Washington Bureau

05.07.14

Maryland's Boringly Liberal Gubernatorial Debate

The three Democratic candidates to be Maryland's next governor faced off in a debate Wednesday that showed how different the Old Line State's political climate is from other parts of the country.

Maryland is a bit different from the rest of the country.

On Wednesday, the first gubernatorial debate of the state’s Democratic primary featured the three candidates, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Delegate Heather Mizeur scrambling in a competition to see who could be perceived as more liberal in the deep blue state.  The contrast to national politics was particularly striking. When Gansler, the most conservative candidate running, attacked Brown for his role overseeing Maryland’s deeply troubled health exchange under Obamacare, he wasn’t upset because of a flaw in the Affordable Care Act or in the concept of universal coverage. Instead, Gansler attacked Brown because the lieutenant governor’s mistake “gave Republicans a chance to attack our President.”

The differences in the debate were surprisingly minute. All the candidates stressed their liberal credentials on issues like raising the minimum wage, same-sex marriage and changing the name of the Washington Redskins.  Both Brown and Gansler expressed skepticism about Mizeur’s support for full-scale legalization of marijuana. They only support the decriminalization of the drug, which just became law in the Old Line State. Brown also attacked Gansler for his support for the death penalty, a stance that the attorney general didn’t bother to defend. Instead, he simply noted that Maryland had abolished the death penalty and that was as relevant a campaign issue as restoring Prohibition. In contrast, Gansler took some jabs at the record of incumbent Governor Martin O’Malley and emphasized that he would lower the state’s corporate tax rate from 8.25 percent  to attract more new businesses (though said it would be paid for by closing loopholes).

Currently, Brown, backed by O’Malley and much of the state’s political establishment, is the favorite in the state’s June 24 primary and nothing in the debate seemed likely to affect the polls in either direction. But it does serve to demonstrate the remarkable political polarization in the United States. The debate was held just one day after a Republican Senate primary in North Carolina where a state house speaker whose conservative agenda sparked mass protests faced multiple serious challenges from candidates who found him insufficiently right wing. In contrast, Maryland’s debate, in a state where general elections usually resemble coronations, focused on the fine gradations of each candidate’s liberalism. The points of contention were far more mundane fights over which candidate would spend more on schools and who had done more to increase the minimum wage.   In a year of fiery Tea Party primaries, these mundane points of conflict served as a major contrast to GOP debates. This Democratic debate wasn’t just on a totally different ideological plane; it was pretty dull too.