How Often Will Anthony Brown Be Back To Montgomery County?

It Depends On How Crowded The Governor's Race Gets

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The sun came out in Silver Spring late last Saturday morning, just in time for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s arrival in Veterans Plaza on Day 2 of his newly announced gubernatorial bid.

It was Brown’s second appearance in Montgomery County in less than 24 hours, and robo-calls from the Brown campaign had sought to gin up attendance at the Silver Spring rally. Meanwhile, County Councilmember Valerie Erwin, who represents the district in which Brown was appearing, sent out an email declaring of the two-term lieutenant governor, “I believe in his vision for a better Maryland for all Marylanders, and I hope that you will take this opportunity to speak with Anthony about Maryland’s future.”

Did all of this presage a significant effort by Brown to compete for votes in  a county that is home to Attorney General Douglas Gansler, Brown’s unannounced but leading rival in next year’s Democratic primary, and also the political base of state Delegate Heather Mizeur, another potential gubernatorial contender?

“Certainly, I’m going to come back to Silver Spring. I’d like to spend time in Bethesda,” Brown said in a brief interview Saturday, when asked how the state’s largest county (home to just over 17 percent of the state’s registered Democratic voters) figured into his campaign plans.

But just how often Brown returns to Montgomery County between now and the June 2014 primary is likely to turn on the ultimate size of the Democratic gubernatorial field; i.e., whether it ends up as a one-on-one between Brown and Gansler, or whether some combination of Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (reported to be in negotiations to join the Brown ticket as the lieutenant gubernatorial candidate), U.S. Rep. C.A. (Dutch) Ruppersberger of Baltimore County and Mizeur get in as well.

While Maryland consists of 24 major jurisdictions – 23 counties and the city of Baltimore – more than two-thirds of registered Democrats are concentrated in just four of them: Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince Georges counties, along with Baltimore city.

Brown – who, if elected, would become Maryland’s first black chief executive and only the fourth African-American governor nationwide since Reconstruction – starts with a overwhelming advantage in Prince Georges, his home county, and Baltimore city. Both have a population of which a large majority is African-American, and nearly 37 percent of the state’s registered Democrats reside in those two jurisdictions alone.

Consequently, a strong showing in just those places could deliver the bulk of the votes needed to win in a multi-candidate field. “I’ve been making the argument for some time that demographics pretty much guarantee, that, if the Democratic primary has more than two people in the race, Anthony Brown is pretty much unbeatable,” said Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College and a close observer of Maryland politics.

But that equation could change if the field narrows.

“I would suspect the Brown campaign has two sets of numbers and metrics that they’re working off,” added Eberly. “If it’s three or four people in the race, it’s a case of ‘We need to hit the targets we know we’re going to hit in Prince Georges and Baltimore city, and the rest of it will probably take care of itself.’…If it’s a straight up Brown vs. Gansler race, they might need to do a little more work in some areas [such as] Montgomery County.”

Brown appeared to be anticipating the possibility of the latter scenario during his appearance in Silver Spring.

“We are going to get that Purple Line, aren’t we?” he shouted, to cheers. It could be viewed as a dig at Gansler, who recently has been critical of the gas tax increase pushed through the General Assembly by Brown’s current boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley. But that increase has been welcomed by Montgomery County officials as integral to building the Purple Line and other transit projects.

Even the 2008 water main break on River Road in Potomac got a shout-out as Brown hammered at the infrastructure theme.

“River Road ought to be just that – a road, and not a river when a water main breaks,” he asserted. “We need to get back to investing in infrastructure. Those are the investments that create opportunities in Maryland.”

Such localized hat-tips aside, the appearance illustrated some of the hurdles facing Brown here. Notwithstanding the robo-calling, the event attracted a crowd of little more than 100. Most of the handful of elected officials in attendance – state Delegate Tom Hucker, County Councilmember George Leventhal, and Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams – indicated they were there as a courtesy, and that their presence did not signal an endorsement. (The one local elected official present who said he is endorsing Brown, Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman, is also a deputy secretary of state in the O’Malley/Brown administration.)  

County Executive Isiah Leggett, who was not there Saturday, said in a 2011 interview that it was “probable” that he would make an endorsement in the coming gubernatorial race. Leggett is said to still be intending to do so, sometime after he sorts out his own political future.

As the county’s first African-American chief executive, it would not come as a surprise to many if he were to line up behind Brown. If he were to back Gansler, it would put Leggett behind a candidate who hopes to become the first Montgomery County resident ever elected governor – while giving Gansler a boost in a county with an 18 percent black population (up by one-quarter over the past decade), and where non-Hispanic whites are now a minority.

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