In some of the comments on my blog, and in an at least one op-ed penned by another political observer, the argument has been made that Barbara Mikulski holds the key to Martin O’Malley’s victory.
This argument suggests that O’Malley will be able to leverage Senator Mikulski’s strength in three areas:
1) Coattails: A longtime mentor and ally of Governor O’Malley, Senator Mikulski has never received below 61 percent in any of her Senate races dating back to 1986. Therefore, all Governor O’Malley has to do is hitch his wagon to her locomotive, and she will pull him across the finish line.
2) Organization: Senator Mikulski has a strong, seasoned, and experienced grass-roots organization which always seems to deliver for her. Adding this layer of organization to O’Malley’s will bring him additional strength in areas such as poll coverage, GOTV efforts, door-knocking, voter flushing, and other key closing activities.
3) Money: Despite her apparently unassailability, Senator Mikulski has continued raising and spending campaign money. Because she has the financial muscle to wage a strong campaign both on the airwaves and on the ground, every member of her team therefore benefits.
It’s clear that the O’Malley campaign has factored the Mikulski factor into his campaign plans. That was evident when it chose to hold their kickoff rally in Fells Point, the
neighborhood where Mikulski’s community activism helped launch her career. Baltimore
Still, I am skeptical that the Mikulski factor will help Team O’Malley very much for at least two reasons:
1) Anti-incumbent sentiment: Even someone as formidable as Senator Mikulski is not immune to the anti-incumbent sentiment among voters this year. A recent Washington Post poll had her favorability ratings at 52 percent, down from 64 percent in January 2004. So, while Democrats will likely vote for her, her ability to influence their votes in other races may not be what it once was.
2) The Snoozer Factor: The same Washington Post poll I just cited shows Mikulski beating her GOP challenger, Dr. Eric Wargotz, by a 61-29 percent margin among likely voters. In other words, people know that Mikulski is going to win handily. If the low turnout seen among Democrats in the primary is any indication, reelecting Mikulski may not be a big enough draw to get Democrats who believe she is going to win anyway to the polls.
Perhaps the Democrats should have leaked news of a phantom poll showing the Mikulski – Wargotz race tightening. Given the dynamics of this year, scaring Mikulski’s supporters into getting out and voting for her would have made sense.
So, while having the state’s senior senator on his side is certainly good news for O’Malley, I doubt it will play a decisive role in the outcome. As incumbents all across the country are realizing this year, if O’Malley wants to win this thing, he will have to do it on his own.