Josh Kurtz: Shock and Tawes

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By Josh Kurtz: 

Time flies when you’re having fun -- and when you’re having an early primary.

Can you believe that the last July 4 before the 2014 Maryland primary has come and gone already? And that the parades from one end of the state to the other last week were our last opportunity to witness the gubernatorial primary candidates making their Independence Day rounds?

By the time the Fourth of July rolls around next year, we’ll have Democratic and Republican nominees for governor. They'll make strategic appearances at those parades, of course. But it doesn’t feel right somehow -- further evidence that the early primary has screwed up the political process in myriad ways.

Next up on the stations of the cross for Maryland pols with statewide ambitions is the J. Millard Tawes clam bake and crab feast in Crisfield just eight days from today, on July 17. If 2014 were a normal gubernatorial election cycle and this were the last Tawes before the September primary, there’d be no doubt that every statewide candidate would be there.

But with the crazy new calendar, things are a little more ambiguous. Does it pay for a statewide contender with just a fledgling campaign apparatus to schlep to the ends of the earth and try to make a big showing 11 months before the primary?

Before we muse some more about Tawes, let’s take a quick look back at July 4. The choices the three Democratic candidates for governor made were instructive.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the establishment candidate if not the outright frontrunner, attended parades in Takoma Park, Catonsville and Annapolis. His running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, did the heavy lifting by marching in the Dundalk parade -- where the Democratic establishment is frequently reviled -- hit the parade in Columbia, his home turf, and joined Brown in Catonsville. So they covered a decent cross-section of electoral, if not physical territory.

Attorney General Doug Gansler confined himself to Baltimore County and Annapolis parades -- another signal that the Montgomery County liberal intends to target dissident and conservative Democrats who are down on Gov. Martin O’Malley, down on taxes and, possibly, receptive to a law-and-order message.

Del. Heather Mizeur started the day on her home turf, Takoma Park, hit Fourth of July events in the neighboring Montgomery County communities of Somerset, Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights, and then went to Annapolis. So she made her presence known in some of the  communities where Gansler is presumably strongest. 

One thing that’s clear is that nobody can really take anything for granted, even if they think they can.

Which is one reason why all the candidates might want to head to Crisfield next week.

Of course, unless you’re coming from Pocomoke City, the crab feast is a long, long trek from just about everywhere. And there’s no aesthetic payoff: You think you’ll at least be able to greet voters in a bucolic, waterfront setting. Instead, you’re going straight to hell, with an unforgiving sun beating down on parking lot pavement. The water nearby is a tease. It provides no breeze -- or relief -- whatsoever.

But most candidates will probably flock there anyway. And certainly lots of political eminences from the past and present will be there, most of them firmly planted in uber-lobbyist Bruce Bereano’s tent, which is literally if not figuratively one of the coolest places to be.

So assuming this year’s crab feast is at least fairly significant politically, here are a dozen questions -- and things to watch for:

1. What candidate wins the sign wars?

2. For that matter, do state and local highway officials even allow signs this year along U.S. 13 and Maryland 413?

3. What candidate appears with the most sizeable and impressively enthusiastic entourage?

4. Will Gansler have any entourage at all?

5. Will a candidate have a particularly annoying entourage this year (Think Eileen Rehrmann and those penny whistles her supporters were blowing at the ‘98 crab feast -- not one of Larry Gibson‘s finest hours)?

6. Will Blaine Young come down with his big RV again? Or will he -- and the RV -- stay at home, suggesting he’s thinking more about running for Frederick county executive than governor after all?
7. Because it's a Republican part of the state, will the GOP contenders be out in greater force than the Democrats?

8. Who will have the worst wardrobe malfunction? (Remember Kostas Alexiakis, the erstwhile Democratic candidate for Congress in the mid-2000’s, showing up at a crab feast in a blue blazer and khaki pants?) 

9. What members of the legislature will show up with little apparent reason to be there other than to be ostentatiously hugged by Bereano?

10. Who will be the most obscure ex-pol to show up at Bereano’s tent (early prediction: Richie Palumbo)?

11. Who will be the drunkest political person there? Will anyone succumb to the heat and the cheap beer and the fried food and resemble George H.W. Bush in the presence of the Japanese prime minister?

12. Will the good people at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy be serving margaritas in their tiki-themed tent this year, as they did in 2010? Sure hope so!

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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.