Josh Kurtz: No. 2 and Trying Harder

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By: Josh Kurtz 

Ken Ulman was fighting off a cold.

The Howard County executive was working the room at Sign of the Times restaurant near Patterson Park in Baltimore one Friday night a couple of months ago, but his head was stuffed, his eyes were glassy, and no one would have blamed him for wishing he was somewhere else.

But there he was, soldiering on, extolling the virtues of another man – Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, whose ticket he decided to join more than half a year ago rather than running for governor himself. And you couldn’t help wondering, that night and a hundred times since: Does he regret his decision? Does he ever think, like Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront,” I coulda been a contender?

Whatever Ulman truly thinks – and he’s never wavered from his public commitment to the mission he signed up for – as the Democratic campaign for governor has plodded on and is shaping up to be less ennobling than anyone possibly imagined, many smart political people in Maryland believe the answer is yes, he coulda been a contender. 

We’ll never know, of course. But there’s no harm in pondering the question. And it’s safe to say that Ulman is an asset to Brown’s campaign.

Then again, just about all of the candidates for governor this year, Democrats and Republicans, have picked solid running mates; that’s something that doesn’t always happen, and ought to be celebrated. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that some of the candidates for LG are considerably more appealing than their principals. And because only one of them is going to wind up as lieutenant governor, it’s interesting to contemplate what some of these No. 2’s might do next in politics.

Ulman is, of course, the most qualified to be governor. In fact, he’s more qualified than some of the candidates for governor themselves. But he may also become the textbook example in Maryland of the perils and limits of political caution.

Ulman abandoned his nascent bid for governor because he and his advisers thought his political ceiling in a four-way Democratic primary was 20 or 25 percent. And that may have been true last summer and fall.

But they didn’t anticipate that Brown would be diminished by the health care exchange fiasco, that Attorney General Doug Gansler would self-immolate on a regular basis, and that Del. Heather Mizeur’s scrappy campaign would gain as much traction as it has. The math in the race has been scrambled in the past six months, and it’s possible that Ulman, who has actually run a government, a man who is almost universally respected, could have broken through.

It’s also possible that he may not have – a risk he clearly was unwilling to take.

Not that Ulman’s decision to join with Brown was completely without risk. After all, Brown is bidding to become the first LG in the state’s modern history ever to be elected governor. And if Brown makes history this year, Ulman is counting on history repeating itself in eight years – when opposing candidates are sure to be warning that we can’t afford 24 years of O’Malley-Brown-Ulman.

If Brown falls short this year, Ulman’s political career is by no means finished. He turns 40 on Sunday. He’ll no doubt go practice law, make some money for his family, and then pick a spot sometime in the future – Congress? Attorney general? If you were a betting man, you’d say he’ll wind up as lieutenant governor – you just might not want to bet a lot on that proposition.

Del. Jolene Ivey has been an undeniable asset for Gansler as his running mate. A talented communicator and shrewd political strategist, she has pounded on Brown’s shortcomings more cogently than Gansler has. She has stood by Gansler’s side often during campaign appearances, physically and figuratively, and in contrast to Brown and Ulman, who continue to periodically seem awkward together, they genuinely seem to like each other. And between her own ties with elected officials and party activists, Gansler’s well-aimed sorties into Prince George’s County, and the transactional tendencies of many of the county’s politicians, Ivey is helping keep Prince George’s closer in the primary than it ought to be.

What does Ivey do next if she loses? Unless Congresswoman Donna Edwards decides to do something else sooner rather than later – and it would not be surprising to see her run for Senate in 2018, regardless of whether incumbent Ben Cardin seeks a third term – Ivey has no immediate political openings to aim for. But there’s enough churn in Prince George’s County that you never know what’s ahead.

In the meantime, Ivey should be able to put her formidable communications skills to good use – and do some good in the community at the same time – if she isn’t the next LG.

Mizeur was criticized in many precincts for selecting the Rev. Delman Coates as her running mate, instead of an established pol or elected official. But anyone who has ever heard Coates speak knows how much political potential he has – and anyone who hasn’t ought to check him out.

On the same night that an ailing Ulman was dutifully making the case for Brown at Sign of the Times, Coates was eliciting “amens” from the crowd with his talk about economic and educational inequality. He comes from Al Sharpton’s well-organized political network and has many of Sharpton’s gifts – without the New Yorker’s heavy baggage.

Assuming Mizeur loses, it will be interesting to hear what Coates has taken away from his first foray into electoral politics – and whether he has caught the political bug.

On the Republican side, Harford County Executive David Craig was lucky to snag one of the state GOP’s few rising stars, Del. Jeannie Haddaway as his running mate. Bob Ehrlich, according to some party insiders, wanted Haddaway to run with him in 2010, but she declined.

Haddaway is young (she turns 37 on Wednesday), friendly and relatable, and, like Craig himself, is conservative without being threatening to wide swaths of the liberal Maryland electorate. Should Craig lose the GOP primary to businessman Larry Hogan but Hogan wins in November, Haddaway could play a prominent role in his administration. And should the Democrats retain the governorship, as expected, there are a number of ways for her to remain politically relevant.

The state Senate seat in her district should become vacant before too long, regardless of whether Sen. Rich Colburn (R) wins reelection this year or is ousted in the GOP primary by Del. Addie Eckardt. And if the 1st District congressional seat becomes vacant anytime soon, Haddaway seems uniquely equipped to appeal to both Andy Harris and Wayne Gilchrest Republicans.

Hogan’s running mate, Boyd Rutherford, is no slouch, either. A lawyer, he was General Services secretary under Ehrlich and held sub-cabinet positions in the George W. Bush administration. Even if he doesn’t become lieutenant governor, he could be politically viable if he wants to be – or land in another national GOP administration.

Del. Ron George (R), who is running a longshot campaign for governor, also found a solid running mate in Shelley Aloi, a former Frederick alderwoman who ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year. A statewide race has got to burnish her credentials should she seek another local office.

As for Ken Timmerman, Charles Lollar’s running mate? He won’t miss a beat if he loses – he can go back to spinning conspiracy theories on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, and in his books.

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.