- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2011

The only thing anyone seems to know right now about Maryland’s 2014 governor’s race is that it could be the most wide open in recent memory.

A slew of candidates could vie to replace Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who will be forced out after a maximum second term. The most likely contenders are three statewide Democrats who have already crafted identities, connections and policies that could get them to the governor’s mansion in 2014.

Political analysts have predicted the battle could divide politicians and supporters into many camps, potentially leaving the winner with the task of reuniting a divided state.

“It’s going to be a very, very bloody battle and whoever wins is going to have to reunify the Democratic coalition,” said Todd Eberly, acting director of the St. Mary’s College Center for the Study of Democracy.

“If it fractures in the primary, you’ve got to bring the state together,” he said.

Candidates have been tight-lipped about their intentions, with more than three years remaining before the primary elections. Nonetheless, much of the gubernatorial buzz has centered on three Democrats — Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.

While none of the three has spoken openly of their candidacy — and declined to do so with The Washington Times — they have all worked of late to distinguish themselves from each other and to boost their political profiles.

Mr. Brown — a former two-term delegate — has worked closely with former colleagues on legislation, while Mr. Gansler has been outspoken on the environment and gay marriage. Mr. Franchot, who spent 20 years in the House, has crafted an image as a relative fiscal conservative in the largely Democratic state.

Mr. Brown’s work could bring him valuable connections and endorsements, while Mr. Gansler’s support of progressive causes could help in a Democratic primary — where more liberal voters often turn out in large numbers. And Mr. Franchot’s efforts to reel in spending could win over moderate voters.

The three could be joined by candidates such as former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., and current Howard County Executive Kenneth S. Ulman.

The two might hold a historical edge over other candidates, considering county executives have traditionally fared best in gubernatorial races. Three of the last four governors were mayors or county executives, while no lieutenant governor has ever been elected to the lead the state.

No former comptroller has been elected since 1958 and no former attorney general since 1946.

“You’re either going to have very successful local legislators or people with executive experience,” said Theodore Sheckels, a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., and a Maryland political historian. “Lately, it seems to be going more in the county executive or mayor’s direction.”

Mr. O’Malley himself has been rumored to have his eyes on national office, and could seek the presidency in 2016. He stands to leave Annapolis in January 2015, which would allow him to dive right into campaigning.

“He wants to be president. There’s no question,” Mr. Eberly said. “He’s posturing, he’s picking fights with [Republican New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie. I don’t see any other path that he’s considering.”

While Democrats have a deep bench from which to pick a possible successor, the same cannot be said for Republicans. Maryland has had just one Republican governor since 1969 — Robert L. Ehrlich Jr, , who served from 2003 to 2007 and fought bitterly with many Democrats throughout his tenure.

Mr. Ehrlich’s 2002 victory may have been owned in part to a Democratic candidate, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who had never won elected office prior to two terms as lieutenant governor and was seen by many as a lackluster candidate.

After losing the past two elections, Mr. Ehrlich has said he all but surely will not run again.

Potential Republican candidates in 2014 include Brian Murphy — a young Montgomery County businessman who received 25 percent of the vote in a 2010 governor’s primary loss to Mr. Ehrlich — and Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., who served as secretary of appointments under Mr. Ehrlich.

Other candidates could include 2010 Ehrlich running mate Mary Kane or Charles County Republican Charles Lollar.

Mr. Eberly said Republicans have a lot of work to do toward cultivating a viable candidate, and that such a candidate might have to actively court moderate voters.

Said Mr. Sheckels: “Things happen so quickly in politics that it wouldn’t surprise me if one emerges. There’s always a way back. Voters are fickle and will eventually want to see what’s on the other side.”

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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