It's shaping up to be one of those "hold your nose" primary elections this summer, at least when it comes to the Maryland Democratic primary in June. "Hold your nose" elections are when you hold your nose when going in the booth to cast your ballot and voting for the one you think stinks less. It's sort of like, you know, the last two or three elections in Baltimore City, where the turnout is smaller than the number of people sitting on the lawn of the Mount Royal Station hill on a Saturday night at Artscape.
Part of the reason for this is just the general lack of charisma among any of the candidates. The late Texas columnist Molly Ivins used to say that a good candidate should have a little "Elvis in him." (She also said that about Barack Obama, but Obama could probably be better compared to Miles Davis or John Coltrane.)
Here we are, just about a month and a half out from the primary, and none of the three candidates-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, or Del. Heather Mizeur-has seized hold of the vast number of undecideds across the state. Even the political chattering class is yawning. Longtime stealth-conservative columnist Barry Rascovar opened a column asking rhetorically if Brown is "an empty suit." (He answered his own question in the negative, only to go on and re-examine Brown's thin executive resume.)
Gansler would probably be sitting pretty if it weren't for the fact that whenever he gets going, his destination almost always includes stepping on a rake near the finish line. Already in the hole for botching questions about enabling underage drinking at a party he attended and ordering his state police drivers to ferry him about as if he were visiting royalty with lights and sirens (something that connects with anyone who has ever been stuck in traffic, and which is sort of like pasting a sign on your forehead that screams JERK in neon letters), he then goes and impugns Brown's term as a military lawyer in Iraq as "not a real job."
POW-right in his own kisser.
As for Mizeur, the most any of my friends can muster up about her is, "Uh, she's pro-weed, right?" Of course, that and not being one of the aforementioned two might count for something in this race, the way things are going.
The reason we are where we are is because, for years, Maryland has been a "pay your dues and wait your turn" state. You suck it up, wait in line, play along with the state party's games, and eventually you get a shot at the brass ring. Of course, getting the shot doesn't necessarily mean you'll win it; ask Kathleen Kennedy Townsend or Mickey Steinberg, just to name two.
But Brown's got something in his corner that, like it or not, you can't ignore: He's the African-American candidate in a race where a substantial portion of the primary electorate will be black. He paid his dues and he waited his turn, and that electorate has waited a very long time for this. That electorate saw Kennedy-Townsend blow them off in 2002, when she picked a white running mate who was a registered Republican until just before the election, and in the 2006 Senate race, when they saw the party old boys quietly stick the shiv in Kweisi Mfume in favor of Ben Cardin.
So Elvis or no Elvis, those voters are going to be there for Anthony Brown. You might not like it, but in some ways Maryland is no different than any other state when it comes to issues of race: You can complain about black voters voting on the basis of race, but it's gone on the other way around since the end of Jim Crow, and the pendulum always swings back.
It says nothing about his honorable military career, it says nothing about how he worked his way up through the legislature and stood by Martin O'Malley through two terms in the state house, or that he's raised the biggest amount of money of all of the candidates-typically the surest sign of an eventual winner.
That's not to say he couldn't get slipstreamed by Mizeur or commit some horrid gaffe between now and the end of June that could hand the nomination to Gansler, but for now, he's the man to beat, Elvis or not.