Monday, June 22, 2009

Is O’Malley Vulnerable?

The Baltimore Sun recently reported on possible primary challenges to Governor Martin O’Malley, an event that drew cheers from the conservative blogosphere. The mainstream media wants an exciting race to cover and the GOP desperately wants to get rid of the incumbent Governor. So is O’Malley vulnerable?

Of course not, silly! Martin O’Malley is not going anywhere. Here’s why.

1. Money

Between 11/3/04 (the day after his last mayoral victory in Baltimore) and 11/7/06 (the day he defeated Governor Bob Ehrlich), O’Malley raised $10.9 million in contributions. The O’Malley-Brown Committee Slate raised an additional $1.6 million over that period. The Democratic State Central Committee raised $2.2 million. Ehrlich raised $13.2 million – more than O’Malley – and still lost. As of January 2009, O’Malley had over $1 million in the bank. Former Governor Ehrlich had just $151,529.

Any effort to overthrow O’Malley by a member of either party would require millions of dollars just to be competitive. Unless a multi-millionaire was willing to self-finance, that funding will be extremely difficult to obtain. And don’t forget O’Malley’s faithful lieutenants: Senate President Mike “Big Daddy” Miller and the rest of the General Assembly leadership. If any of the state’s major interest groups tried to finance an opponent of O’Malley, they would find their entire legislative agenda quickly shut down.

2. Poll Findings

While Martin O’Malley may not be hugely popular, he is not especially weak among the public. Here are his poll results from Gonzales Research:

O’Malley bottomed out in March 2008, immediately after passage of the special session’s tax package, at a net negative 11 points in approval rating. His most recent net in January 2009 was plus 12. As of that month, he had a 65% approval rating among Democrats, a 59% approval rating among Independents and a 17% approval rating among Republicans. The GOP rank-and-file may detest O’Malley, but they are not numerous enough to get rid of him. And few serious contenders would primary an incumbent who starts with two-thirds of the voters in support.

3. Challengers

As of right now, the only challengers floating their names are former Calvert County Delegate George Owings, former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry and his successor, Jack Johnson. We agree with Marc Korman; none of them will be much more than a speed bump against O’Malley in a primary. Owings, a member of Governor Ehrlich’s cabinet, will find no traction among Democrats who still remember George W. Bush. Curry and Johnson start off with a solid base in Prince George’s County, home to more registered Democrats than any other Maryland jurisdiction. But the county’s reputation for low-performing schools, controversies in its police department and government corruption will cast a shadow over any resident politician in a statewide race. Only an Executive who actually made progress on the county’s problems would stand a chance. Neither Curry nor Johnson qualifies.

4. Montgomery County

In a Democratic primary, O’Malley starts with lots of support in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Any challenger would need to carry Montgomery County to have any shot at the Governor. That is extremely unlikely to happen. A fair number of county insiders gripe about O’Malley, especially over issues like money for school construction, the disparate treatment of funding for Baltimore’s Red Line and the Washington suburbs’ Purple Line, his handling of the ICC and various allegations of broken promises after the special session. Some even call him “the Governor of Baldamore.” But O’Malley held the line on teachers pensions, fully funded Geographic Cost of Education Index spending and did not target Montgomery for extra cuts in this year’s budget.

And let’s put the complaints of the insiders in perspective: NONE of them would dare challenge O’Malley publicly. Rank-and-file Democrats still, by and large, support him. Only ICC opponents resent him, and by themselves, they cannot turn the county against him. In short, only Attorney General Doug Gansler or former County Executive Doug Duncan would even have a hope of carrying Montgomery in a Democratic primary against O’Malley.

5. Watch the Big Guys

Maryland has many ambitious politicians who would love to be Governor. Of the most capable among them, none are preparing to take on O’Malley.

Doug Gansler led the state in fundraising last year. He has never had one bad word in public for O’Malley and appears to be biding his time for 2014. Comptroller Peter Franchot has been very quiet since we published our “Long Knives” series. He will have his hands full holding his current office against term-limited Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith. Doug Duncan is known to be unhappy with the state’s leadership, but he is undertaking none of the activities that are typically associated with a statewide campaign. And former Governor Ehrlich is putting on his best Mario Cuomo imitation rather than aggressively taking it to his 2006 rival.

Every one of these men has the resources to commission a poll. More than one probably has. And those polls will probably show the same result as Gonzales: O’Malley is currently strong enough among both Democrats and Independents to defeat any challenger. If O’Malley were truly vulnerable, all of these men would know it and one or more would be taking him on even as we write this. And they’re not.

Let’s face it: whether you like him or not, barring an economic or natural disaster, we are very likely to get four more years of Martin O’Malley as Governor.