mind right now.”
Privately, it appears that policy differences are keeping some officials in the state’s most avowedly liberal jurisdiction from embracing native son Gansler, a long-time death penalty supporter who more recently has called for a corporate tax cut.
But personal relationships, intertwined with under-the-dome politics in Annapolis, also are coming into play.
Sen. Jamie Raskin, who chairs the Montgomery Senate delegation, has known Gansler since high school, and chaired Gansler’s campaign when the latter ran for state’s attorney. But Raskin also has known Brown since their days as Harvard University undergraduates, and has worked closely for the past eight years with the remaining aspirant in the Democratic gubernatorial race: Delegate Heather Mizeur, who, like Raskin, represents Silver Spring/Takoma Park-based District 20.
Raskin has not ruled out endorsing a candidate once the legislative session ends in April, but said “Part of my role as a state senator is to try to maintain cohesiveness and coherence within our delegation, and I take that responsibility very seriously.”
The remainder of the District 20 delegation, Delegates Sheila Hixson and Tom Hucker, are among the declared Brown supporters in the Montgomery County legislative contingent (along with Delegates Kirill Reznick of Germantown and Jeff Waldstreicher of Kensington).
While Hixson’s and Hucker’s moves are said to have created bruised relations with District 20 colleague Mizeur, Hucker has long-time ties to organized labor, which has largely lined up behind Brown. Hixson chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee – putting her close to House Speaker Michael Busch, a leading Brown supporter.
“We’re a small state, and these primary fights are awkward for people,” mused Raskin. “And this one is particularly awkward for me.”
Gansler and running mate Ivey are slated to appear at the opening of their Rockville field office at 326 North Stonestreet Avenue, Suite A2, from 1-2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 16.