Josh Kurtz: Mizeur Makes It Official

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By Josh Kurtz:

As she treks with the rest of the Maryland political community to the Tawes crab feast in Crisfield today, state Del. Heather Mizeur (D) will be doing so as an officially announced candidate for governor.

Not that there was much doubt about her intentions – and she isn’t making a big public speech just yet. But Mizeur today is unveiling a new Mizeur for governor website and sending an email to supporters informing them that the exploratory phase of her campaign is over.

“I want Maryland to live up to her full potential rather than settling for good enough,” Mizeur said in an interview yesterday.

Dismissed by much of the state’s political and media establishment, Mizeur’s candidacy remains one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2014 campaign, as she tries to make history as the state’s first woman governor and as the first openly gay governor in the country – and as she seeks to prove she’s more than a candidate with limited regional and ideological appeal. Already there are signs that her approach is making inroads: whether it’s her surprise second-place finish in a straw poll of Western Maryland Democrats this spring, or enthusiastic pockets of support she’s picking up in unlikely corners of the state.

At a minimum, Mizeur has scrambled the calculus for the two perceived frontrunners in the Democratic race, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler. Mizeur has the potential to cut into critical blocs of support for both men and, at this early stage at least, seems to have more committed supporters than either.

With women comprising more than 60 percent of the Democratic electorate, Mizeur should benefit. And with Gansler and Brown sure to be firing expensive howitzers at one another, Mizeur may be able to take advantage.

Even though she’s waging a grass-roots effort, Mizeur enters the latest phase of her campaign with a team of seasoned consultants. The well-known Celinda Lake is her pollster. Prism Communications, whose principals include Ken Morley, who was Ben Cardin’s campaign manager in 2006, will handle her media. Karen Petel, who designed mail campaigns in Maryland last year for the DREAM Act and marriage equality, will handle Mizeur’s direct mail. Taryn Rosenkranz, who has worked for EMILY’s List and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, will do her online and digital messaging.

Still, Mizeur will face skeptics. Will she have enough money to compete with the big boys (she insists she will)? Is Maryland ready to elect a lesbian? Is she too young, at age 40, too wet behind the ears, despite 11 years in elected office and a career on Capitol Hill and as a health care policy consultant, to be taken seriously? Mizeur has the self-confidence not to consider these handicaps – but political insiders and policymakers might. They’ll also whisper that she’s too egotistical – charges rarely thrown at male candidates – and note that her fellow gay lawmakers in Annapolis are not rushing to endorse her.

Mizeur is content for now to operate largely under the radar, with more breakout moments, she hopes – like her showing at the Western Maryland caucus – to come.

On her new website, she’ll highlight several service days that her campaign will be participating in soon – similar to the time she and her volunteers spent at a homeless shelter in Ocean City to coincide with the Maryland Municipal League conference last month. These will include maintenance work at a playground in Silver Spring, trail restoration at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore, and painting classrooms in Baltimore.

“That’s going to be a very important and consistent theme of the campaign,” Mizeur said. “I believe you govern the way you campaign…working side-by-side with our Maryland neighbors to solve problems.”

Powerful forces are aligned with Brown and Gansler in this primary, and both have plenty to offer voters. But we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: People underestimate Mizeur at their peril.

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

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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.