Question: What do Don Murphy, Lawrence Scott, Julianne Grim, and I all have in common? Answer: We all worked for, and voluntarily left the campaign staff of, Dr. Eric Wargotz.
In case you didn’t know, Dr. Wargotz is a pathologist and Queen Anne’s County Commissioner running for the GOP nomination to face Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski. Once seen as having the inside track to the nomination, Dr. Wargotz seems to be falling behind his principal rival, Harford County conservative (and Tea Party favorite) Jim Rutledge. Sources tell me that polls show Rutledge winning by an overwhelming margin.
That’s a shame, because I believe Dr. Wargotz would be a stronger challenger to Mikulski for several reasons. First, he’s a self-made man whose achievements as a doctor, businessman, and local official make for a compelling story. Second, he’s more moderate than Rutledge and may therefore have broader appeal to independents and conservative Democrats. Third, he has the standing to engage Mikulski on arguably the biggest, most controversial vote she’s ever made: Her support for the Obama healthcare plan.
Do I see Wargotz beating Mikulski? Of course not. But, I could envision a situation in which he brings her numbers down under 60 percent – something that’s never happened in any of Mikulski’s races dating back to 1986.
I think Wargotz will lose the primary for two reasons: First, he has the misfortune of running as a perceived moderate in a year where conservatives are especially energized to vote in the primary. This year, GOP primary turnout will be dominated by Tea Party supporters; pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-illegal immigrant single-issue voters; and supporters of long shot gubernatorial candidate Brian Murphy. All these constituencies are more of a natural fit for Rutledge than Wargotz.
Second, Wargotz has dealt himself some self-inflicted wounds. As I mentioned earlier, he has gone through staff the way a fat kid devours Cheetos. Now, I am not saying that Dr. Wargotz is an unpleasant guy to work for. He isn’t. But, like many doctors (including my late father), he’s used to being the smartest guy in the room, as well as in an unchallenged position of authority over others. This lends itself to micromanagement, as well as making occasionally (and unreasonably) high demands of staffers' time.
I served as his communications director from September 2009 through March of this year. I accepted the position because I sincerely believed in his candidacy. Unfortunately, his expectations of my time were not commensurate with the tiny stipend he was willing to pay me. He expected 24 hours a day, seven day a week access to me – something that became unrealistic when I landed a full-time contracting gig.
I posited a number of solutions to the situation, including setting aside one day a week which would be completely dedicated to Wargotz-related projects and communications. But the serial phone calls kept coming. The tipping point came when we scheduled a Sunday evening phone conversation for which I was about 15 minutes late. Four messages, each more frantic than the last, were already waiting for me at home. In an era of cell phones, voice mail and caller ID, one message would have sufficed. I bowed out shortly thereafter – though it took two separate resignation attempts by me before he accepted my departure.
Subsequent conversations I have had with other Wargotz alumni have revealed that they had similar experiences. Julianne Grim, his most recent staff departure, left at the end of August, just weeks prior to the primary election. His new campaign advisor, Chris Meekins, was one of the architects of Andy Harris’s embarrassing congressional defeat in 2008, despite John McCain carrying the First Congressional District by 19 points.
Dr. Wargotz is a good guy, as well as a smart, compelling candidate with a lot of potential. If the primary election does not go his way, I hope he will stay involved in politics. He would be a great congressional or legislative candidate one day. He just needs to learn to dial it down a bit. In the meantime, let the post-mortem begin on this pathologist-turned-politician's senatorial aspirations.