Laslo Boyd: Halftime

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By: Laslo Boyd 

As we come up on the long Fourth of July weekend, it’s worth considering what the impact of this year’s early primary date will be on summer politicking.

If a year of campaigning for the two parties’ nominations failed to excite voters — and the numbers are very clear on that point — is there any chance that the time between now and Labor Day will be at all productive for candidates? Improvising from the well-known logo for the Rolling Stones, the symbol for this past election would undoubtedly have been a very large yawn. How do you follow up on that?

Republican nominee Larry Hogan apparently decided that an immediate attack on Democratic nominee Anthony Brown would be a good way to kick off the General Election season. What his Internet ad demonstrated, however, is that it’s often better to wait and think before you act.

In their desire to be both clever and biting, the Hogan campaign committed what can only be called a stupid move, showing how out of touch they are. And they managed to step on the key point that they were trying to make. If their theme is that Anthony Brown is incompetent, the Hogan ad actually raises questions about their own competence.

If the Hogan campaign continues in this bumbling way, it may be fair to argue that Anthony Brown is the luckiest politician in Maryland.

On the other hand, we’ve got a long time until November.  What the primary showed is that voters are not easily roused to interest, much less action, about political candidates.

Everyone will participate, because it is a rite of summer, in as many Fourth of July parades as their schedulers can fit in. There’s no real evidence that these rituals have any impact on voter preferences or on the likelihood that they will show up in November. It’s probably a bit like wearing a flag lapel pin. You feel you should, but it really doesn’t change anything.

And later in July, candidates will have to decide whether it’s worth the effort to trudge across the Bay Bridge to Crisfield for another annual ritual, the Tawes Crab Feast and Politician Bake. This has become a largely insider event where politicians and followers get overheated, eat a few crabs, and share largely meaningless political gossip.

There will be a few moral dilemmas, such as whether to accept the hospitality of Bruce Bereano and his tent. But it won’t be a place to find many voters. Moreover, in past years, Tawes occurred before the primary and involved some jockeying for support from other members of your party. The point of the exercise is even less clear this year, although I feel confident in predicting that long-time aficionados such as Len Foxwell and Josh Kurtz will be there anyway.

The Baltimore Sun ran a long article last week suggesting that the upcoming battle between Democrat Courtney Watson and Republican Allen Kittleman to become the next Howard County Executive is likely to kick into full gear this summer. Really?  Are the two candidates going to try to compete with swim meets, family vacations, the Orioles, and the Nationals?

Watson starts this race with a number of advantages in a county that has been trending increasingly Democratic, in a state that is overwhelming so. Given the gap in voter registration, the question Kittleman faces is whether there are arguments that will draw Democrats and Independents to his side. This issue isn’t merely whether he has good arguments, but, rather, whether voters are inclined to listen and are open to persuasion.

Kittleman presents himself as a moderate Republican but, just like Larry Hogan at the state level, he will have the challenge of defining which parts of the national Republican agenda he accepts and on which he differs.

Moreover, he is facing an opponent with a substantial record in the county who cannot be dismissed as “not up to the job.”

This race will bear watching in the fall, but probably doesn’t warrant much attention until then.

This weekend, celebrating the most American of all holidays, is a highly appropriate time to reflect on the dismal turnout in last week’s primary and on the many signs across the nation of a lack of unity and common purpose. Democracy is really not about parades and fireworks but about the opportunity to engage in self-government.

The best possible way to honor the Founders during this summer break would be to recommit to working together for the common good. I have few expectations that anyone will do that, but I am quite convinced that our continued political splintering will leave us farther and farther away from the aspirations of those who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence 238 years ago.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.