Friday, July 16, 2010

Primaries to Watch IV, Part Five

By Marc Korman and Adam Pagnucco.

Here are the Top Two Primaries to Watch!

2. District 19 State Senate
Previous Rank: #3

My view on this race has evolved since our last installment. Manno has been extremely aggressive in lining up district-based support and going after endorsements. Although he did not get the Apple Ballot, his letter campaign to try to force the teachers into supporting him showed some strength. There is not a great issue-based rationale for choosing Manno over Lenett or vice versa. Manno is trying to make the race about personality and leadership. As I have said before, Lenett will work hard to keep his seat. These are two ambitious guys who have a lot more in common than they care to admit.

Under normal circumstances, an incumbent like Mike Lenett would not be endangered. He has a lot of money, works the district hard, has a good base of support and has a liberal voting record that will appeal to MoCo Democratic primary voters. Incumbents get into trouble for being lazy, making lots of enemies at home or voting against their districts. Lenett has committed none of those sins. All of this plus his intelligence, energy and institutional support make him a very formidable incumbent.

But Roger Manno is not an ordinary challenger. He has many of the same advantages that Lenett possesses: good financing, a base inside the district, campaign know-how and more endorsements than challengers usually get. Manno is also a very likable liberal who wears his heart on his sleeve and tends to attract true believers to his cause. Lenett’s task is to thwart Manno’s personal appeal. Manno’s task is to establish a contrast with an incumbent who agrees with him on almost every issue. Our informants are divided right down the middle on who will win and that makes this an exciting race.

The X-Factor could be Delegate Ben Kramer, who is running for reelection. Kramer and Manno are something of an Odd Couple. They share a suite in Annapolis and occasionally disagree on issues, but they have established a very constructive working relationship. Your author has never heard of one disparaging the other. Kramer does not have that sort of relationship with Lenett. Kramer is very strong in Leisure World, where he crushed Nancy Navarro in last year’s special election, and in Kemp Mill, where he grew up. If Kramer throws in for Manno and helps him win Leisure World and Kemp Mill, Lenett will have to pull out all the stops to triumph.

1. District 39 State Senate
Previous Rank: #2

Nancy King just does not get it. Saqib Ali has been running against her since 2007 when she beat him for the State Senate appointment. Yet King seemed to hope against hope that Ali would not run. When I asked one of her supporters about her comments to the Washington Grove Town Council about the BOAST Bill, I was assured the reason for her lapse was because it was a few months ago before the race began. A few months ago? Ali has been running for three years, yet King seemed ill-prepared in fundraising or message.

She is finally building a serious campaign but really needs to focus on her message. Ali knows how to pick apart every vote and clearly differentiate himself as a progressive from the moderate incumbent. In a Democratic primary, that matters and King needs to understand that if she is going to return to Annapolis.

There is no doubt about it: Saqib Ali is a very talented candidate. He understands every facet of campaign operations: motivating volunteers, managing a field operation, planning and staging his mail, raising money and of course working old and new media. He already has three district-wide mailers out and has moved from biography to contrast. He will have all the resources he needs for more mailers, more door lit and more of anything he believes is necessary to win. The one thing he needs to guard against is a tendency to go overboard against his opponent.

Nancy King is a better public servant than a politician. She draws considerable respect from other elected officials and the educational community, which she served as a school board member for two terms. In person, she is an easy-going, gracious lady from upstate New York who is a good listener and never comes across as a self-promoter. She is also not the conservative knuckle-dragger that Ali is trying to define her as.

But that definition battle is the story of the campaign so far. Ali is very actively defining himself as the progressive and King as the conservative. King does not seem to be trying to define either of them. It is not necessary for King to respond to every one of Ali’s attacks, but her surrogates should rally to her defense. Where are her teammates, Delegates Charles Barkley and Kirill Reznik? Where are her long-time supporters inside the district? When Ali goes after King on education, why not ask MCEA to do a robocall defending King? And why not put Ali on the defensive? His record in Annapolis contains as many opportunities for mischief as does King’s.

Two months ago, the consensus was that King was the favorite. Now an increasing number of our sources are predicting an Ali victory, though they are not a majority. Anything – ANYTHING – could happen in this race, and that is why it is our Number One Primary to Watch.

That’s all for now, folks!