Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Mfume and Maryland political calculus

Kweisi Mfume's hat in the 2006 Maryland Senate ring portends a few things for Maryland politics which shall be interesting to see play out. Here's how I see them impacting the potential candidates.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D): will now either be locked into the gubernatorial contest against Doug Duncan or will ultimately decide to bow out. He will not run for outgoing Senator Sarbanes's seat. Mfume should do quite well in his old congressional stomping ground of Baltimore City and in majority-black Prince George's County. Montgomery County, I think, might be more of an O'Malley stronghold in a primary race, but would the advantage for O'Malley there and throughout the rest of the state make up for a lack of support in Baltimore and Prince George's? Maybe, but the risk is high.

In this game, O'Malley would have to win over Democrats across the state, which he has to do anyway in a contest with Duncan. But the primary is in September, and leaves only two months to wound primary battle scars. I see those wounds being healed between the Duncan-O'Malley rift much more quickly and deeply than a Duncan-Mfume rift, particularly if Michael Steele aims to run for US Senate and runs a moderate campaign which keeps the GOP base on board but starts to woo substantial pluralities of black Democratic voters.

Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan (D): will run for Governor. Running against Mfume in the Senate seat will do him just as poorly in Baltimore and PG as O'Malley would do. Besids, Duncan is an executive by experience and at heart, and to top it off a very glib partisan. This glib partisanship serves well to energize the Democratic base to take down Ehrlich and could be moderated enough in time to sell to swing voters not as partisan vitriol but as a statesmanly disgust with poor leadership. Additionally, Duncan's helmsmanship of a economically prosperous, well-educated county could be a selling point as a model of what he could do for the entire state. So I fail to see any compelling reason Duncan would opt for the Senate race instead.

There's talk that Lt. Governor Michael Steele (R) or Governor Bob Ehrlich (R) may jump for the Senate bid, although I doubt either of them will do so. Ehrlich stands nothing to gain and everything to lose, especially since failing to run for reelection might lend credibility to a notion that Ehrlich hasn't now, and hasn't ever, had a vision for leading the state, and that he's only about climbing the political ladder regardless of the tangibility of his results in office. Plus, while it would leave Steele as heir apparent for the Republican nomination for Governor, it's uncertain that Steele would be able to win against either O'Malley or Duncan. Party leaders would most certainly be worried about the uncertainty and would have a strong say in keeping this arrangement from coming to fruition.

Lt. Governor Steele : would have everything to gain and nothing to lose, since his fortunes for continuing as Lieutenant Governor are tied to Ehrlich's reelectability. But cut loose from that tie, Steele would have a shot of winning the Senate seat even if Ehrlich is sunk by O'Malley or Duncan. A chance, but I'm not sure of how big it would be.

First Lady Kendel Ehrlich: there's some preliminary speculation that she could run for Senate, but I'm not sure she could pull it off. Certainly her chances may be good against Mfume, particularly if suburban white women voters who overwhelmingly voted for her husband would similarly vote overwhelmingly for her over Mfume. The only question then would be could she garner enough votes from Montgomery County to erase the Mfume advantage from Baltimore City and PG County? I see her taking a more "moderate," Connie Morella-esque line on social issues in order to woo MoCo, so maybe she could, but all the same going too strong on that line could depress conservative base voters and that would not just hurt her but her husband's reelection bid.

At any rate, this is all likely to change when more Democrats jump into the Senate race. We'll see how this all plays out.