Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Early Vote

 Annapolis -

“Slow and steady,” has been the mantra of the day as I checked in on selected polling stations from Baltimore to Annapolis (with a stop in Columbia). There was one report of a booth which switched from Republican to Democrat (WBAL). It occurred in Baltimore City – the machine was pulled and an attendant made sure the vote was entered for the right candidate. Nicky Charleston of the State Board of Elections (SBE) says they recorded fewer than 30 machines with this switching problem. In the larger sense this is less than .001 of all the machines used in the state. Somehow this problem is not occurring with Democratic votes?

In past elections, some jurisdictions totals waited until they received all their totals before reporting to the SBE. Not the case this election. Once totals are reported (even if all the totals aren’t in) they will reported out. In past elections Baltimore City seem to have a big problem with its total, this jurisdiction will get partial results like the rest of the state.

So when will we see results the moment the polls close. The early vote totals, 8.31% of the eligible voters will be reported out. We may be able to ascertain who got their people out early.

Baltimore’s Write in Candidates

The long odds of Russell Neveradon and Shawn Tarrant winning were on full display at one of the city’s most popular precincts, Ashburton Elementary/Middle School. It’s at this polling station where politicians focus because of its consistent turnout numbers. Bellowing the need to write in Neveradon’s name is a poll work that encourages any and everyone to “Write in Neveradon.”

Standing next to her is a Tarrant surrogate who makes sure they get his literature. On cue, as I walk across the street is Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby, the husband of Marilyn Mosby, the Democrat running for State's Attorney. The political Democratic Duo is leaving nothing to chance, even a write in candidate.

The Electorate Mix

Early morning and midday might as well be senior’s hour. They come in vans and cars, taking up the handicap spots on every lot I visited. Many of these voters take the vote seriously. Conversely, at Wilde Lake High school I run into a young pair of voters. As they make their way to polling station they seem more interested who is being profiled at school than who they are going to vote for. It’s this collision of demographics which will become more pronounced as the day wears on.    

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Push

 (Arlington, Virginia) – They avoided the Maryland Health Exchange in the first debate but at News Channel 8 in Arlington, Virginia it was front and center. It was a “complete disaster” according to Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Larry Hogan. “We rolled up our selves and got it done” was the response from Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. “You want to give this guy a promotion, says Hogan. Brown counters, it may have gone badly but the Democratic nominee was prepared to crow about 400,000 people signed up for the Health Exchange.

These are tried and tested quotes the campaigns love. If anything getting them off the talking points has been nearly impossible. The closest we get to being non-scripted is having each man calling the other by their first names. The name calling continued, “You lying about my record.”  “Your math doesn’t add up,” have been lobbed before.

This time there was a lot of pushing on the numbers. “You would cut 450 million dollars from school construction. That would gut the entire Montgomery County’s school construction,” says Lt. Governor Brown. “I don’t know where you got that number…all I asked for was to streamline government…we would never decrease school construction” countered Hogan. It almost became juvenile with each many man trying to one up each other.

There is one debate left and I’m as confused as the electorate. More importantly the race for Governor has not generated the excitement a race of this nature should create. Sure the “political junkies” are salivating for their opportunity to boast our guy one. Unfortunately, this is one of the winner take all battles that get Maryland political operatives “ginned up.” If you not a part of this class you’re likely hoping it ends soon. Trying to get through this clutter is mind-boggling.

Look here are some of the realities if Hogan wins he’ll have to work with Democratic majorities.  “Maybe we’ll find consensus and compromise,” says the Republican Gubernatorial Nominee. “I have a good working relationship with presiding officers,” counters Lt. Governor Brown. These are great talking points but they underlie several critical issues. The State Comptroller pointed out tax revenue is down and you will have to cut. This is reality.  Lastly, we aren’t in as bad shape as people say we are.

The Polls Tell Different Stories

On the eve of this debate the Baltimore Sun released a poll (http://www.baltimoresun.com/videogallery/81642382/Politics/Sun-Poll-Brown-shows-lead-over-Hogan) it shows while the race is tight Brown continues to have a 7 point lead. Prior to this poll the Washington Post Poll came to a similar conclusion (9 point lead). Early polls show the gap narrowing but, overall the leader was Brown. It showed the Hogan campaign had cut into what should be a “runaway race” for Brown.

There is even sometimes out of context polls taken in Maryland. Maryland Reporter (www.MarylandReporter.com) pointed out and instance in the CBS News/NY Times poll. Noting the bogus numbers, it showed a 17 point for the Lieutenant Governor. This spread was far outside what established polls reported (http://marylandreporter.com/2014/10/12/cbs-news-n-y-times-poll-has-bogus-numbers-for-md-again/).

The dagger however was the endorsement of Brown by the Washington Post. The Post called Lt. Governor Brown, “the more knowledgeable man and nimble politician.” In their selection they called Hogan’s economic plan “mush.” You can imagine this did not sit well with the Hogan campaign. Interesting this camp went after the messengers.

John Wagner who writes for the Post noted in a column, “Hogan also accused The Washington Posteditorial board of a “lack of journalistic integrity.” After the debate he charged News Channel 8 moderators with conducting “an interrogation.” Suggesting this was the conspiracy of “the liberal media.” Look I cut it straight down the line. A similar tone was expressed by RedStateMaryland.blogspot.com. Note to political operatives, whining is not a political strategy.

Turn Out

It’s clear this will not be Maryland’s finest hour when it comes to turn out. In an appearance on WEAA-FM I was joined by Barry Rascovar, Columnist for the Gazette, and Independent Political Consultant, Catalina Byrd. Rascovar rationalize what each man hopes from turnout. “Hogan needs big turnouts on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland…for Brown he has to get big numbers in Prince Georges, Montgomery, and Howard Counties.” He said Hogan hopes there is enough apathy in those counties which will make the race close.

I also surmised there is a fatigued factor with democrats in the state. A Goucher Poll showed if the current governor (Martin O’Malley) were allowed to run again, he wouldn’t win the state. All of these factors will play out in the waning days of the campaign. Expect more negative ads.

Pet Peeves

The post debate pressers are a combination of spin, political adjustment, and a chance to say you won. In the last two events after debates Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown has been a no show. At the first event there was Ken Ullman for the Democrats and a number legislators. Appreciated this effort but, where was the Lieutenant Governor? We saw him behind dark windows in an SUV. On cue, who emerges from behind close doors as these surrogates are begining to speak, Larry Hogan. What's his first  statement, "We won the debate." Look there is a new school of thoughts in Public Relations circles - control the message, limit exposure, shut off question before you get a tough one. Okay, you want to play this silly game let me suggest it's not our responsibility to cover you when the subject matter is less than newsworthy. FYI, a surrogate other than the Lieutenant Governor is a second hand source. I am not required to ask questions that hit your talking points. 

Can you hear me!!!!


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

They Meet on the Same Stage

(TV Hill) – The men who want to be the next Governor of the State of Maryland have largely been defined by political advertisements. The few chance encounters have been at forums where they have only brushed shoulders in passing (the Green Party Candidate has been a presence but, not really a factor).

WJZ-TV served as a backdrop for a debate cosponsored by Baltimore Sun. Within an hour Larry Hogan and Anthony Brown need to established their credentials where polls show there is a sizable undecided voter base (Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/post-poll-anthony-brown-leads-larry-hogan-by-9-points-in-maryland-governors-race/2014/10/06/46e2bf20-4d6e-11e4-8c24-487e92bc997b_story.html).

In politics there are several ways to do this, define yourself or be defined by your opponent. There is a sizable difference in money with Hogan the Republican nominee opting to use public financing.

If you’ve been near a television here’s what you know “Hogan will take away a woman’s right to choose…instead of paying for pre-K. Hogan will give corporate tax breaks to out of state businesses.
On the other side “they (O’Malley-Brown) haven’t met a tax they didn’t like…they even taxed the rain…more people have left the state.” These simple tag lines are nuanced and play to evils that each side have waged on ad wars.

Vic Carter of WJZ-TV and Andy Green of the Baltimore Sun were tasked to cut through the sound bites   It came during a question about the economy. The questioner pointed to a comment from the State Comptroller who suggested the state’s finances were not where they should be.and clear up the confusion. It wasn’t long after the opening that the two opponents wanted to one up each other.

Brown disagrees with the comptrollers assessment of the state’s economy. During the Hogan rebuttal the debate gets heated, “it’s not what people say but, what people do.” Brown responds forcefully, “let’s talk about your record…the only plan is your so call plan to streamline government, and it’s riddled with errors. The back and forth gets intense, but the moderators suggest it’s time to move.

For me this deserved to be flesh out. The "one-upmanship" has gone on too long. A lot of issues surrounding the topics covered taxes, K-12 education, the economy, the Chesapeake Bay, hand guns, immigration, gerrymandering, women and the Maryland business climate can give you predictable answers. Isn’t this about leadership and how you move the ship of state?

I’ll give you list of one liners which will be chronicled later. Let me say again this job is about leadership. Here are some questions each candidate needs to answer about dealing with tough issues: When do you feel it’s prudent to buck the party line? What’s the greatest predictor of your style of leadership, raising your finger to see if its popular or practical? You each have been in a role of follower, beyond the people you might put in your cabinet who are good sounding boards – i.e. religious leaders, business leaders, civic leaders or others etc… and why?

I won’t have a seat at anyone’s debate this go round. I’d love to have this questioned answered by both campaigns. “Each of you has had interesting things occurring in your life by the mates you have selected because you have had to blend families. What lessons have you learned in this process, are there any lessons from this that you would apply to leadership.

Let’s start with Mr. Hogan, your wife is of Asian descent, have people expressed surprise at your choice? Have you heard things that make you pause?

Mr. Brown, you’ve been through a divorce while in office – that must have been the most quiet in Prince George’s County – talk about how you dealt with your children when starting your new relationship and making it work?

These are very personal questions. I’m guessing this is not a polling question or an automatic staff response(it’s personal we’re not going to answer). Some may ask why go this route? It may seem personal but, this deals with adversity, leadership, and that thing we hope each man has – compassion.

Now for those one liners:


“I’m not a professional politician.”

“This is the largest exodus of taxpayers.”

Regarding the implementation pre-K education, “He doesn’t have a plan to pay for.”

“It’s not what people, but what people do.”

“We need to stop blaming farmers we’re going to push back,” regarding cleaning the Chesapeake Bay.

“(My) Commercials are positive, he chooses to distract.”

Regarding crime in the state…“Heroin is the number one problem…and Maryland is the leader.”

What do you like about your opponent, “spinning the numbers?”

“Women are concerned about the economy.”


The choice, “do we favor those at the top.”

“There will be no new taxes under my administration.”

“Hogan wants a $300 million dollar tax giveaway.”

“Remember the Erhlich administration.”

“We agree just not on the facts.”

 “Let’s talk about your record…the only plan is your so call plan to streamline government. It’s riddled with errors.”

Regarding the Chesapeake Bay, “we stand in two different areas, you stand in the Susquehanna River.” Answering the charge the problem is the Conowingo Dam and debris in the Susquehanna River.

Regarding tone of the race – “I think it’s fair to show contrast.”

Immigration – “We will protect them.”

Crime – “We’ve driven down crime…you have to understand what’s working.”

What do you like about Republicans? – “The Chesapeake Restoration Program.”

 How do you help women? “Raise the minimum wage, make sure women are able to get protective orders and educational opportunities.”

“Marylanders do a have choice.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Last Word…Maybe

(Owings Mills, MD) The annual primary debates at MPT are in the book. Earlier in the day all of the GOP candidates had the opportunity to make their case (the debate will air Friday, 6/5/14) during the time slot of State Circle.

The heavy weight event however, was the Democratic Primary Debate where my colleague Jeff Salkin moderated a Town Hall style format of undecided voters. These were people picked by the League of Women Voters who have been MPT Partners for some time. The group skewed older and white but, there was a smattering of color in the group.

There is always a delicate balance of MPT management coordinating an event like this with nothing left to chance. We learned this the hard way several years ago during a U.S. Senate Debate when Professor Alan Litchman, an uninvited participant, was removed from the building because he wanted to join the debate.  This year a fringe candidate (Cindy Walsh) made an attempt to get into the studio. She was promptly escorted from the premises.

These are unique choreographed events with each camp not wanting to interact with each other or seen being cordial. Separation is the key, leave little to chance. Yes, all three invitees showed up, no no-shows. Unlike in the past, the press was camped in an adjacent studio where my fellow scribes were hunched over their screens waiting to pounce. They have been through this song and dance before (and so have I). In my best impersonation of Judge Miles Lane, “let’s get it on.”

Blows But Nothing Fatal

I know in my mind the ability to get candidates off script is the key. The audience wants to see something of a heavy weight fight but, for all intents and purpose this is about the future of the state. The platforms and talking points have been repeated.

“I am the most experienced candidate in the field having served as Lieutenant Governor... and I'm an Iraq war veteran,” says Candidate Anthony Brown. “I’m not running for the job as Governor. I want to do the job as Governor,” an often repeated sound bite from Candidate Heather Mizeur.  According to Doug Gansler, “people are tired of labels (Democrat or Republican),” trying to improve his standing with independents and disaffected members of GOP.

In the primary it is about the base and getting them to the polls. It’s also about raising cash and the Brown/Ulman ticket has produced a wind fall in this area(in a short period). During the home stretch it comes down to buying TV time in the Baltimore or DC markets. Spend too early, and you can’t react to last minute attacks. Not enough money and you are essentially a bystander.

I believe the Brown Camp learned a valuable lesson when its candidate didn’t show up for a Debate at Fox 45. Be ready to answer critics. It was evident as the Brown Camp was ready for any mis-speak about the Lieutenant Governor. Several Press Releases (commonly known among the press corp as Pressers) showing previous statements were being handed out among our group.  Let me say this with a degree of understanding but, uneasiness about this process. Public Relation types want to the control message. The number of staffers dedicated to monitor my writings is small. Can’t imagine how many social media watchers and other staff monitor what is said about candidates in the state. This is not a new phenomenon. The Obama Administration has raised this to high art.

All the staffs conduct mock debates with stand-ins to coach nuanced answers to complicated questions. For Brown he continues to be dogged about the failed roll out of Maryland’s Healthcare Exchange. Gansler’s albatross is a pair of issues; how can you provide tax relief and his opposition to Pre-K expansion. Mizeur’s suggestion of using taxes from the sale of marijuana to fund much needed programs seems either utopian (without seeing its potential consequences) or amateur night politics.

This continues be a race for Brown to lose, and the opponents are looking for any opening to provide doubt. This is immediately pounced on by a question from the audience about the rollout of Maryland’s Exchange. Brown is asked to explain why the state is going with a Connecticut system? Candidate Brown has rehearsed this answer. He steps from the seated stool and moves towards the audience. He acknowledges the website rollout was a failure however he assures the questioner while looking at the camera that they signed up a record number of Medicare recipients. He’s forceful. Sun Critic, David Zurwick observed Brown seem to be playing to the camera rather than connecting directly to the questioner (semantics).

Gansler who is asked the same question rebuts the answer suggesting we should go with the federal system which has a lot of success despite its shaky roll out. He then narrows-in on the Browns participation and handling of the rollout. This he hopes will make voters think about Browns leadership.

Mizeur also jumps in on the failed rollout. She was a former Healthcare Lobbyist so her answers are less wonkish but, seem to pile on the perception of, “leadership failure.”

In a follow-up by Moderator Salkin, he quotes an editorial by the Baltimore Sun. It asks what role the Lieutenant Governor played in the failed rollout of the website. Salkin asks him to rate it on a scale of 1 -10. By time he finished answering, even I was confused. He claims he was in charge of the wrong committee.  The committee overseeing the roll of the website wasn’t under his control? But we fixed it. Duh. Here’s what I said on Twitter, “Brown asked what role he had in health exchange? Is vague w/answer. Won't give number on how involved he was on a 1-10 scale.”

Zurwick siezes on this stumble as a not ready for prime-time television. As I see it, if you admit it was a failure (which he has), what lesson did he learn from this and how will this impact him if he is the Govenor.

When it came to taxes, Gansler wants to cut them for small business by closing a corporate tax loop hole. Poplar however gives few details. Brown’s answer is nuanced. He’d like to look at cutting taxes. Admits he was not a fan of the Governor’s position to reduce Estate Taxes (sometimes referred to as Death Taxes). Brown didn’t like that it was carved out for a small group, mostly millionaires. Mizeur, sees the legalization of marijuana as the panacea. He’s I how described this exchange on Twitter, “Are taxes 2 high n MD? A lot of I want to do this & I'm going to…can we be competitive w/VA.”

Yes, the candidates hit on areas of the environment, housing, and job creation. While important this is dialogue which can’t go on forever. Debates allow us to reinforce our image of a selected candidate, it can also raise doubts about our choices. These aren’t neatly crafted one minute vignettes with soothing/ominous music in the background. These are adults asking for your vote. A debate is never the last word but, the beginning of a conversation that each of us has when we step into a voting booth to decide who and how we be led for the next four years.

To see the debate you can find it below.