Josh Kurtz: I’m Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeMille

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By Josh Kurtz

You can mark the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., as the time Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown started to move out from under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s shadow.

Much has been made in the media of how O’Malley was everywhere in Charlotte, hitting all the stations of the cross necessary to run for president in 2016.

But Brown was everywhere as well, serving as the de facto titular head of the Maryland delegation in O’Malley’s absence, with a full schedule of his own -- showing up at every Maryland event as well as a few of national scope. He attracted an impressive array of speakers at the delegation breakfast he sponsored, including former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. He also delivered a handsome, chatty newsletter to Maryland delegates. And as I mentioned in my Sept. 6 column, he was one of several elected officials feted at a convention reception for political rising stars across the country.

It’s been less than two weeks since the end of the convention, but Brown remains just as busy, with a notable range of appearances around the state. Also noteworthy is that he’s spending time with national groups that can help him. This week, he’ll be getting an award, along with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, from the National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest and largest group for African-American lawyers and judges, and he’ll be getting another from the Congressional Black Caucus for his health care policy work.

It’s never been a secret that Brown plans to run for governor in 2014; in fact, the lineup of likely gubernatorial contenders has been well known since before the last election. But the emergence of the lieutenant governor as an independent entity may signal the unofficial beginning of the Democratic primary.

An LG, more than any other contender, always has his hands tied longer and has to tread carefully. As the job is written in Maryland, he may have very little official role, but he’s still expected to be a loyal member of the administration and execute the tasks the governor has given him.

Brown is lucky to have some substance in his portfolio, like BRAC and coordinating the state response to the federal health care reform law. He also helped O’Malley convince reluctant lawmakers, especially those from his home turf of Prince George’s County, to vote for expanded gambling during the special legislative session this summer.

Brown was also lucky to get a fairly ringing -- though somewhat oddly timed and worded -- endorsement from his principal, O’Malley, a few weeks ago, though O’Malley never actually said Brown is his preferred candidate for governor. That will probably come later, at a more strategically useful time, presuming there will be one. Then again, no one can really imagine O’Malley -- for his own political reasons as much as wanting to help Brown and promote continuity -- endorsing anyone else to succeed him.

So what’s Brown offering, and where does he stand, at this unofficial beginning of the Democratic gubernatorial scrum?

On paper, Brown is the most formidable contender. Brown is the only minority candidate, when no less than 40 percent of Democratic primary voters are minorities. That’s a simple mathematical fact that even his opponents will acknowledge. Many African-American voters -- and even some white ones -- will want to support someone bidding to be the state’s first black governor. It would not be surprising to see Brown ahead in early polls on the primary.

Brown also has a sterling resume -- from the Harvard education and law degree to his military service to his quick rise in Annapolis. Go beyond what’s on paper, and Brown is handsome, smart and serious and reeks of rectitude. After the past few characters who have been governor, the latter could be a very appealing quality indeed.

But elections aren’t won on paper and voters don’t decide based on appearances exclusively. And Brown still faces some challenges as he prepares to seek support around the state.

At the convention two weeks ago -- and in many of his recent appearances around the state -- Brown made it clear that the biggest political priority for him and fellow Democrats ought to be President Obama’s re-election. He’s gone out of his way to remind people that he and Obama were classmates at Harvard Law School, that he too has a black father and a white mother. And in a recent video interview with the Maryland Juice blog, Brown suggested Obama is his political role model for a whole host of reasons.

What Brown would probably like you to forget is that he didn’t support Obama during the 2008 presidential primary. He fell in line behind O’Malley and endorsed and made appearances for Hillary Clinton in her epic battle with Obama.

Now there is no shame for most Democratic politicians in having endorsed Clinton, who’s looking better and better every day as Obama founders. But for a man who fancies himself an African-American trailblazer not to endorse another -- especially one he knew personally, especially when white potential 2014 candidates for governor, Doug Gansler and Peter Franchot, endorsed Obama (and Gansler did so very early), well, that doesn’t look so good.

Whether it’s an attempt to make amends, or erase the memory of that ill-advised endorsement, or just because it’s smart politics, Brown is spending a lot of time in African-American churches most Sundays these days. Which is where he should be.

But Brown isn’t your classic African-American politician who speaks with evangelical fervor. He can come off a little stiff -- and I’m told BRAC is a regular part of his pitch at these church appearances, which seems a puzzling, to say the least.

But then Brown sometimes has a little difficulty connecting with people. Did anyone check out the biographical video he put out recently on his updated campaign website? His dad, who is Jamaican, and his mom, who’s Swedish, speak at length on the video, and their warmth oozes through. They seem like people you want to hang out with. Their son, not so much.

I’ve heard Brown speak many times since 1998. His delivery can be a little leaden. He makes lame jokes that don’t seem very heart-felt. He takes himself a little too seriously.

Among some Democratic insiders the rap on Brown is that when he talks to you, he’s looking over your shoulder, in case someone more important is around. He’s gotten a little better at the small talk through the years, but it’s still a dramatic contrast to, say, Gansler, who can be like a puppy dog, who seems to have ADD, who may not understand much of Maryland beyond his own little corner of it, but who at least comes across as genuine.

On the other hand, during the convention two weeks ago, Brown spoke to a roomful of 400 convention delegates from across the country who were fellow military veterans. During his seven-minute address, he was spellbinding. He spoke of the sacrifices that men and women in uniform make. He talked about how important Obama’s re-election is for veterans -- and for active service members. He talked about how each person in the room was no stranger to responsibility, and how each had a responsibility now to take extra steps to ensure Obama’s re-election, to make an extra call, to ferry neighbors to their polling places.

“We’re accustomed to accepting a mission and getting a job done!” he said, as the room erupted in cheers.

If that kind of Anthony Brown is on display during the 2014 Democratic primary, he’ll be awfully hard to beat.

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

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

A Conversation with Ken Ulman

The Future Is Now?

Michael Row the Boat Ashore

Influencers: The Readers Speak

Will Battaglia Run for AG in 2014?


You Can Still Probably Bet Against Roscoe Bartlett

Ten Years After

Influencers, Part II

The Influencers, Part I
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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.