When choosing among a racially and demographically diverse field of gubernatorial candidates, voters are likely to consider more than just the issues next year, experts say.
The state could have its first black governor, its first female governor, or its first openly gay governor. It also could have a heterosexual, white, male or Jewish governor, none of which would be a first.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) is the latest candidate to officially throw his hat into the ring, kicking off his campaign Tuesday.
In the 2014 Democratic primary, he faces Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) of Mitchellville.
Across the aisle, Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Del. Ronald A. George (R-Dist. 30) of Arnold and Charles Lollar of Charles County, the past Maryland state director of Americans for Prosperity, are competing for the Republican nomination.
As Gansler addressed voters Tuesday, he spoke often of diversity — what he has helped bring to Maryland government and what is yet to come, promising an administration that “from top to bottom, will unapologetically be diverse.”
But his promise was not far removed from the heat Gansler took in August for accusing Brown of relying on race to get elected.
While some criticized Gansler’s comment as racist, Richard E. Vatz, professor of communication studies at Towson University, said that what Gansler was really saying was “get to the issues.”
Demographics shouldn’t matter in an election, Vatz said.
“It is not relevant,” he said, quoting the late President John F. Kennedy’s response to being asked about being the first Catholic president.
Vatz said race, as well as religion and gender, are not persuasive selling points and overshadow critical issues in an election.
But demographics matter to some voters, said Melissa Deckman, chair and professor of political science at Washington College in Chestertown.
Studies show that African-American and Latino voters tend to support candidates who are like them, but not all voters vote for their own, she said. For instance, women do not tend to vote for other women so much as they tend to lean Democratic.
While many African-Americans voted for Barack Obama in 2008, isolating race has proven difficult in empirical political science research, Deckman said.
If elected, Brown would be the state’s first black governor. But so would Lollar, and to date, Lollar’s race has been a focal point.
Vatz said demographics matter more to Democrats than Republicans.
“It has to be said that this is really one sided,” Vatz said.
“Republicans, by definition, do not like to do identity politics,” Deckman said.
For candidates in the majority Democratic state, how and when to mention demographics in a campaign is a challenge.
Deckman said it can be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
“In some respects, these would be important milestones for those communities,” she said. “But you also have to weigh the general election and general voters. You have to appeal to people in the middle of the road. Too much emphasis on identity politics really turns off Republicans.”
A poll commissioned by Brown’s campaign showed the lieutenant governor leading among Democrats with 43 percent. Trailing behind were Gansler with 22 percent and Mizeur with 5 percent. However, 31 percent of those polled were undecided.