Josh Kurtz -- Gansler Gaffe: MACo but Not Break-o

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By Josh Kurtz: 

The worst thing about Doug Gansler’s big gaffe – being caught on tape saying his chief rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Anthony Brown, is counting on the fact that he is black to get elected – is that he has marginalized whomever he decides to select as his running mate.

On that same tape, recorded at an Annapolis political gathering a month ago, Gansler says he will choose an African-American from Baltimore city or Prince George’s County to be his candidate for lieutenant governor. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. No “I’m searching for the best possible person, who can step in and be governor on Day 1.” No feints in the direction of other potential contenders, to win friends and score political points.

Instead, the guy accusing his opponent of making a racial appeal promises to select a No. 2 who will help him make a racial appeal.

So Gansler’s running mate – whoever it is, whatever that person’s talents and electoral strengths – will be viewed as a token. Does this now diminish the allure of the prize? Will Gansler find it harder to attract a running mate of stature and ability?

A rumor circulating before the Gansler tape came to light – unconfirmed, to be sure, by either camp – was that Gansler has reached out to Kweisi Mfume to join his ticket. It may have been far-fetched to begin with, given Mfume’s stature, but his selection would surely be a game changer if it ever came to pass (and would create a unique situation in which the leading gubernatorial candidates’ LG’s would be every bit as appealing, if not more so, than the principals).

Gansler was almost certainly going to select an African-American running mate under any circumstance. And Brown is naturally counting on a huge African-American turnout to help him become the state’s first black governor. But to say it as baldly as Gansler did is just another example of how politically tone deaf the attorney general can be, and that’s got to be troubling to his supporters. 

The timing of the leak, just before the start of the Maryland Association of Counties annual summer convention, could not have been an accident. It guarantees that the state’s political community, which is gathered together for several days in Ocean City, will talk about little else.

How does Gansler change the subject as he’s doing an event on biomass at Salisbury University and dishing up ice cream following the Friday night MACo crab feast?

This is vaguely reminiscent of the timing of an August 1996 meeting of Democratic dissidents, including Dutch Ruppersberger, Doug Duncan and health care mogul Stewart Bainum, to discuss the possibility of ousting Parris Glendening in the 1998 primary. That’s all anyone talked about at that year’s MACo.

Glendening survived that episode – just as he survived two more years of internal Democratic carping. And Gansler will likely survive this controversy.

But this shows once again the difference between having a well-oiled campaign machine, as Brown now seems to, and one that’s not quite ready for prime time, like Gansler’s. In dropping its bombshell on Gansler Monday night, The Washington Post was careful to say that it did not obtain the tape from anyone employed by any of the campaigns. But that doesn’t mean someone affiliated with Brown didn’t drop the dime.

Brown’s team has played the controversy well – during a week that was already going to be a good one for the lieutenant governor. He could have backed off, said something like, “I’m sure Doug’s statements don’t reflect what’s in his heart,” and gotten points for that. Instead, by demanding an apology, Brown’s team is showing an ability to play hardball early. Political people are taking notice. 

Doug Gansler has been saying all along that he doesn’t need to be running a full-bore campaign for governor yet because only insiders are paying attention. Now, more than ever, he’d better hope he’s right.

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.