Friday, September 03, 2010

Primaries to Watch V, Part Five

By Marc Korman and Adam Pagnucco.

Here are the Top Two Primaries to Watch!

2. District 19 State Senate
Previous Rank: #2

When Delegate Roger Manno first challenged incumbent State Senator Mike Lenett, there was lots of talk about dueling slates and in our last “Primaries to Watch” installment Adam talked about a possible endorsement by Ben Kramer. But it turns out that most of the other folks on the ballot in District 19 do not want to touch this increasingly bitter personality clash with a ten foot pole. I am going to act similarly and leave it at that.

Take two starving animals, file their claws to razor sharpness, throw them in a cage with a small piece of meat and pull up a seat. But first, have them watch Mike Lenett and Roger Manno so they can see what a real fight looks like.

This race has seen it all: baseball bats, a slime website, an independent mailer and even firearms. Lenett and Manno have almost identical policy positions, so as David Lublin told the Gazette, races like this “become highly personal because the difference between these candidates is relatively small.” Both men finished first in their respective races last time and each has a chance to win, but my sources are starting to lean towards Lenett. Here’s why.

1. Lenett is the incumbent and Manno needs to state a compelling reason for why voters need to kick him out. Saqib Ali and Cheryl Kagan are going after the incumbents they are challenging on the basis of their votes. Manno’s two negative pieces slam Lenett for allegedly stealing other people’s ideas. This is an inside-Annapolis argument that may not resonate with voters.

2. Leisure World HATES negative mail, a fact that was on full display in last year’s Council District 4 special election. In 2008, Don Praisner beat Nancy Navarro in Leisure World by 476-323 votes, or a 47-32% margin. In 2009, Navarro sent out three negative mailers against Ben Kramer and he raised hell over them. Kramer lost the race, but he walloped Navarro in Leisure World by 798-280 votes, or a 67-24% margin. Yes, there were other reasons for Kramer’s performance, but every spy I had who had knowledge of Leisure World said Navarro’s negative mail backfired there. Manno’s baseball bat mailer could backfire there too.

3. MCEA is going to be out in full force on primary day passing out Apple Ballots with Bonnie Cullison’s name on them. Those Apples are also going to promote Lenett. Manno has the Post endorsement, but extra help from MCEA will benefit the incumbent.

4. While both candidates have lots of money, Lenett has a little more, and he could very well swarm the mailboxes at the end.

5. Delegate Ben Kramer has a much better personal relationship with Manno than Lenett. If he had endorsed Manno, he could have helped Manno win Leisure World and Kemp Mill. But Kramer has stayed out of the Senate race, depriving Manno of important help.

Manno’s supporters make some good points on behalf of their candidate. They say that the Post endorsement might mean more in District 19 than the Apple, especially in Leisure World. They believe that Manno’s very likable personality will wear better on voters than Lenett. And they point to Manno’s maniacal door-knocking, substantial grass-roots base and his backing by Delegate Hank Heller, former Senator Len Teitelbaum and former Delegates Adrienne Mandel and Carol Petzold.

All of this is true, but the preponderance of the evidence suggests every so slightly that the race may be headed Lenett’s way.

1. District 39 State Senate
Previous Rank: #1

You have to laugh when you hear Delegate Saqib Ali and his supporters complain about Senator Nancy King going negative. The challenger has run a relentless three-year campaign against King, sometimes based on legitimate policy differences but always designed to promote his inevitable State Senate candidacy. King is getting ample support from Mike Miller and friends. Her message in the mailboxes is much better than her message at little-watched, though highly analyzed, debates. King is no doubt right that Ali would be an outsider in the State Senate, but Ali is more in touch with Democratic Primary voters than King on specific votes.

We will see on September 14th who can pull themselves out of the gutter and head back to Annapolis. If it is Nancy King, does anyone want to take bets on when Ali’s 2014 campaign begins?

It’s worth remembering a few things about Saqib Ali and Nancy King before this contest went the way of Big Daddy and the Seven Dwarfs.

Saqib Ali ran a brilliant campaign in 2006, knocked out incumbent Delegate Joan Stern and was the freshest of fresh faces when he arrived in Annapolis. Most politicians present a bland persona to the public, seeking to display themselves in the least offensive way so as not to make enemies. Ali’s genius is that he understands that voters prefer politicians who act like real, live, appealing people. As he reached out to supporters, friends and well-wishers through social media, he attracted allegiance from people who felt that he was one of them – not just in terms of his progressive positions, but also as a human being who was willing to listen and willing to laugh. Despite his unpopularity in Annapolis, I have always liked Saqib Ali for these qualities and his ability to bring new people into politics.

Nancy King is not one of those people who was determined to run for office straight out of the womb. She worked her way up the ranks, from the Montgomery Village Foundation and the PTAs to the Board of Education and then on to Annapolis. If P.J. Hogan had not retired, King would have been perfectly content to serve as Delegate until her time to leave had come. As a legislator, she has been anything but the conservative Republican portrayed by Ali’s campaign. If she was, she would never have been endorsed by MCEA, SEIU, Equality Maryland and other progressive organizations. Sure, Ali is more liberal, but that does not make King a conservative – she is indeed a moderate Democrat. Finally, while I like Ali, I also like Nancy King very much. She is responsive, forthright and unpretentious – an unusual combination for a politician.

So am I going to scold these two for going negative? Absolutely not. Both candidates know exactly what they’re doing and are making their choices with eyes wide open. They understand the risks and benefits of their attacks. They probably understand the damage that each of their reputations will suffer in the eyes of some voters. But they have decided to do what it takes to win, and damn the consequences.

So who will survive? The race will turn on two questions. First, will Ali’s ground game be enough to make up for King’s deeper roots in the district? Or will he be so distracted by her mail that he will lose his focus? And second, whose negative attacks will be more effective? King seems to have the edge on both counts right now, but low turnout, ferocious mail and huge resources on both sides make this contest a bit unpredictable.

No matter who wins, this will go down as one of the nastiest MoCo races of all time!