There They Go Again
Things got off to a pretty good start when seven-term Congressman Chris Van Hollen declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Maryland. After Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced her retirement, the Democrat from Maryland’s 8th congressional district quickly and easily racked up key endorsements from national Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and a laundry list of prominent Maryland Democrats, including county executives in Montgomery and Prince George’s County, and all nine members of the Montgomery County Council.
Meanwhile, Van Hollen’s chief competitor for the seat, fellow Congresswoman Donna Edwards from the neighboring fourth district, seemed to be floundering. Prominent Democrats from her home turf in Prince George’s County spurned her to endorse Van Hollen, and early fundraising numbers saw trailing her badly.
And, it made sense. Van Hollen had, in his seven terms, developed a good reputation in Washington, D.C. as a talented legislator, tangling occasionally with his Republican counterpart on the Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan. Back home, he had developed a bipartisan respect for his reliable constituent service.
Meanwhile, Edwards’ most remarkable moment of her four terms in Congress was a disastrous attempt at comedy at the Washington Press Club Foundation’s 2014 dinner that POLITICO dubbed “the most painful speech ever.”
Then it was time for a reality check. Against conventional wisdom, last week’s Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that Van Hollen was not quite as strong a candidate as he might have hoped. In fact, he wasn’t ahead at all. Instead, by a margin of 33-20-20, he was losing to Rep. Elijah Cummings – a man who at the time was not an announced candidate – and tied with Edwards.
When Cummings was taken out of the picture, things got worse: the poll found Edwards leading Van Hollen 38-28 in a two-way race.
The more I read about the poll, the more I got a sense of what the late Yogi Berra called “déjà vu all over again.”
Indeed, it was just two years ago that the Democratic powers-that-be in Maryland began to coalesce around another “chosen one,” to be the next governor of Maryland. In quick succession, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown picked up the endorsement of just about every Maryland Democrat worth their salt.
He proceeded to plow past primary opponents in terms of fundraising, key endorsements, and ultimately, in the polls. But, it became increasingly clear that despite his strong resume, Anthony Brown was a very uninspiring candidate. Whatever enthusiasm Democrats had about electing the first African-American governor of Maryland was quickly tempered by the realization that that man was, well, Anthony Brown.
Slowly but surely, the wind came out of Lt. Gov. Brown’s sails, while an affable businessman named Larry slowly but surely won over a majority of Maryland voters, ultimately winning the election in more convincing fashion than any Republican had in over sixty years.
The problem with Lt. Gov. Brown’s candidacy was not that he was unqualified – his eight years as Lt. Governor were preceded by another eight in the State House, and coincided with a 30-year career in the U.S. Army. Like Rep. Van Hollen, on paper, Democrats could not have asked for a more perfect candidate.
But alas, resumes don’t vote. People do. And time and time again, the Maryland Democratic Party establishment puts the cart before the horse – handpicking candidates based on resumé without giving any thought given to the sentiments of the electorate.
So as I read the results of this most recent poll, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, there they go again. I only hope that another Larry Hogan is waiting in the wings when the Democrats inevitably screw up. Again.