Josh Kurtz: A Grown-up David in a World of Juvenile Goliaths

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The most prominent thing on David Craig’s campaign website right now is his proposal to realign Major League Baseball divisions.

How cool is that?

Craig, the Harford County executive who is contemplating seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2014, thinks baseball can regain some of its lost popularity if its divisions are aligned to roughly match those in the National Football League, building off of America’s most storied football rivalries. It’s an intriguing idea that has caught the attention of a few baseball franchises already.

But whether you like his plan or not, whether you care about baseball or not, you have to smile at the everyday guy-ness of his undertaking. Craig’s a genuine fan and makes no bones about it.

“I’ve already done base realignment,” he muses, referring to BRAC and the myriad issues with Aberdeen Proving Ground that have confronted Harford County during Craig’s tenure, “so why not baseball realignment?”

In that short, light-hearted sentence, the 62-year-old former educator and political veteran sums up his potential statewide appeal. He’s tackled tough issues -- BRAC has vexed leaders from coast to coast, but in Harford County it’s been an undeniable success. At the same time, he’s just a regular guy.

Now think of the likely 2014 Democratic candidates for governor and try to imagine them coming up with a plan to realign baseball’s divisions. You can’t.

Doug Gansler is a lacrosse enthusiast. Peter Franchot peppers his speeches and Facebook posts with sports references, but you can’t help but feel they’re being fed to him. If Anthony Brown is a sports fan, it may be because he appreciates the military precision that successful athletic competition demands, but it’s hard to see him taking the time -- or summoning the joy -- required to do something as frivolous as scheming to realign the divisions.

Ken Ulman is the kind of guy who might think about baseball realignment. Though when it comes to sports lately, he's been in the news for wanting to use new booze tax revenues to put install artificial turf at Howard County school athletic fields.

And yet, even if coming up with a fanciful plan for baseball sounds like something a teenaged boy would do, Craig has another thing going for him headed into the 2014 cycle: his maturity.

“I’ll probably be the only candidate with eight grandchildren,” he says.

Of course, maturity is more than just advancing age and tallying up the grandkids (in fact, Franchot is older than Craig). In politics, it’s about being grounded and comfortable in your own skin, possessing an ability to seek consensus and solve problems, displaying consistency, and empathy for others, resisting the temptation to make the cheap, attention-grabbing gesture.

Craig’s got all of that and more; the Democrats, not so much.

Come 2014, voters may be craving a dose of maturity. That notion was reinforced just last week, when Franchot and Gov. Martin O’Malley were throwing spitballs at each other over the gas tax. It’s a common enough occurrence with those two, and it gets awfully tiresome after a while.

But it isn’t just Franchot. Gansler, though compiling a serious record as attorney general, will not find it easy to shed the publicity-hound tag he earned as Montgomery County state’s attorney. And like Ed Koch, he’s still more likely to ask you how he’s doing than how you’re doing.

Brown is a smart guy, but his high opinion of himself bursts through; he has yet to figure out how to connect with real people.

And beyond all these self-involved, immature guys, the fourth probable Democratic candidate for governor, Ulman, is a kid.

“It gets a little hairy on their side,” Craig observes of the Democratic primary dynamic.

And voters will be asked to pick the next governor after four years of Bob Ehrlich and eight years of O’Malley. Ehrlich whined when he didn’t get his way, and thought it would be a good idea to pick fights with feminists, immigrants and the media. That has limited appeal. O’Malley, for all his policy chops and political skills, has very thin skin and shows his impatience easily.

“I think the governor’s actions are going to help Republicans” in the next few elections, Craig predicts. “Part of that is because he’s more concerned with what he’s going to do next, not with what he’s going to have to get done.”

So Craig offers that clear-eyed critique of Maryland Democrats, and on personality alone, he stacks up pretty well. He talks about his record of accomplishment and his political pragmatism. He says voters will find him appealing because “I realize what’s important to them -- it’s the same things that are important to me.”
But can this guy compete, really?

On a small scale, Craig has defied the odds before. He was elected to the Havre de Grace City Council, then became mayor. In 1990, he won a seat in the House of Delegates -- in a district that then leaned Democratic. Four years later, he was elected to the Senate.

In 1998, he lost a Republican primary for county executive to Jim Harkins, a fellow legislator. He began his political comeback in 2001, winning his old job as mayor back. When Harkins resigned as county executive to join the Ehrlich administration, local leaders turned to Craig to complete Harkins’ term. He won the job in his own right in 2006 and 2010.

Now, facing term limits, Craig contemplates the gubernatorial race. He doesn’t see any better known or more accomplished candidates emerging on the Republican side, so he figures, “I don’t have anything to lose.”

But it’s a long way from Republican nominee to Government House. Craig is betting that his record of fiscal conservatism, along with improving roads, schools and infrastructure in Harford County will have broad appeal -- and that he starts with contacts across the state, being the only person in history to have served as president of the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League.

That only takes you so far, though. Craig estimates he’ll need to raise $8 million to $8.5 million to run and win. He says he’s undaunted, but how does somebody so little known and laid back, in such a Democratic state, pull that off? Gansler’s already halfway there, and Craig had just $112,000 in his campaign account in January. The most he ever raised was about $500,000, for a county executive’s race, but he says he stopped at some point because he didn’t need more.

Craig calls himself “a TR -- a true Republican.” He invokes Henry Cabot Lodge and Mac Mathias as political role models, so you know you’re not looking at a tea party adherent.

But this is Maryland, and a Republican is a Republican is a Republican, no matter how dysfunctional things wind up on the Democratic side.

“It may have to be a perfect storm,” Craig concedes.

And if he loses -- well, Bud Selig may finally be ready to step aside as baseball commissioner by then.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Rich Man, Poor Campaign?

The Brawl We Won’t Be Seeing Here (Plus: Women Emerge in Maryland)

Free Shot

Miller’s Crossing

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?

O’Malley and the Mod Squad

Jim Rosapepe’s Boot & Roscoe Bartlett’s Poll

Walter Dozier, RIP
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.