In August, I wrote an opinion piece for the Baltimore Sun in which I argued that state Republicans should embrace the opportunities presented by Maryland’s new early voting program. I saw a chance to make a program crafted by Democrats work for the GOP by taking advantage of the fact that Republicans are far more motivated to vote than Democrats are this year.
As I researched that piece, I was encouraged by the fact that other Republicans seemed to agree with me. The Maryland Republican Party already has an ambitious outreach program in which early voting is a major component. Even Bob Ehrlich – who vetoed the early voting program when he was governor – released a video encouraging his supporters to take advantage of it.
However, I was somewhat less encouraged by what I read on the Baltimore Sun’s political blog today, where Annie Linskey reported the following exchange with Ehrlich when he showed up to vote at an early voting center in Anne Arundel County:
“Asked why he chose to participate in the program – voters can still cast ballots on primary election day – he chuckled and turned to longtime staffer Greg Massoni. ‘Why is that Greg?’ he asked. Massoni didn't say anything and Ehrlich chuckled. ‘I don’t know,’ he continued. ‘I guess because it is the law. It is what we have so we're doing it. There is no great thought that went into that.’”
Ehrlich’s authenticity and off-the-cuff willingness to speak his mind has always been among his strengths. In this particular instance, however, it worked against him.
Not only did Ehrlich’s response seem smug and dismissive, it contradicted the message advanced by his own campaign. Further, his comments provided the media with the fodder it needed to frame Ehrlich as a hypocrite who voted early not because he believed in its utility in a competitive election contest, but only because his aides told him he should.
Further, this exchange makes me again ask a question I have pondered many times: What value to Ehrlich does the simian-like Greg Massoni render anyway - aside from playing Ed MacMahon to Ehrlich's Johnny Carson in spontaneous moments like this? My friend Joe Steffen once described Massoni as “the highest paid umbrella holder in state government history.” Today, however, it wasn't raining.
Primary early voting is akin to a pre-season NFL game. The real test comes in November. If Republicans are serious about making early voting work for them, they all need to be on the same page - at least publicly. Keep your sarcasm to yourself, people.