A new primary date has led many Maryland gubernatorial campaigns to start their politicking unseasonably early, but some prime contenders have opted for a delayed start to the race.
For the 2014 election, Maryland’s primary will be held on June 24 rather than in September, forcing candidates who otherwise might have waited until the fall to declare their intentions earlier.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur (Dist. 20) of Takoma Park already have declared their intentions to seek the Democratic nomination for governor. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has said he plans to run but won’t formally begin campaigning until the fall.
On the Republican side, Harford County Executive David Craig and Anne Arundel County Del. Ronald George (Dist. 30) of Arnold each have declared their candidacy.
Charles Lollar, a Charles County Republican, said this week he planned to launch a gubernatorial campaign in September.
Lollar said the delay was to make sure he, his wife and four daughters were all on the same page about his decision.
The change in the primary schedule makes it harder for campaigns to plan because they don’t have any data on what works best, said Sen. Joseph Getty (R-Dist. 5) of Manchester, who served as political director for Robert Ehrlich’s successful 2002 gubernatorial campaign.
Announcing in May or June 2013 with a September 2014 primary would have seemed early, but with the new calendar, candidates who declare early are on a typical schedule of announcing a year ahead of the primary, Getty said.
Moving the primary makes it even more important for candidates who want to be successful statewide to get out among the voters and begin getting feedback, Mizeur said.
With the new primary date, campaigns lose the entire summer of 2014, making a head start in developing a statewide operation even more important, said Justin Schall, campaign manager for Brown’s campaign.
“There’s a huge difference between being in late June and at the end of September,” Schall said.
The Craig campaign wanted to take advantage of the summer months to go to events and start working toward the primary, said campaign manager Paul Ellington.
The campaign also announced Craig’s running mate, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Dist. 37B) of Newcomb, early so she’ll be able to serve an active role in the campaign, Ellington said.
But announcing your intentions early doesn’t come without its potential pitfalls.
A campaign always wants to get its message to the widest possible audience, and the public is distracted in the summer with vacations and other activities, Getty said.
August is a slow month in politics as well as in retail, noted George, who owns jewelry stores in Annapolis and Severna Park.
The summer is a chance to exchange ideas with voters and develop a campaign built around issues, said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for the Gansler campaign.
The attorney general believes campaigns are long enough and there’s no need to make them longer than necessary, Thornell said.
Gansler preferred to use the summer months to talk with voters before beginning more traditional campaign events once people start to engage more after Labor Day, he said.
“He wanted to lay that foundation,” Thornell said.
By announcing a campaign in the sluggish summer months, a candidate runs the risk of losing the momentum of any media attention the announcement may have brought the campaign, Getty said.
According to Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, the attention generated from a campaign kickoff event can be fleeting.
“The announcement itself is usually just a media event, a set piece full of symbolism designed to put the candidate in the best possible light,” Sabato wrote. “It’s mainly used for TV ads, after the initial burst of positive free publicity that fades quickly.”
If there’s doubt about whether a candidate is running, declaring early can help with fundraising, said Robert L. Flanagan, who spent 16 years as a Republican member of the House of Delegates from Howard County before serving as Ehrlich’s secretary of transportation.
Brown announced his campaign in June and picked Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as his running mate.
That has allowed the campaign to get Ulman involved with fundraising in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without an announcement, Flanagan said.
So for Brown, announcing when he did makes a lot of sense, Flanagan said.
Gansler made headlines in the spring with a $5 million campaign war chest, and Flanagan said he may be better served to not begin campaigning until people start paying attention in the fall.
“So for Gansler, I think waiting makes sense,” he said.
As the campaign picks up, when the candidates’ campaigns began will be overtaken by the race for fundraising dollars.
According to the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) spent nearly $14 million on his 2010 re-election campaign, while Republican challenger Ehrlich spent more than $8 million on the race.
“I don’t think it matters enormously when you announce your candidacy,” Sabato wrote. “What matters is when you start fundraising. It takes a fortune to run a campaign for governor, and you can’t start gathering cash soon enough.”