Saturday, December 1, 2012

MDGOP Convention: Observations from Turf Valley

After much vacillation, I headed to Hospitality Suite Night at the Maryland Republican Party’s fall 2012 convention at the Turf Valley Resort last night. I work in Columbia for my day job, but on Fridays I work from home and was therefore reluctant to trek to rural Howard County on a day that I normally didn’t have to.

But I did anyway because, frankly, I find it difficult to disappoint certain persuasive women I know. So I went, and here are a few of my observations.

It was hard to get a global sense of where the party stands, other than pervasive surprise and disappointment at the 2012 election results, as well as uncertainty over the party’s future direction. I basically observed people in the context of various candidate or cause-specific pockets.

The biggest presence of the night was Frederick County Commissioner Blaine Young, whose party was the most elaborate and well attended. “Young for Governor” signs were ubiquitous across the venue, and it seemed that people hosting their own hospitality suites eventually abandoned them to come to the Young affair. I credit much of the energy which surrounded the Young affair to feisty and energetic Frederick County activist Katie Nash.

As I expressed to Nash, I don’t think conservatives like Young or Tea Party activist Charles Lollar (who had no hospitality suite but his sticker-wearing emissaries were everywhere) have a ghost of a chance in deep blue Maryland. But from the standpoint of energy and organization, Young clearly “won” the evening.

I also headed to Harford County Executive David Craig’s suite, and had a chance to chat with the already-announced gubernatorial hopeful about the 2012 presidential race. Attendance at his spacious suite, which was at the end of a very long hallway, seemed sparse when I got there, though I heard an influx of late visitors swelled his ranks a bit.

The most interesting event of the night was the event hosted by the “Maryland Liberty Caucus,” essentially an organization of adherents of former presidential candidate Ron Paul.

I have always had a complex relationship with the libertarian movement. Socially liberal and fiscally conservative, I regard myself as something of a Kurt Russell libertarian in that I believe in maximizing personal freedoms in a way which will not weaken society. But it is hard for me to take the hardcore, isolationist, buy-a-concrete-bunker-in-Montana-and-hide-from-the-world side of the movement too seriously.

The Liberty Caucus event was packed. It spanned two neighboring rooms, but many of its flannel-clad attendees had spilled out into the hallway, where they amiably munched cheese and other snacks hastily placed onto small tables. Inside one of the rooms, a serious-looking fellow wearing a turtleneck sweater and standing at a lectern with full-on lighting was earnestly delivering a speech about…well…liberty to a group of about 20 people who listened with rapt attention.

Next door was the de facto merchandise room, where a young man stood behind a table of books available for purchase. I didn’t linger here long, but I noticed that Senator Rand Paul’s book, Government Bullies, was among the titles for sale. Fortunately, The Turner Diaries and The Anarchist Cookbook were not.

The Purple Elephant Stampede suite organized by Hillary Foster Pennington and her Strategic Victory Consulting cohorts served as my home base for much of the evening. This was perhaps the most festive and spontaneous of the suites I visited, and it drew a steady stream of visitors all night long. The Red Maryland crew did their convention broadcast from the bedroom next door. The highlight came was when feuding bloggers Joe Steffen and Greg Kline debated their differences in a spirited but civil exchange.

I ducked out to do a quick call-in to WBAL’s The J. Doug Gill Show, then decided to call it a night. Today the party is going to be weeding through a series of resolutions, and engaging in the fractiousness and infighting which has become its hallmark in recent years. But it is good to know that warring partisans can get along during one funny, if occasionally odd, evening.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fiastro Follow-Up

Last night I had a good conversation with new Baltimore County GOP Chairman John Fiastro, who engaged me over my recent blog posting about his proposed resolution seeking a vote of no confidence in RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

My conversation with Fiastro – which, admittedly, probably should have occurred prior to my original posting, but didn’t when a game of “Telephone” broke out between me and several other activists immediately before Thanksgiving – confirmed what I have always known about him: He is a decent, smart guy trying to build the party in very unfavorable circumstances. 

He laid out a solid case against Priebus’s reelection: Romney defeated, seats in both houses of Congress lost, monies successfully raised yet questionably spent, Maryland neglected by the RNC yet again.

I got the sense that Fiastro fully understands the reality of the situation in that Priebus – who claims to have the support of 130 of 168 RNC members and has no declared opposition – is likely to be reelected regardless of what happens at the MDGOP convention this weekend. But, it is clear that Fiastro feels strongly that taking a stand – and, by doing so, perhaps serving as the pebble in the water which eventually grows into a wave of change – is still the right thing to do.

To this I say…fair enough.

I’m not averse to the state central committee passing a resolution expressing dissatisfaction with Priebus’s leadership, provided that it reflects the reality that the state party and its RNC representatives likely will still have to work with him during the next two years.  Apparently there may be another resolution in the works which would focus more on the record and reforms rather than on Priebus personally.

Fiastro is a reasonable guy trying to do the right thing, so I’m hopeful that he and some of the other central committee members and activists who are understandably unhappy with Priebus’s record and concerned over the party's future will come together and pass something everyone can live with in the end.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On the Priebus Resolution...

John Fiastro, Jr. – the newly elected Chairman of the Baltimore County GOP Central Committee – is a good guy. Strategic, hard-working, and very much a big tent thinker, I expect him to do good things when it comes to building the party in my home county.

Chairman Fiastro plans to introduce a resolution at the party’s winter convention, which occurs November 30 – December 1, 2012 in Howard County, in effect directing the state’s three members of the Republican National Committee to oppose the reelection of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who is seeking a second, two-year term despite the party’s dismal performance during the 2012 election cycle.

Fiastro cited an emerging sentiment among county party leaders that the RNC needs new leadership, as well as the RNC’s neglect of Maryland, as the reasons he is pushing the resolution.

Now, there’s no need to sugar coat things: The GOP received a major ass-kicking on November 6th. A presidential election which was supposed to be close wasn’t – especially in terms of the Electoral College. A Senate that once looked like it might flip to GOP control didn’t, partially due to candidates who chose to speak sympathetically about rape instead of the economy.  And, the party shed seats in the House, including one in Maryland, making its once formidable House majority seem fragile.

In light of these events, it is not surprising that rank and file partisans would be looking to mete out blame. We’ve seen it here in Maryland with Chairman Alex Mooney, so it makes sense that Chairman Priebus might draw ire as well.

But as understandable as the sentiments behind the resolution may be, I see it as a questionable exercise for one primary reason: Chairman Priebus is already a dead lock cinch to be reelected.

Priebus announced that 130 of the 168 members of the RNC have already endorsed his reelection, and agreed to let their names be published. Further, no serious challenger to Priebus has emerged. Additionally, to my knowledge, Maryland’s is the only state party contemplating such an anti-Priebus resolution.

This sense of inevitability surrounding Priebus may seem strange, especially given the general state of unhappiness among Republicans right now. Then again, the party deposed a chairman with a winning record in 2010, and the country just convincingly reelected a president with persistently high unemployment for the first time since 1936. Part of me is starting to wonder if the old rules still apply.

Realistically speaking, I’m forced to wonder what the resolution will actually accomplish. Binding the state’s RNC representatives to vote against an RNC chairman with no opposition and super-majority support seems like a hollow gesture. And, while deep blue Maryland is not a priority for the RNC as far as resources are concerned, passing this resolution will transform Chairman Priebus’s attitude towards Maryland from one of neglect to outright hostility.

Perhaps most importantly, it won’t bind anyone to do anything. Balloting for the RNC chairman’s race is done in secret, so the state’s three RNC members – Nicolee Ambrose, Louis Pope, and Alex Mooney – are free to vote their conscience.

Holding party leaders like Priebus accountable for the election results is a desirable objective. Perhaps the MDGOP can best serve that end by passing a resolution identifying deficiencies in Priebus’s leadership and pressing for specific reforms.  By comparison, simply antagonizing a chairman who’s going to be in office for two more years strikes me as counterproductive at best, and self-destructive at worst.

One of my Facebook friends likened Fiastro to the protester who famously stood in front of the tanks during the Tiananmen Square uprising.  Yes, what that man did was heroic. But, the protesters were crushed and that man was never heard from again.

The lesson here for state Republicans is clear: Taking a stand is noble, but doing so when you actually have a realistic chance of achieving success is optimal.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What Should Maryland Republicans Do About Alex Mooney?

Looking back upon recent history, it seems that chairs of the Maryland Republican Party have as much likelihood of success, or longevity, as drummers in the fictional rock group Spinal Tap.

High rollin' John Kane served as party chairman during much of Bob Ehrlich’s term as governor, when the party achieved some fundraising success and served as an extension of the Ehrlich political machine. When he left the position after Ehrlich's 2006 defeat, the party was largely bankrupt, partly due to Kane's free-spending ways, and its partisans demoralized.

Veterinarian Jim Pelura then took the party’s helm during highly unfavorable circumstances. Amid party infighting and continuing complaints about finances, he walked away, frustrated, from the job before the expiration of his term.

Then former Ehrlich Planning Secretary Audrey Scott rode in to save the day. Mrs. Scott claimed to have achieved great fundraising success during her year as chair, almost solely due to the largess of then-RNC chairman Michael Steele. But Mrs. Scott’s deficiencies – including inflated fundraising totals, a failure to recruit a candidate for Attorney General, and her insistence at directing resources at the expense of other candidates to Andy Harris (who was doing perfectly fine raising money on his own) and Bob Ehrlich (who lost to Governor O’Malley by 15 points during their 2010 rematch) – were exposed when she ran, unsuccessfully, to represent the state on the Republican National Committee, usually a gimme job for former party chairs.

Then former Senator Alex Mooney won the job in 2010. I nominally supported Mooney that year. While I saw him as a clean break from the party’s recent, Ehrlich-centric past, I also wondered if he wanted the job, or simply a platform from which to carry on his political ambitions.

Now, in light of the MDGOP’s disastrous election returns, the hanging party has ridden into town in search of Mooney.

The gentlemen at Red Maryland laid out the case for removing Mooney from office. They make some very valid points, including the MDGOP’s humiliating shut out among the three ballot questions which partisans worked so diligently to get on the ballot, yet lacked any semblance of a strategy to actually get passed (I blogged about the ballot initiative debacle here).

As I ponder Mooney’s fate, I find myself asking two questions.

First, if the party dumps Mooney, who will the next chairman be?

Hierarchically speaking, First Vice Chair Diana Waterman is next in line. I don’t know Mrs. Waterman personally, but her reputation is that of a loyal, diligent, hard-working, devoted partisan. However, she is very much an establishment figure, and is aligned with the Audrey Scott wing of the party. Elevating her will likely not produce the kind of sweeping change many partisans are demanding.

Many cite the possibility of a sizzle candidate emerging, such as 2012 Senate nominee Dan Bongino. After all, Bongino racked up some impressive fundraising totals due to the efforts of fundraiser Hillary Foster Pennington, and built a grassroots network of 3000 people across the state.

Such pondering leads me to the second question: If Mooney goes, who worth having would actually want the job, especially given the recent history of infighting and rebellion and the party’s seemingly grim future prospects?

Given these challenges, can a new chairman personally make things better, or will he/she simply follow his/her immediate predecessors onto the scaffold after another disastrous election cycle?

The case against Mooney has several different elements, but it is clear that the failure of the ballot initiatives is the tipping point in terms of people demanding his ouster.

Indeed, Chairman Mooney should have played a traffic cop function with respect to the petition drives, discouraging those that lacked the strategy or resources to succeed during the ballot phase from moving forward.

He didn’t. And, as a result, the party is in a worse position than if the questions had never appeared on the ballot.

But, in all fairness, he was not singlehandedly responsible for getting them there. Neil Parrott, Tony Campbell, and others who blithely used the process as some kind of silver bullet have some things to answer for, too.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, while I am open to replacing Mooney, I don’t see anyone among the current crop of party leaders who would likely do a better job, assuming they even wanted it.

Chairman Mooney stated to me that he "doesn't think" he is running in 2014 for the 6th Congressional District seat just captured by Democrat John Delaney. If accurate, that removes one of the biggest criticisms partisans have had about him during the past two years.

Absent a consensus alternative arising, the members of the state Republican Central Committee may have to resign themselves to demanding answers and accountability from Mooney, and extracting from him a plan of corrective action.

That plan of corrective action might also include examining the extent to which the MDGOP’s Executive Director, David Ferguson, needs to be held accountable, too.

Mooney is a hands-off manager, and some of Ferguson’s operational decisions – including planning and executing a Red White and Blue fundraising dinner which netted only $8,000 for the party, and his rumored alliance with controversial GOP political consultant Lawrence Scott – has drawn criticism among some central committee members.

When I talked to Chairman Mooney at the party’s spring convention he said to me, “I’m not perfect, but at least I’m trying to do the right thing.”

I believe that.

Now, it is up to him to convince partisans that he’s the right person to lead the party out of its present moment of darkness. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The GOP and Questions 4 - 6: What Happened?

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, everyone on my block wanted a Big Wheel – plastic, orange-reddish, low-riding, three wheel vehicles built specifically to appeal to boys. These were popular toys during the Evel Knieval era, where every boy fancied himself a daredevil.

I thought of the Big Wheel as I watched the debacle surrounding the MDGOP’s attempt to repeal three laws passed by the legislature and placed on the ballot by opponents in accordance with the state’s referendum process.

In the case of three of these laws, the requisite number of signatures were gathered in part using the new tool (in the case of Question 7, regarding expanded gambling, it was placed on the ballot through legislative mandate).

Opponents used the tool to gather and delivered far more signatures than the 55,000 or so that were needed to get the state’s civil marriage equality law and the DREAM Act on the ballot. Indeed, opponents of the state’s gerrymandered congressional redistricting map narrowly and unexpectedly used the tool to add it to the ballot as well.

Opponents of the laws hailed as an exciting new resource which the political minority in Maryland can use to challenge the extreme agenda of a runaway political establishment in Annapolis.  

But, of course, had its limitations. Getting a measure on the ballot means very little if no strategy exists for when it gets there.

And yet, unfortunately, that is what the opponents of the various referred laws did. They used very successfully, but eventually ran into the same constraints I did with my Big Wheel: You can take it up and down the driveway, but you’re going to need a bigger vehicle if you really want to get anywhere.

I find the Democrats' running the table on these three petition-driven ballot questions to be one of the biggest ignominies the state’s beleaguered GOP has ever experienced.

The state GOP had a case to make – especially about the DREAM Act, an example of the state expanding entitlements while taxpayers are being asked to contribute even more.

Indeed, opposition to the DREAM Act was visible during the signature gathering phase of the process. But no effective or coherent case for its repeal was ever articulated by its opponents during the ballot phase. Meanwhile, MDDEMS, unions, and other allies threw resources and messaging support behind reaffirming the law, which passed by a 58-42 percent margin.

Meanwhile, the state’s congressional redistricting map – ridiculed for its gerrymandered nature by federal judges, one of whom liked the shape of the torturous 3rd Congressional District to a pterodactyl – was a slam dunk, passing 63 – 37 percent. Former Baltimore County GOP Chairman Tony Campbell did his best to spread the word, and some reform-minded Montgomery County Democrats seized the mantle, but it is hard to get people to care about arcane process issues without the resources needed to educate them as to why they should.  

As for marriage equality, which passed by a 52 – 48 percent margin, the issue breaks more along generational and secular-evangelical lines than it does party loyalties. Majorities affirmed the law in two GOP counties – Frederick and Anne Arundel - and Question 6 outpolled President Obama in several other GOP-leaning counties.

So by racing to get all these initiatives onto the ballot, did state GOP leaders bite off more than they could chew?

Well, duh.

The MDGOP remains a cash-strapped organization – its annual Red White and Blue fundraising dinner last summer netted only $8,000 for the party coffers – and the party itself is rife with intramural rivalries. While the advent of the tool made the referendum process seem seductively simple, it is clear that the party did not have the resources, organization, or manpower to coordinate simultaneously three successful campaigns against the referred laws.

Nor, in the end, were they able to find reliable surrogates to do so.

But by proceeding full steam ahead with the doomed referendum campaigns, the MDGOP helped reaffirm, loudly and publicly, the MDDEMs primacy, the state’s own strong liberal leanings, and the minority party’s essential irrelevance in Maryland.

In other words, they made the situation worse than if they had not bothered with the referendum process at all.

Instead, party leaders should have forgotten about the map, treated marriage equality as a matter of conscience, and focused whatever time and resources it could to selling the case against the DREAM Act. A strong education campaign focusing on fiscal responsibility and the need for national immigration reform to occur first might have yielded a closer, less embarrassing result.

Unfortunately, state Republicans likely will not get a second chance to achieve a better result in the future using their new toy, as Governor O’Malley and state Democrats now speak openly about “reforming” the petitions process, presumably to prevent the use of Internet tools like ever again.

I don’t remember what happened to my Big Wheel, and I expect will achieve a similar fate. But one thing is clear: Maryland Republicans have another wave of self-assessment, accountability, and (hopefully) reform headed their way. Let’s hope it is a constructive experience, and let’s hope it makes the party stronger headed into 2014.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

GOP State Delegate Gail Bates: "Once lost, Audrey, (respect) is hard to regain."

Yesterday I blogged about the "Republican Voter Guide" which former MDGOP Chairmen Audrey Scott and Michael Steele sent to partisans across the state.

Here is what GOP Delegate Gail Bates (R-Howard County, District 9A) had to say about it in an open letter to Mrs. Scott on her own Facebook page. No editorial commentary or added snark on my part is necessary. The delegate expresses herself just fine.

To Audrey Scott:

The "Republican Voter Guide" is grossly misleading. 37 Republicans in the House voted against the bill. My constituents are shocked and disappointed to be told Republicans support gaming as if it was an official position. You have dishonored those of us who opposed this farce when we went on the record and voted against the bill. There are so many reasons to oppose both the bill & the process, only to be thrown under the bus by people I previously respected. Once lost, Audrey, it is hard to regain.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Guide: Coming to a Mailbox Near You

Something called the “Republican Voter Guide” has been turning up in the mailboxes of voters across the state of Maryland. The mailer, which features smiling images of two high profile PG County political alums and former MD GOP Chairmen – Michael Steele and Audrey Scott – offers a series of “recommendations” on how people should vote on the seven ballot initiatives voters will decide on come Tuesday.

The piece talks about seven initiatives, but it’s really all about one: Question 7, the measure to permit a new casino to be built in Prince George’s County while allowing table games at the existing gambling centers. Steele and Scott sent a letter to state Republicans outlining their support for the measure – putting them at odds with the majority of their fellow Republicans.

In her recent Baltimore Sun piece, Marta Mossburg accuses Steele and Scott of, “repeat(ing) the Democratic Party lie that a new casino at National Harbor in Prince George's County will ‘provide hundreds of millions in new revenue for education each year, without raising taxes.’"

Mossburg also had the same basic question as I did upon learning of Steele and Scott’s advocacy – namely, why they are doing it? She reports that she approached each of them to see if they were being paid by MGM, Question 7’s principal advocate, but they did not respond to her inquiries.

Still sources tell me political consultant Lawrence Scott is working the pro-Question 7 side of the issues, and is trying to line up support for the measure. That explains Audrey’s involvement. Also, the authority line on the Guide reads “Republican Leaders Referendum Guide,Michelle Corkadel, Treasurer.” Corkadel is an activist and longtime political associate of the Scotts.

Further, I should add that sources in DC told me that former Governor Bob Ehrlich was also approached by MGM to play a pro-Question Seven advocacy role, and declined. His stated reason: He did not want to do anything which could result in political benefit to Governor Martin O’Malley.

Anyway, we’re well into the silly season as far as politics is concerned, so the Guide should be taken in that context. Just keep in mind that, regardless of their past roles in the MDGOP, neither Steele nor Scott are speaking in an official capacity for the party.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Perilously Putting on My Prognosticator's Hat

Tis the season for political prognostication, and while I consider myself a fairly decent handicapper, I must admit that, in all my years of following politics, this is the most difficult political season to handicap.

So, I have been reluctant to make predictions given the volatility we’ve seen in the presidential race, and with the four contentious ballot questions Marylanders will be voting on next Tuesday.

Still, as Rocky Balboa said, “I gotta go out the way I gotta go out.” It is in that spirit that I’m going to take a stab at predicting the outcomes of some of the key races. I’m perfectly aware I may be eating a plateful of crow come Wednesday morning, but why not have a little fun in the meantime?

In a nutshell, I think Mitt Romney wins, the makeup of Maryland’s congressional delegation remains unchanged except for the fact that John Delaney will defeat Roscoe Bartlett, and the three laws and the Prince George’s County casino expansion proposal which are at the heart of the four ballot initiatives are all defeated. Here is my rationale for each call.


In dissecting the presidential campaign, the core question to ask oneself is, “Is this election going to be another 2004, or another 1980?”

For much of the year I tended to see it as the former: A lackluster president narrowly elected over a lackluster challenger. But with Romney revitalizing his image, and the economy again taking center stage, I can now see a 1980 scenario unfolding.

During the first half of the year, I had President Obama at about an 80 percent favorite for reelection based on three factors: 1) the sense that, despite lingering high unemployment, there was a sense of sustained positive momentum in the economy; 2) the Republican candidates competing for the nomination were universally underwhelming; and 3) the defeat of an incumbent president – which has only occurred three times in the past 80 years – is a relative rarity in American politics.

During the second half of the year, two of these factors changed. Job growth slowed to a crawl, and while there is evidence that it has resumed, legitimate questions about the sustainability of the recovery endure. Further, Mitt Romney – who stumbled to the GOP nomination amid a field of deeply-flawed candidates, and missed an opportunity to define himself at the party convention last August – finally got his breakthrough opportunity during the presidential debates in October. Reasonable people can disagree over which candidate won which debate (with the exception of the first one), but it is clear that Romney emerged from the series of debates looking credibly presidential.

Obama retains the advantages inherent in incumbency, as well as his personal likability. Still, it should be mentioned that only one Democratic president since FDR has been reelected, and that was with a plurality and not a majority vote because of the presence of a third party candidate. Further, no president (with the exception of FDR) has been reelected with unemployment at or above 7.9 percent. So if Obama is reelected, he will, in that sense, be defying historical winds yet again.

When I look at the messages which the Obama campaign has been emphasizing during the campaign, I see evidence of weakness. When the economy dipped in the middle of the year, Obama was deprived of his “sustained positive momentum” case for reelection, and was forced to go with a “Mitt is a bad guy” approach, instead. That was the core message in many of the ads which saturated the airwaves in battleground states through much of the summer and into the fall. Romney retroactively inoculated himself from many of these attacks after the debates, effectively reshuffling the campaign deck in the process.

Then,the Obama campaign began employing more distractive tactics, emphasizing Romney’s alleged social conservatism (wheeling out women’s health and gay rights for their wedge issue value), elevating micro issues such as PBS funding and Romney's 47 percent comment (which did not prove to be the silver bullet some of the left clearly thought it would be), and manufacturing gaffes like Romney’s “binders full of women” comment in order to steer the campaign debate away from the economy. As far as I can tell, these attempts to change the subject have not worked, and the persistently bad economy is sticking to Obama the same way it has previous presidents seeking reelection.

As for Romney, his fundamental weakness as a candidate is also his biggest strength. People see him as a chameleon-like figure who ran for U. S. Senate as a liberal in 1994, for governor of Massachusetts as a moderate in 2002, for president as a conservative in 2008, and for president as a hybrid of each this year. This may explain why he took longer to capture the GOP nomination that was clearly going to be his, and some of his difficulties connecting with voters. But it also explains why the Obama campaign's attempts to paint him as a closet ring wing fanatic have failed, too. 

Of course, a presidential election consists of 51 separate elections, and many respected prognosticators have concluded that Obama is a near lock for reelection when one looks at the Electoral College math and battleground states in which polling allegedly shows Obama leading. But I question the veracity of some of these polls for three reasons.

First, many polls assume a turnout model which oversamples Democrats. For example, a recent Quinnipiac poll showed Obama leading in Florida and Ohio. In Florida, the poll showed Obama with a 1 point lead using a D+7 sample. In 2008, turnout was only D+3. In Ohio, the Quinnipiac poll showed Obama with a five point lead with a D+8 sample. Most observers predict an even split among partisans voting in Ohio this year. Overall, polling generally shows GOP voters are far more motivated to vote this year than in 2008, causing me to conclude that some of these estimates of Democratic turnout in 2012 are questionable at best.

Second, Romney is showing strength in a voting bloc that Obama carried in 2008: early voters. Politico reports that Obama seems to be leading, but not by the margin he did in 2008, when John McCain actually won the majority of voters who cast ballots on Election Day. A Gallup poll found Romney up 52 – 46 percent among early voters.

Third, in the vast majority of polls, Obama is polling in the mid- to high-forties, and seems unable to break the 50.1 percent threshold. Experience dictates that undecideds tend to break for challengers rather than incumbents, giving Romney more potential for upward mobility than Obama. 

So, the bottom line is, if you believe much of the state polling, Obama appears poised to win. If you do not and are looking at history and some of the intangibles in this race – for example, 30,000 people attending a rally for Romney in Ohio – you see Romney’s path to victory. I find myself in the latter camp.

Congress, Sixth District

This one is a real snoozer. I think Bartlett would have had a better chance if State Senator Rob Garagiola had been his opponent, because Bartlett could have waged a campaign by proxy against Martin O’Malley, Mike Miller, and the establishmentarians in Annapolis. But Bartlett drew the short straw when his opponent turned out to be soft-spoken, moderate, self-financing financier John Delaney. The Bartlett campaign is citing polls showing both candidates in the low 40s as evidence that the campaign is a toss-up. Everyone knows that undecided voters tend to break for challengers, so for Congressman Bartlett to be mired in the low 40s is a sign of weakness, not competitiveness.

Question 4: Tuition breaks for illegal immigrants

I blogged previously about this measure, and the reasons why I thought it would, and should, ultimately go down. 

The Sun’s Annie Linskey reported during the petition’s signature gathering phase at one point that 30 percent of the signers were Democrats, including 56 percent in Baltimore City, 39 percent in Baltimore County, and 38 percent in Prince George’s County.

Based on this experience, there seems an opportunity for a coalition of Republicans, conservative Democrats, and African Americans to come together to defeat the measure. However, recent Sun polling found support for the DREAM Act narrowly leading 47 – 45 percent statewide. I still think Question 4 is defeated, albeit by a narrow margin, because of greater passion among the bill’s opponents than its supporters (evident during the signature gathering phase), and because there may be a “Bradley Effect” at work here. 

Working in Question 4’s favor is the actual wording which appears on the ballot, which references helping veterans and children and never uses the phrase “illegal immigrant.”

If the DREAM Act survives, then blame rests with the state’s Republican Party, which worked aggressively to collect signatures to get the measure on the ballot, then largely abandoned it once it got there. Republicans have generally treated the Maryland Petitions signature gathering tool like a child’s new tricycle. It’s fun to take it up and down the driveway, but you’re going to need a bigger vehicle if you really want to get somewhere.

Question 5: Redistricting Map

The state’s congressional redistricting map is an example of muscle politics in action, a naked attempt by the state’s ruling Democrats to bump off a GOP congressman and protect its own incumbents into perpetuity. 

Still, I wonder if anyone really cares.

Again, the state GOP deserves some fault here for dropping the ball once they succeeded in unexpectedly getting the map onto the ballot. If this measure has any life at all, it is because Comptroller Peter Franchot and other reformist Montgomery County Democrats have seized the mantle.

You would figure that a redistricting map crafted by Democrats in a two-to-one majority Democratic state would glide to victory. Still, I think voters fall into two categories: People who hate this map, and people who don’t care. I think it passes because the people who hate the map will support its repeal, and those who don’t care may be inclined to undervote.

Question 6: Marriage Equality

I blogged previously about the reasons why I support the state’s marriage equality law, and why I think it will likely be defeated, as 32 similar measures were previously in other states

California’s gay marriage law was defeated in 2008 due to heavy opposition among religious black and Hispanic voters. Black voters comprise 40 percent of the state’s Democratic electorate, and while President Obama’s support for gay marriage caused a spike in support among blacks according to earlier polls, the recent Sun poll finds that blacks now oppose it by a 50 – 42 percent margin.

I think this is another issue where the Bradley Effect may be a factor in some of the polling data. I also think this may be an issue in which religious black voters may be more inclined to listen to their pastors than the president.

Question 7: Expanded Gambling

The Sun poll has the proposal to create a new casino in Prince George’s County and bring table games to the state’s other gambling centers losing resoundingly by a 54 – 39 percent margin. I think that poll is accurate. Despite the oceans of money which have been spent on this issue, I believe neither side in this war of the casino owners has succeeded in getting its message out. All voters have heard is a confusing din. If gambling loses, I think it will have less to do with the substance of the proposal as much as the fact that the two sides have effectively cancelled each other out, and voters are voting no as a default to preserve the status quo.

So, those are my picks. If I am wrong on any of these – especially the first one – I know I will be hearing from some of you. But that’s fair. In the meantime, don’t forget to vote. Your vote always matters…even in deep blue Maryland.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

They're Called Proofreaders...Get One

Conservative GOP State Senator Nancy Jacobs is challenging Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger for the Second Congressional District seat he now holds.

Trying to knock off an incumbent Democratic congressman in deep blue Maryland is no easy feat, especially in a district drawn to reelect Democrats in perpetuity. So, I’m not surprised that Senator Jacobs would enlist one of the party’s bigger names – former Governor Bob Ehrlich, himself a past holder of the same congressional seat for which Jacobs is now running – as she raises the funds needed to challenge an entrenched, five-term member of Congress.

But what surprises me is the fact that no one seems to be proofreading these things before they go out.

In addition to the crude and amateurish tone of the email – I guess “wildly liberal” is the opposite of “severely conservative” – it’s riddled with grammatical errors and typos. It reads almost as if it were written by a community college dropout or something.

Below is the text of the email unedited by me (except for the fact that I removed the hyperlinks included therein). I’m also happy to scan and send you a JPG copy of the original which was emailed to me – though I’m sure there are thousands of them sitting in people’s inboxes right now.

Look, I think Nancy Jacobs is a fine public servant and a decent candidate. But when Republicans in Maryland mess up the small things, they will never, to borrow a word from Governor Ehrlich, “convinces” independents and conservative-leaning Democrats that they can ever get the big things right.


From the Desk of Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

I don't write personal fundraising emails for other members of Maryland's Republicans very often , but the stakes are so high that I'm making this one exception. Elections have consequences and the 2nd Congressional District race to me is personal.

There isn't much time- Election Day is only 6 days away and Nancy really needs our help. You see, with the focus o this election on the White House and the U.S. Senate, I fear many may have forgotten how important it is to keep our conservative majority in the House.

My good friends, State Senator Nancy Jacobs, is engaged in one of the most fiercely competitive House races in the country this year and she urgently needs our help. You see, Nancy is running against a radically Liberal Congressman - Dutch Ruppersberger (D) who was a loyal Democrat under both Nancy Pelosi and Obama.

You know I would only ask you to support solid conservatives who will stand up for the Constitutional conservative values that you and I share - and Nancy Jacobsis one of us!

That's why liberals from across the country are pouring millions of dollars into this race. They believe this could be the one race that tips the scales and re-installs Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

But I'm convinces if we can raise the necessary resources in the final days of this campaign we can push this race into the win column and prevent Pelosi from becoming Speaker again.

Nancy urgently needs the help of conservatives like you and me across the nation to raise the resources to stay on the airwaves for the final days. So will you make an emergency contribution of $25, $50, $100, $250 or more to Nancy's campaign today?

The bottom line is that we need Nancy serving in the U.S. House to protect our cherished liberties and defend our values from the radical left. This is why I'm urgently asking you to support Nancy's campaign today with a donation of $25, $50, $100, $250 or whatever you can afford.


Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.

P.S. I'm proud to stand with Nancy Jacobs as she faces off with a wildly liberal Pelosi foot soldier. It's critical that Republicans recapture this seat, because we urgently need Nancyfighting with me for our shared values. Thanks- Bob

Monday, October 15, 2012

The MVA Mystery Revisited

Earlier this month I had a piece in the Frederick News Post describing my rather complex experience renewing my license at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) express office in Columbia.

While the experience was a model of efficiency as far as wait time and overall excellence of service were concerned, I was put off by the fact that the clerk brought my voter registration information up on a screen and asked me if I wanted to switch my party affiliation.

I informally sampled my friends on Facebook, and found that those who were registered Republican were more likely to report having the same experience than Democrats.

Anyway, Stuart Harvey, Director of the Frederick County Board of Elections, was kind enough to drop me a note responding to my article. In his message to me, he stated:

“I passed it on to the State Board of Elections, who will be discussing the behavior you experienced with their MVA contact. There is now a statewide online voter registration system that integrates with the MVA – but that question about “changing party affiliation” is not part of any training MVA staff were given in using the system, as I understand it.”

He also promised to let me know what the Maryland State Board of Elections has to say about this situation. I will report back on what comes of this here.

In the meantime, if you have had experiences similar to mine at the MVA regarding changing your voter registration, please share them with me. I may report them here but absolutely won’t do so without permission.

These are the kinds of creeping encroachments of authority that can occur when an entrenched majority party holds power permanently. Only by publicizing such incidents can we hope to force reform.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

The GOP Is Changing Chairmen in Baltimore County

So, over the weekend I got the word from various people that Baltimore County GOP Chairman Steve Kolbe had announced his resignation as chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, throwing his support to Vice Chairman Al Mendelsohn as his successor.

To get to the bottom of this, I sent a Facebook message to Kolbe (he opened the message but did not respond) and Mendelsohn (he did). In the meantime, someone sent me a copy of Kolbe’s valedictory message to Central Committee members, which I reproduced, unedited, below (I omitted Kolbe's contact information.)

Kolbe isn’t resigning. Rather, he is ineligible to seek another term because he is not presently a member of the Central Committee. Whereas the chairmanship of the Baltimore County Central Committee was previously determined by a countywide vote during the GOP primary in non-presidential election years, the law was changed to make the position elected by, and from, the Central Committee members themselves. Further, the term of the chairman was shortened from four years to two, meaning that – under the new law – it will be time for the Central Committee to elect its new chairman in November.

I plan to focus on the race to succeed Kolbe – by all accounts, an effective and diligent chairman – in a future blog entry. There are a lot of able candidates among present Central Committee members – Al Mendelsohn among them. At the moment it seems to be his to lose.

Still, I would like to see more women ascend to leadership roles in the MDGOP. So I hope at least one viable female candidate will emerge as a possible future chairman.

And, yes, Hillary Foster Pennington, I’m talking about you.


Dear BCRCC Team:

We have accomplished so much together over the past year and a half! During this term, we have grown the movement, increasing not just our credibility and rightful prominence within the Republican Party, but we increased our party's strength in our jurisdiction, while our opponents withered away. We have done our part to evangelize the Republican brand in our community while holding Democrats accountable for their actions, we have helped our candidates succeed, we have exerted real influence on important issues throughout the state, we have identified our culture of who we truly are and who we truly should be, and we have done so, so much more. Most importantly, we have reformed our committee; we now have the right to self-determine our leaders, we have an empowered committee structure, and we truly are a united, vibrant, respected, and active force for good in the community.

We still have much work to do before this election is over, but it's time to start shifting some attention to our upcoming meeting. One of the most important things we will do is ensure a solid foundation for our future by nominating the candidates for a new officer corps that will serve for the next two years.

You have been an inspiration and have given me memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Your wisdom when unleashed, is reliably effective and routinely right. One of the most important times we exerted this wisdom was in the activities subsequent to the passage of SB85. Our implementation of this change in the law did three things: first, it made the position of Chairman, as it exists at this moment, defunct; second, it called for an election to be held once every two years; and, third, it called for the officer corps to be elected from within the membership of the BCRCC once every two years, except for the Treasurer who is elected every two years with the rest of the officer corps but does not need to be a BCRCC member.

I stood with you in unanimity, supporting this measure, eyes open in the knowledge that, as I ceased to be a member when I took this office of Chairman, these changes were making me ineligible to run for another term this November. I stood with you on those changes because I agree. It's the right way to do it!

As you move forward in the next chapter of this journey together, I am confident that our party has a solid foundation and the tools to succeed. Please take confidence in the knowledge that I have been working diligently to ensure seamless continuity. The assets we built will be transferred, and this organization will be set up to continue onward and upward. 
Two things to know:

A leader never leaves a vacuum

Outstanding organizations have a solid succession plan. That's why volunteer organizations like ours frequently regard a vice-chair or vice-president as the individual(s) who are in training to take over the leadership position one day.

Throughout all the things we have done over the past year, I want you to know that Al Mendelsohn and I have been good friends and excellent partners in success. Where I was weak, Al was strong. Al was always there when I needed help. Even if he was not the face or the voice, he and I worked side by side on nearly everything, and his mark is, in one way or another, on nearly everything we have done. In fact over the past six months since the passage of our reforms, I have been working closely with Al to ensure he has all the tools he feels he needs to continue on as Chairman, and that you have the ability to choose this path, should it be your wish to do so.

In a conversation between Al and I yesterday, we talked about ideas for the future. What I heard was exciting and left me with a feeling of confidence. Also, Al's recent diagnosis does not change my feelings that he is an outstanding choice for a successor; since his procedure, he has reassured me that he is well, getting better every day, and just as enthusiastic as ever about the Republican Party.

Our assets have been cared for

Our stock in trade is our information and our ideas. As you know, we built an infrastructure from the ground up. The databases and files in my possession are the intellectual property of the BCRCC. They will be transferred over to the succeeding leadership, and I will remain involved so long as is necessary to affect a full and complete transfer of all knowledge. I hope that which we built during our time together can be further improved upon in the future, and that it will serve to smooth the transition between next generations of leaders, and preserve the hard work of generations past, for decades to come.

As we have one gathering left before the current term comes to a close, this is a bittersweet moment. This time has been one of the most personally enriching experiences of my entire life. I have learned so much, and you have changed me into a better person... but words will never be able to do justice to express how you have indeed transformed me. Thank you so much for giving me this honor and this opportunity. I am forever in your gratitude.

And now, while I shall clear the way for new generations of leaders to make their mark upon this great party in this great county, I look forward to once again becoming a citizen activist, to continuing my love of volunteerism for the party and its people, as this movement continues to turn the tide and eventually, one day, vanquishes the liberal progressive agenda and turns this county into a citadel of Republican strength in Maryland!

Sincerely Yours,
Stephen V. Kolbe

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Inappropriate Much?

It’s been a rough few weeks for Maryland’s political class.

First, conservative Delegate Don Dwyer confessed to drinking while boating during an accident at sea, sending children into the water, and onto the hospital.

Then, Governor Martin O’Malley – attending the Democratic convention in Charlotte – got into trouble for delivering consecutive, conflicting answers on the “Are we better off now than four years ago” question made famous by Ronald Reagan in 1980. Jay Leno had a bit of fun with that.

Then, the governor delivered a warm-up convention speech which, according to news reports, few people seemed to like. I opined about this speech myself in a Baltimore Sun op-ed last week. While I did not think the speech was particularly memorable, I felt it was more a missed opportunity than an outright disaster.

Now, two more politicos seem to have waded into their own respective messes as well.

First, Delegate Jon Cardin – the guy who got into trouble for letting the SWAT team plan his engagement for him a few years ago – has received unwelcomed attention from local press and bloggers for deciding to have a political fundraiser on September 11th. 

Now, I have to say that the idea of someone hosting a fundraiser on 9/11 doesn’t necessarily offend me. 

One of the best things to come out of that appalling tragedy was a collective sense of resolve. Americans seemed to be united in their belief that, as we fought the war on terror, we would not live our lives in fear of terrorists. That means not being afraid to get on a plane, go to work, play golf, or lead our lives normally just because of what the calendar says.

Still, it was Cardin’s attempt to justify his decision, rather than the decision itself, that I found questionable. 

"I don't think it's inappropriate, and we have a lot of patriotic things that we do, and one of them is getting involved in political action in the political world, and it's an opportunity to really get together and also have sort of a very important conversation about improving our country and our state, Sept. 11 should be a day that we do that like every other day."

Fundraising is a reality of politics, but I am a little uncomfortable characterizing it as a “patriotic” activity. When I think of patriotism in the 9/11 context, a few things come to mind, including the bravery of first responders, veterans and active military personnel serving overseas, and – most of all – the victims of the attacks and their survivors.

Politicians and the fundraisers they hold do not exactly make the cut for me.

Anyway, Delegate Cardin seems to have an almost Bidenesque talent for getting himself into trouble. Given his historic penchant for inappropriate bravado, I guess we should be grateful he didn’t try to stage his fundraiser at Arlington National Cemetery.

The other misstep involves a former politician’s questionable appearance at a Washington, D. C. fundraiser.

I had never heard of Duchenne muscular dystrophy prior to last night. This disease strikes one in 3600 male births, causing muscular degeneration, paralysis, and eventual death.

The Foundation to Eradicate Duchenne – which I had also never heard of before – hosts an annual “Dining Away Duchenne” fundraiser.  The 2012 edition was held last night at Eastern Market in Washington, and the names on the event’s host committee are a bipartisan cross-section of Congress.

In light of the seriousness of the cause and the political star power aligned with it, using it as a backdrop for self-promotional activities would seemingly be a verboten thing to do.

Well, not according to former Governor Bob Ehrlich, who used the event as a book-signing opportunity for his magnum opus, Turn This Car Around.

I found this out from several people who attended the shindig, and while I didn’t believe it at first, one of them sent me a picture of the ex-gub diligently signing away next to an easel display of the book cover.

Now, I don’t know what kind of arrangement Ehrlich had with the event’s organizers. But I do know that, in Washington, perception defines reality. And the perception among some event attendees was that he was using a fundraiser for "Jerry's Kids" as a platform to regain lost relevance.

When I shared this news with a friend and fellow Ehrlich world veteran, his response was, “The man has no shame.”

No shame? Maybe. But one thing is obviously true.

Ehrlich sure must have a lot of unsold books lying around.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Is Richard Nixon Chris Christie's Muse?

So, I was on the road during the past few days. As a result, I caught the GOP convention festivities from Tampa in sparing snippets.

I listened to Ann Romney and Chris Christie’s speeches on the radio, and watched Paul Ryan’s remarks Wednesday night. Last night I listened to Clint Eastwood’s “angry old man” routine and Marco Rubio’s eloquent remarks en route from the airport, and got home just in time to watch Romney’s speech at my favorite neighborhood hangout (thanks, Red Star, for indulging my GOP ways for an evening).

So, now that I’m back I’m going to catch up on what I missed. I have a few general impressions about the convention based on what I saw, but I would like to withhold comment until I’ve seen the rest.

Still, there was one thing I noticed in one of the speeches that no other political writer or observer has, to my knowledge, yet mentioned.

As I listened to Chris Christie’s speech, the following line sounded vaguely familiar.

“There's only one thing missing now. Leadership. It takes leadership that you don't get from reading a poll. You see, Mr. President - real leaders don't follow polls. Real leaders change polls.”

When I got home last night, I pulled the source where I thought I’d originally read it, and confirmed my suspicions.

It seems that Christie borrowed the sentiment, if not the exact line itself, from another famous New Jersey resident: Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon, a New Jerseyan, you’re asking? Well, yes, actually.

When he left the White House in August 1974, Nixon famously retreated to his home in San Clemente, California for a period of self-imposed exile. Citing a desire to be back in the middle of intellectual life on the east coast, the Nixons later relocated back to New York City (where they had lived in the 1960s) and later to suburban New Jersey.

Nixon was living in the Garden State when he wrote the following:

“The candidate who slavishly follows the polls may get elected, but he will not be a great leader or even a good one. The task of the leader is not to follow the polls, but to make the polls and the people follow him.” ~ In The Arena, p. 265

So, what’s going on here? Is Christie’s speechwriter a Nixonphile like me, or is this just an example of different, like-minded people independently finding their way to the same basic idea?

Anyway, this rhetorical intersection reinforces my belief that anyone who wants to understand everything about American politics – the good as well as the bad – needs to study the careers of two people: Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.

Once you have, you can honestly say that – when it comes to the current crop of politicos – you’ve heard it all before.