Saturday, September 10, 2011

David Craig Talks About 2014

Recently, I had a chance to sit down with some of my fellow bloggers and political junkies for a conversation with Harford County Executive David Craig over burgers at the Ram’s Head Tavern in Annapolis.

The big news coming out of the gathering: Craig is definitely running for some statewide office in 2014. He’s not an attorney, so that leaves two choices: comptroller or governor.

David Craig's new campaign logo. Race TBD.

David Craig is presently the party’s senior executive officeholder, as well as one of the party’s logical go-to guys for 2014. As far as which office he plans to seek, Craig said he has deferred that decision until after next year’s presidential election.

Despite kicking in and around Maryland political circles for a long time, I had never met Craig before.  I found him to be relaxed, thoughtful, and – most importantly – open-minded as to the GOP’s prospects for success in 2014.  

Going into this event, I was most interested to see how he would address this final issue. Bob Ehrlich’s 15 point blowout loss in 2010, as well as Democratic gains in voter registration during the past 10 years, has left many Republicans wondering just what the party’s short-term future may be in Maryland.

But Craig took these ponderings in stride. “A lot of people I talk to tell me they’re willing to vote for good Republican candidates,” he stated.

He noted that the party gained 40 seats at the local level (“We wiped out the Democrats’ farm team” in every jurisdiction but Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City, he noted) and pointed out that Republican candidates achieved a win (in 2002) and an almost win (in 1994) the last two times they competed for an open gubernatorial seat.

He also indicated his belief that a candidate’s geography may trump his/her party affiliation as a deciding factor in state elections. With three of the Democrats most frequently mentioned as gubernatorial candidates hailing from the Washington region, Craig see real opportunity for a candidate coming from a jurisdiction as decidedly suburban Baltimore as Harford County.

I think this is a valid point. However, I had the same feeling about incumbency trumping party affiliation when it came to Bob Ehrlich’s reelection prospects in 2006, and we know how that turned out.  

Setting aside my skepticism about any GOP candidate winning statewide in Maryland, I think Craig has a lot to offer.

First, he projects an image of a quiet, roll-up-your-sleeves, git ‘er done kind of manager. After eight years of muscle-shirted, guitar-playing Governor Martin O’Malley and publicity friendly Comptroller Peter Franchot, voters may be ready for a governor or comptroller with a reputation for understated competence.

Second, Craig has an asset which neither Bob Ehrlich nor Ellen Sauerbrey did when they ran for statewide office: Previous executive branch experience.

Craig served as mayor of Havre de Grace before he became Harford County Executive, and also headed both the Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Counties. He is also a veteran of both houses of the legislature, giving him prior relationships with the Maryland General Assembly he can leverage as either governor or comptroller.

Third, Craig’s background as an educator – he was assistant principal at three Harford County schools – and history of civic involvement makes him difficult for the left to demonize. He can portray himself as an engaged community activist who entered the political arena, as opposed to yet another high climbing politician looking for the next rung on the ladder.

Aside from being a Republican, the fact that few people outside of Harford County have ever heard of Craig is his single biggest strategic challenge. His natural, low key style as a candidate and a manager may exacerbate this challenge. But I think that Craig’s relative absence of flash can be turned into an asset with some clever positioning on the part of his handlers. That, in turn, will hinge upon how successful their fundraising efforts will be.

If history is any guide, 2014 looks like it will be an anti-establishment year. Maryland voters will be restless after eight years of Martin O’Malley, just as they were after eight years of William Donald Schaefer and Parris Glendening. Plus, if President Obama is reelected in 2012 and experiencing the traditional mid-term slump that most presidents do, a Republican like Craig could benefit from these anti-incumbent forces.

To do so, however, he must be able to articulate a case as to why he is the real change Maryland needs. Otherwise, a wily Democrat like Peter Franchot or Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (who would appeal to many of the same suburbanites David Craig would) may step up and snatch the change mantle out from under him.

Any Republican who looks to move up in Maryland has an arduous road ahead of them. I am glad County Executive Craig seems undaunted by the challenge. I look forward to seeing what path he ultimately chooses, and where it takes him.

7 comments:

  1. It will be interesting to see how somebody who got their Master's Degree from Morgan State will be treated in the African American community.

    -Al Mendelsohn

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  2. When will he start his radio show on WBAL?

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  3. This guy is nothing like Ehrlich. He is a strong conservative executive with a proven record of lowering taxes. My only concern is his name ID but that can be overcome, he has time.

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  4. I hadn't heard of David until this article but i looked at his Facebook and I must say I'm impressed and I will be watching this guy for the future. Lower taxes wil go a long way to fixing MD and we need leaders who agree but are more than just talk. This guy fits the bill.

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  5. I should add that Craig did throw a reference to a congressional run into his menu of possible options. I didn't take it seriously, which is why I didn't include it in my summary of the event.

    For that to work, Craig would either have to challenge a Republican (it looks like Harris may be the last GOPer standing after redistricting concludes) or a Democrat whose district is destabilized because attempts to create a 3rd minority district elsewhere has resulted in Harford County becoming part of it(possibly Sarbanes or Ruppersberger). I don't think either scenario is plausible.

    When the dust settles, Maryland will have a 7-1 Dem/Rep split or retain an 6-2 split with one of the GOP districts more competitive than currently the case.

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  6. But can he raise money and compete with the Democratic machine?

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  7. The word is that Don Fry, President of the Greater Baltimore Committee, is considering running for Gov. Fry is a former Democratic delegate and senator from Harford Co. who is HIGHLY respected in the business community. If he gets in he could easily win the D primary due to the dilution of Washington suburb votes by Franchot, Gansler, and Ulman. If Fry gets through the primary, he would be Gov. without a question. That being said, any of those Democratic candidates would clean Craig's clock. Not because he is a bad guy, but because they are each strong D candidates. It would take someone who is regarded as dangerously ill-equipped(e.g. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend) to win the D primary in order for the D party to shun them. That is the only way Craig could win. Unfortunately, Franchot, Gansler, Ulman, and Fry would each be able to win broad support. In Fry's case, many GOP voters would even go his way.

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