Monday, June 01, 2009

Primary Challenges?

By Marc Korman.

Statewide, most of the discussion of the 2010 Primaries revolves around whether Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith will challenge Comptroller Peter Franchot. But two Democrats have recently made noise about challenging Governor Martin O’Malley as well: Former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry and Former Delegate and state Veterans Affairs Secretary George W. Owings III.

Each potential candidate has their own constituency and political base, but either one would have an uphill climb. A January 2009 poll by Gonzalez Research & Marketing Strategies pegged O’Malley’s approval rating among Democrats at 65%, compared to 49% over all. At O’Malley’s low of 37% approval in March 2008, his approval rating among Democrats was 48%.

Owings served as a Delegate from Calvert County until 2002, when he moved to Governor Ehrlich’s administration as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Owings claims to speak for “solid, working-class Democrats.” His base of Calvert County is a growing force in the Maryland Democratic Party. The County picked up 3,000 registered Democrats from 2004 to 2008 and Obama improved on John Kerry’s performance, drawing 46.1% of the vote compared to Kerry’s 40.6%. O’Malley lost Calvert in the 2006 general election, but he did improve on Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s vote total by about 3,000 votes.

Wayne Curry served as County Executive in Prince George’s from 1994 to 2002. Since then, he has been rumored for numerous campaigns in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. In 2006, he very publicly floated with the possibility of crossing party lines to take Michael Steele’s place as Ehrlich’s running mate. Curry also endorsed Steele in his U.S. Senate race, a move that did little to help the candidate against Ben Cardin.

Both Curry and Owings would have almost no choice but to challenge O’Malley from the right, given their records. Owings would likely try to draw more moderate white Democrats with a populist message. Curry would be attempting to attract African American Democrats. His message is not as obvious, but he could try to draw more conservative, church going African Americans from the incumbent. The black vote makes up a substantial percentage of the Democratic vote in Maryland and is a necessary ingredient to any Democratic victory.

There has not been a contested Democratic Gubernatorial Primary in Maryland in many years to offer a meaningful comparison, but the odds that either of these candidates has a real shot at O’Malley are pretty long. Primaries tend to bring out base voters, so challenging a candidate from the right in a Democratic Primary is not a winning strategy. That is especially the case in Maryland, where a more moderate candidate will have difficulty painting a progressive Democrat as unelectable.

O’Malley’s running mate will also likely remain Anthony Brown and he was twice elected Mayor of a majority black city. Curry could probably draw some African American votes from the Governor, but a broad shift from O’Malley to Curry seems unlikely absent some new event.

Will either Owings or Curry jump into the race given all these facts? The months ahead will tell.