Cennamology Chief Editor
In heavily-blue Maryland, the main story of election night was Republican Larry Hogan’s “upset” victory over Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
Commentators all over the country were shocked. How could the hand-picked successor to a likely 2016 presidential candidate lose in a reliably blue state? There is a simple explanation. Considering the turnout among Maryland’s counties and the way Brown ran his campaign, I would not characterize the outcome as an upset.
The statistic that really stuck out to me, and is largely a reason why Hogan’s victory did not come as a shock to me, was turnout in my home county of Montgomery. Montgomery County turnout was under 39 percent, 5 points lower than the average turnout for the state. Usually, turnout in Montgomery County is higher than the statewide average, as it is an educated upper-middle class county with a reputation of high political participation.
Some commentators, all of whom are not from Maryland, have contributed Brown's loss to the "anti-Obama wave." While the 2014 election was certainly a wave election, Hogan’s victory was not because of the Republican wave. If the wave is the reason for Brown’s loss, then other statewide Democrats on the ballot should have been affected as well. However, Brown was the only Democrat in Maryland running statewide who lost on election night, and that is because he ran a poor campaign. Democratic State Sen. Brian Frosh, the attorney general candidate, won handily by 15 percent, and Comptroller Peter Franchot won reelection by about 30 percent. If Marylanders were showing their disapproval towards the president, then why would they only take it out on Anthony Brown instead of all the statewide Democrats? It’s because Brown did not do an adequate job of selling himself as anything more than O’Malley’s “second string,” as an effective Hogan ad put it.
Brown also faced a challenge from the start due to the fact that he is the lieutenant governor. After being in O'Malley's shadow for eight years, Brown could not give a good enough reason to voters how he would be an improvement over his boss. There is a reason video games starring Luigi are not as successful as ones starring Mario, and it's because consumers have less of a reason to buy a game starring the understudy.
The case is similar with a lieutenant governor running for higher office, especially in Maryland. Anthony Brown's loss makes him the third straight Maryland lieutenant governor who ran for higher office and lost. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who until Brown was the gold-standard for how not to run a campaign as a Democrat in Maryland, lost the governor's race in 2002 to Bob Ehrlich. Michael Steele, Ehrlich's lieutenant governor, lost the 2006 US Senate race to current Sen. Ben Cardin.
Lieutenant governors face an additional challenge when vying for a promotion because they have to prove that they would be able to run things on their own and can lead the state without their boss in the picture. Brown was unable to do that. He was unable to prove that he would bring anything different to the governor's mansion that O'Malley did not bring already. After being number two for eight years, Brown's campaign did not effectively communicate to voters that he was ready to be number one.
Brown also showed throughout the campaign that he was far from ready for primetime. Brown’s performance in all the debates (primary and general) were painful, to say the least. Ever since he just skipped out on one of the primary debates he agreed to attend, he gave many people the perception that he was having difficulty defending his record. This perception never died down. I attended the Brown rally in Baltimore (the one Michelle Obama was at) the day before the election, and I noticed that out of all the people who spoke at the rally, the person who gave one of the shortest speeches was the one who the rally was supposedly for.
But perhaps the main reason why Brown was unable to turn out the vote is because his campaign lacked a strong message. Hogan ran a smart campaign with a resonating message (that Maryland needs a change in leadership because of an abundance of tax increases), focusing on economic issues while avoiding social issues.
Brown’s campaign message was not trying to sell himself as a candidate, but rather focused on attacking Hogan over issues like abortion and guns. A similar strategy was also attempted this year by Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado, who ran a one-issue campaign attacking his opponent over past comments made about abortion. Udall lost reelection.
Hogan won not because Marylanders wanted a Republican governor or because they were disappointed with President Obama, but because Anthony Brown ran a very negative campaign from start to finish, giving Marylanders little reason to vote for him.