Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown did not lose because of poor Democratic turnout. Neither did Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. It is a dangerous myth in our party Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, combined with the City of Baltimore, are enough to win a statewide election.
The even more dangerous corollary to his theory is that, if the Big Three jurisdictions are enough to deliver victory statewide, the key is to nominate a candidate capable of driving turnout among the Democratic base voters in those three very progressive bastions. Sadly, this is not the case. Even if turnout in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore City had been 10 points higher, Larry Hogan would still be the Governor-Elect.
The truth of the matter is that Democrats cannot win a statewide election if they get killed in the Baltimore suburbs. Democrats still need to win some moderates to take the prize. For years, Martin O’Malley appealled to working class Democrats in places like Dundalk and Essex, as well as a certain number of wealthier suburb and exurbanites in places like Bel Air and Towson.
This–in addition to the D next to his name in Baltimore City, MoCo and Prince George’s County–gave him a winning statewide coalition in 2006 and 2010. O’Malley nearly won Baltimore County in 2006 before taking the prize outright in 2010. In 2010, O’Malley received 35% of the vote in Harford County, while Brown barely cracked 20% four years later. Barbara Mikulski frequently wins counties in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.
Interestingly, Mikulski, O’Malley, Brown and Townsend are all center left to progressive Democrats with little policy disagreement of any true substance among them. So, why the difference in performance in these key areas?
As the legendary Virginia operative Mudcat Saunders oft moans, people vote based on culture not the issues. A guitar playing, Catholic school educated Irishmen with a disarming charm like O’Malley went a long way towards making gay marriage and the Dream Act–and progressive taxation–palatable to swing voters from Easton to Essex. A grandmotherly, Polish-American social worker like Mikulski can do the same.
But a stiff, Harvard-educated, former DC lawyer originally from Long Island, who happens to be black, like Anthony Brown has limited appeal outside of the polyglot Washington suburbs and Baltimore City. Likewise, a Kennedy from Greenwich, CT had limited appeal outside of Bethesda and Roland Park in 2002.
Right now, we don’t need someone to drive out mythical hard core progressives, who came out and voted for Anthony Brown anyway. We need someone who is as comfortable at Dundalk’s Fourth of July parade as at Takoma Park’s.