Maryland has a Republican Governor for the second time in a decade. The whispers that had once been only in jest or made offhand are growing in confidence: “is a Red Maryland possible?” Each and every word in that question needs to be defined before the question can be answered.
Let’s be abundantly clear, if you look at the numbers and listen to the reasonable arguments of local and regional news outlets, Maryland is an easy win for Democrats. With the exception of some other states in the Northeast and West Coast, Maryland is perhaps as close to a “lock” as any Democrat could hope for. Again, by the numbers and with sober logic, 2014 and the election of Governor Larry Hogan, was made possible in Maryland in large part due to low voter turnout and even lower enthusiasm for former Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. Republicans, who make up about one-third of registered voters in Maryland, can be consistently counted on to show up to the polls with regularity. In 2014, that one-third was joined by disaffected Democrats and Independents and was bolstered by a hiccup in the Democrat Party machine that sent turnout numbers in heavily Democrat areas plummeting.
The Meaning of “IS”
So, in the interest of defining the terms of “is a Red Maryland possible,” we should start at the beginning with the famous Clintonian question: “it depends on what the meaning of is, is.” In the question and title of this article, “is” lends itself to probability or possibility with an indefinite term. However, the question is not “will a Red Maryland be possible” at some point in the distant future. Rather, we are dealing with the present realities. We see the numbers on the ground and we know the history of the State’s recent voting. So, “is” should be understood in the context of the imminent 2016 election and then the subsequent midterm elections in 2018.
Looking at “A”
The “a” in the question is critically important to the framing of the discussion. The State has consistently had one or two members of its Congressional delegation hailing from the Republican Party. Former Congressman Roscoe Bartlett in Western Maryland held his seat until the most recent round of redistricting “gerrymandered” him out of power. However, at nearly the same time as the excision of the GOP from representing Western Maryland, the concession was given in Annapolis for the Eastern Shore, Harford County, and Northern Baltimore County to be sacrificed to the Republicans. Marylanders are also aware that former Governor Bob Ehrlich held the seat now occupied by Dutch Ruppersberger. The point of this is to show that Maryland has at least had some Republican representation in the last decades.
But what does a congressman here or there do to define “a”? It shows that, because of demographics and districting, even the best voter encouragement will not flip every seat to a Republican. The Democrats who have controlled the General Assembly (and thereby have the authority to redraw districts after each census), are keenly aware that preservation of power is an essential element of their job. We in the minority cannot fault them for this. Republicans in other states where we have control do the same thing. It is the practical reality that “elections have consequences.” So what does “a” look like? Is “a” a total state of Republicans winning across the board? Is “a” a simple majority in the General Assembly? Is “a” a Republican Senator? Is “a” the state voting in favor of the Republican nominee for President for the first time since 1988?
The way “a” needs to be defined is an over-five-percent increase in popular vote totals across as many races as possible. This is a ten-point-swing. For example, if Republicans had an additional five percent and Democrats’ support would have diminished by the same, MD06 (former Congressman Bartlett’s seat) would have been secured by challenger Dan Bongino. A solid performance in the House would have allowed Bongino a stronger staging point for a run for the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikulski (remember that Bob Ehrlich ran and won statewide after serving in the House).
Without a go-to stable of Republican officials in local offices, the Party must turn to successful business leaders. This strategy paid off in the election of Larry Hogan as Governor. The only statewide election in 2016 is for the open Senate seat. While the GOP primary is still months away, a Hogan-esque strategy has been adopted by Republican business attorney Chrys Kefalas.
A five-point increase for Republicans would also put numerous local races in play (even in Baltimore City). At the local level, five points is a much smaller number than the daunting figures that are presented to a statewide campaign.
Therefore, “a” in the context of the question, must be understood to mean a tidal shift in voting patterns that will make coin-flip and ten-point elections turn in favor of Republicans. The obvious consequence of these types of wins will be a stronger pool of Republican candidates for future elections. A larger and broader stable of candidates will, in turn, lead to better fundraising, more national attention, a finer honing of campaigns, and more victories at a statewide level.
Better Off “RED”?
That brings us to both the most and least controversial of the terms in the question “Red.”
Let’s be abundantly clear, Maryland is not, nor should it be, nor will it ever be, Alabama or any culturally conservative state.
Marriage equality is a settled issue in Maryland (and, with all likelihood, will be a settled issue nationally within the month). Local officials have no power over other divisive social issues like abortion and welfare benefits. It should be understood that a Republican Maryland begins and ends with economics. A job and ownership of land or property are the quickest ways to personal empowerment and advancement that have ever been tried. A strong economy and vested personal interest means stronger and more vibrant communities, even more opportunities, and better jobs. This is the type of snowball effect that we want to see in Maryland. You’ll notice none of that has anything to do with the most divisive issues on television and covered by the media. Study after study has shown that the quickest way to eliminate hatred and misunderstanding in society is through economic equality. Going into business and associating with people from different backgrounds and with different traits is the best way to foster acceptance and understanding.
Perhaps this is a “rosy” future rather than a “Red” future. The “Red” that Maryland can hope to embrace in the context of the earlier question is a strong and vibrant economy with a growing middle class, upward mobility, and a larger, more diverse, tax base as a result of growing prosperity.
“Maryland” My “Maryland”
The next term is “Maryland.” We should all be able to define that, geographically, but other issues remain. First, Maryland is a diverse State on ethnic and racial lines as well as on economic lines. Driving from one end of the State to the other, the interests of Maryland’s residents are widely varied and sometimes at odds with other Marylanders. Culturally, Maryland is locked in a discussion of whether it is more in line with “Baltimore” or “Washington.” With the Federal Government being one of the largest employers in the State, the influence and wealth that comes with Washington have begun to permeate the priorities in Annapolis. Where once Baltimore had been the deciding factor in discussions at the State House, the economic center of the state now rests firmly in Montgomery County and the other DC suburbs. The consequence of this new reality (insofar as this paradigm shift has accelerated since 2000), is that economics rather than politics has been a driving factor for decision making around the State. While no one will discount that socially liberal politics dominate the decisions made by the General Assembly, the realities of costs and economic growth have tended to influence voters more than social issues (see: The Larry Hogan Campaign).
The reality of the growth of Washington DC and the power shift in the State has led to two Republican Governors being elected since 2000. While Governor Ehrlich was twice defeated by Martin O’Malley (perhaps the second time, if the Republicans had a wider and deeper pool of candidates, we could have put up a better fight?), the fact that O’Malley’s economics were generally put to the test through the campaign of his Lieutenant Governor (as Hogan correctly refused to make social issues any priority) and could not stand up to the voters, we should be encouraged that voters in the State are more concerned with their wallets than anything else.
So, ideally “Maryland” starts with local races where there is a chance of flipping a vulnerable Democrat seat to a Republican. It would be exceptional if we were able to flip at least one Congressional district as well. If the Hogan model of running “a successful business advocate” against “another one of the career politician” Democrats continues to carry weight, the potential for a strong Senate contest may be in store as well (we also have to understand that Republicans have to defend 24 Senate seats in 2016 and that the Democrats will be pouring money into those seats. Maryland will not be a hotspot for either national Party to be cutting big checks).
Is Anything Really “Possible?”
The final term is the weasel-word: “possible.” The quick response is “anything is possible” and leaving it at that. However, when donors are asked to cut a check, “anything is possible” means the number of zeroes on the check is just going to be one. 2016 proves to be an interesting test for the GOP in Maryland. While still on a high from the election of Governor Hogan, we can expect a large voter turnout because of the open Presidency and Senate seat. On the one hand, Hillary Clinton’s national negatives are on the rise. However, the possibility of a socially-conservative Republican supplanting Mrs. Clinton in Maryland is not supported by statistics. However, the more local the level, the more influence an influx of cash and a negative perception of Democrat handling of local economies can be a benefit. If the difference between a local seat is within the five-percent threshold, or if Governor Hogan carried the area in his race, this should encourage a savvy investor to take the chance and put money into the race. Money goes farther in a local race than it would in the national debate.
So, Can We Answer the Question, Please?
So, can we answer the question? “Is a Red Maryland possible?” The victory of Governor Hogan last year and the real potential to court disaffected voters in the State lends sincerity to answer yes. Obviously, the local Democrat press and machine say no. The statistics for the late-90s and early 2000s back those conclusions. However, as we need to emphasize: a vote is not a guaranteed reward for past behavior, but a prospective investment in the future. Being a forward-looking Party and presenting a real plan to see Maryland’s economy grow without needlessly nagging on social issues could bring many of Maryland’s races into contention.
Already the Hogan model has been embraced by former Ehrlich attorney Chrys Kefalas who is running for the open Maryland Senate seat. An excellent case study in how Republicans need to be approaching Marylanders, you should take a look at his campaign site: ChrysForMaryland.com. While “endorsement season” is still a few months away, embracing a message like Chrys’ is a way to lead Maryland forward.
As elections draw nearer, it is critical that the Party emphasize that a plan to grow Maryland’s economy is a pathway to empowerment and prosperity. We must be clear that rosy promises are not what makes a Red Maryland. Rather, it is an encouragement of personal liberty, economic incentives, a business-friendly climate, and encouraging ownership that can make “possible” a reality.