Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why Maryland is Not New Jersey and Bob Ehrlich is not Chris Christie

By Marc Korman.

Former Governor Bob Ehrlich took a look at the election results in New Jersey and Virginia and liked what he saw. I think Bob Ehrlich should take a closer look before deluding himself further.

A Washington Post article after the November 3rd election quoted Ehrlich as saying the results were a “relevant event.” In particular, Ehrlich thinks that the defeat of incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine by Republican Chris Christie in New Jersey is a template for his own comeback.

Bob Ehrlich has always had a loose grip on the reality of his political situation. He was elected governor in 2002 with 52% of the vote in a huge year for Republicans against a Democrat who many believe ran one of the worst campaigns in Maryland history. Not surprisingly, Ehrlich was defeated four years later with 46% of the vote in a big year for Democrats. Since then, Ehrlich has flirted with a political comeback.

At a recent Woman’s Suburban Democratic Club event in Maryland, Governor O’Malley remarked that “contrary to what Bob Ehrlich thinks, I’m the only governor in the state.” Ehrlich has tended to act as though he is the Governor-in-exile. When the former governor spoke at my law school a few years ago, he brought staff with him, some of whom he knew before he was governor, who referred to him as Governor Ehrlich and who he turned to for assistance during the Q&A. This is not typical behavior of a former elected official. Ehrlich also continues to opine on the issues of the day on a radio program and has regularly tempted the Republican faithful with the possibility of another run.

Ehrlich’s belief that New Jersey holds any relevance for his own political future is a big mistake on his part. There are some tempting parallels. New Jersey is a state dominated by Democrats, just like Maryland. Obama won New Jersey and Maryland. A year out from Corzine’s defeat, he had an approval rating around 45%. O’Malley has a slightly higher 48%. A year before his defeat, Corzine led Christie 42% to 36% in the polls. A year before the next election, O’Malley leads Ehrlich 47% to 40%.

But Ehrlich should take stock of several differences. There are about 700,000 more registered Democrats in New Jersey than Republicans, but there are 600,000 more unaffiliated voters than Democrats. In Maryland, there are 1 million more Democrats than Republicans and under 500,000 unaffiliated voters. That means the built in Democratic advantage is much higher in Maryland than it is in New Jersey.

Obama did win both New Jersey and Maryland. Obama won 57% of the vote in New Jersey, improving on John Kerry’s 2004 performance by 4%. Obama won Maryland with a much higher 62%, improving on Kerry by 6%. Obama’s approval rating in New Jersey is 55%. Maryland gives Obama a stronger approval of 60%.

A year before his defeat, Corzine’s poll numbers were likely buoyed by Obama’s national popularity. His approval rating peaked in January of 2009 in the mid-40s and never recovered. Just after being elected, Corzine’s approval rating was an anemic 38% and never got much higher than 51%, back in 2007. O’Malley has seen some low approval ratings, with just 37% approving in early 2008. But his approval usually hovers between the high 40s and low 50s.

Ehrlich also does not have an advantage Christie had in New Jersey. Unlike the former US Attorney, Ehrlich has run for office before and been defeated. Christie was able to define himself to the voters. Ehrlich does not have that luxury, having been defined by four years of complete inaction in Annapolis and four terms in the US House.

Are there some potential similarities between New Jersey and Maryland? Sure. But if Bob Ehrlich is hanging his hat on the results of the New Jersey election to decide whether to run in 2010, I think he needs new political advisors.

Editor’s note: Marc wrote this piece before the email from O’Malley’s campaign manager was released.