CD4: The Forgotten Race

What with the drama of the Senate campaign between Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, and the morality play that some have tried to make out of the CD8 race, the CD4 race just keeps on chugging along, largely flying beneath the radar.

There are four top tier candidates here, and they all have records of significant accomplishment. A former lieutenant governor, a key committee chair in Annapolis, a former Prince George’s County state’s attorney . . . and the hardest working candidate of all of them has been Joseline Pena-Melnyk, delegate from District 21. I support Joseline. Full disclosure. 

In no particular order, let’s drop the hammer on some tough love.

Dereck Davis: the chair of the powerful House Economic Matters Committee in Annapolis, Davis was expected to hoover up all the money the frightened lobbyist community could scrape together. At least so  far, he has been outraised by all of the other four top candidates. His campaign has been lackluster, he doesn’t appear to be all that interested or engaged in it, and thr rumors are rife that he may not stick it out. Which begs the question: for a guy with major Annapolis ambitions (most often mentioned as a future speaker), why’d he run if he wasn’t going to commit to it?

Davis is much more well known in insider circles than with the public. If he’s going to turn things around, he needs to do two seemingly contradictory things. First, get yourself and your name out there. Show some energy. Act like you want it, and are willing to work for it. Second, squeeze more juice out of your lobbyist base – but at the same time, you need to broaden it too. Show some financial support from voters, not just lobbyists.

To answer my own question, if Dereck Davis is just hanging around doing nothing in this race, he ought to get out. He’s doing more harm than good to his long-term prospects right now.

Anthony Brown: after a terrible start, Brown had a better third quarter, outpacing all of the candidates in fundraising. But he still trails Pena-Melnyk and Glenn Ivey by a good bit, and I don’t see a whole lot of energy coming out of his campaign. I get fundraising emails from Brown, but I haven’t gotten an invitation to an event, and if Brown is doing any meet and greets, I haven’t heard about any of them.

As the former lieutenant governor and 2014 gubernatorial candidate, Brown maintains a high name recognition. But it’s decidedly a double-edge sword for him – being known as the guy who blew the unloseable campaign is not a good thing. He seems to be coasting on that name ID – which he shouldn’t. He was criticized roundly – and rightly – for running an inaccessible campaign which kept the candidate too much under wraps. He appears to be doing it again. He needs to get out there and present himself as a different candidate than 2014. His Q4 fundraising is also crucial – I suspect that everyone, not just Brown, is going to see a steep drop, both because of the holidays and because networks are being played out (I’ll be writing about this issue generally tomorrow). The key for Brown is to drop by less than everyone else.

Glenn Ivey: he started out like a house on fire, raising over $100K in less than a month back in March. But his second quarter, while good, showed a drop off in dollars as well as a failure to break out of the DC lawyer network of donors. The third quarter was more of the same, and now the question is whether he can sustain the cash on hand lead. He’s got a great resume, he’s a great guy, and his wife Jolene is a key surrogate – word is she’s looking at the 2018 County Exec race now (another story coming up soon). But Glenn hasn’t been on a ballot since 2006, so his vote-getting pull is up for discussion.

Of more immediate concern is the perceived lack of energy from his campaign. While he has been spotted at many high end and charity events in DC and MD, there’s little evidence of community engagement and voter contact. We’re now 149 days from the primary, and the next five weeks are the holiday season, when little voter engagement can be expected. When the calendar turns to 2016, there’s going to be less than 17 weeks until Election Day and less then 15 until early voting starts. Glenn Ivey is s very low key guy – but he needs to put his game face on and get ready for the fight of his life. Because between Anthony Brown and Joseline Pena-Melnyk, and Dereck Davis if he decides to commit to the race, Ivey is going to get it.

Joseline Pena-Melnyk: she’s run the best campaign so far, and she’s seeing tangible evidence of it – endorsements and money. But Q3 saw a financial drop off – can she rebound and have a strong fourth quarter? Additionally, for months I’ve been hearing that EMILY’s List is going to endorse her, but as far as I know, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m assuming they want to see how financially viable she is – so far, so good, I think, but they might be playing a longer game. This endorsement is critical for her.

The ultimate question is simple: can she continue to expend the extraordinary amount of energy that her campaign has required so far, and can she do that while spending 90 days in Annapolis during session? I don’t know how that will work, especially for a campaign so predicated on high energy and enthusiasm from the candidate herself. But if she’s going to fell not one but three titans to win this primary, she must keep up both her fundraising and her outreach, and how she accomplishes that without getting “Jon Cardined” (Cardin ran for AG last year and endured great criticism for missing 75% of Ways and Means Committee votes in 2014).

A final point: Pena-Melnyk is the outsider candidate; if she continues to do well, there’s going to be a concerted effort by the dreaded “powers that be” to get behind one of the other candidates (my bet would be on Glenn Ivey, but that remains to be seen) to stop Pena-Melnyk from winning. Can she survive that onslaught as well? It’s asking a lot, even for as determined a candidate as she is. I’m rooting for her, though.

Everyone Else: God love ya, folks, but what in the world is keeping you in this race?

SUMMARY: While there’s less money being raised in CD4, it’s paradoxically more important here than in CD8. Raskin and Matthews are far ahead in 8, and likely to remain so. But in 4, the four top candidates are all within $200,000 in cash on hand, so even a gentle bump for one candidate or another is going to have an impact. Watch the January FEC reports here very carefully, because they could end up making a decisive difference in setting the tone for the remainder of the campaign, as they are the last formal opportunity for comparison before early voting starts. Watch too for if – and how – the candidates engage in voter outreach. Who will have the money for TV (look at cable here, because extensive broadcast ads are likely to be beyond the reach of most candidates)? Online ads? Extensive direct mail? What kinds of messaging are the candidates employing? Social media may well end up being a key metric, so watch Scott Ewart’s technology updates to see how the candidates measure up.

And here’s some tough love for myself: I haven’t done a very good job on this race. It’s going to be interesting and I need to cover it better. Early New Years resolution – I will. Promise.

Senate Race Up First

Let’s put the candidates under a microscope. We’ll include Elijah Cummings because he clearly doesn’t want us to forget him.

Reminder: I support Chris Van Hollen. I hope that hasn’t affected my judgment, but that’s for you to decide.

Elijah Cummings: I understood him backing off on a decision about running in April because Baltimore was on fire after the Freddie Gray incident. But everything since then has been a really bad case of “hey everyone, notice me! I’m over here!” He needed to fundraise, and he needed a statewide operation, and he needed staff ready to go into battle, and he never did anything to move forward on any of this stuff. 

For a little while, even that would have been OK. But it’s been going on now for six months, and the milk is way, way past its expiration date – it stinks. He’s not running, and at some point he should have just come out and said so. He let Jamal Bryant get in to replace him, then strung him up and pushed him out, all within a week. It was absurd. I have nothing but the utmost respect for what Cummings has meant to the Democratic Party in Congress and as a moral beacon in Baltimore, but what he’s doing now is just wrong. The polls that include him now are a waste of time and money.

Donna Edwards: a campaign that started with great promise is now in the ditch. She didn’t raise enough money, she went negative too soon, both directly and through third party groups, and I’m not sure how or if she can retool now and be competitive. She dusted off her old 2006-2008 playbook against Al Wynn, going negative and slashing and burning as if Chris Van Hollen was an out of touch centrist, deal making local political boss. Chris Van Hollen is a lot of things, but he’s no Al Wynn. She’s not the only candidate running a replay of a ten year old campaign, but she’s surely the one in the worst shape.

She’s got no money and with Van Hollen’s recent media blitz in Baltimore, she’s getting beat 2-1 there. Pick a metric and she’s losing: money by 11-1, endorsements by a wide margin, Van Hollen is supported by 30% of African-American voters, and she’s losing the women’s vote by 7%. Even in grassroots organizing – her bread and butter – she’s getting whipped. Last week, Capital News Service had an analysis of the Senate race that contained this little nugget.

The Edwards campaign boasts about 2,600 volunteers, and its field operation holds regular phone banks in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, having already made more than 13,000 calls.

While the Van Hollen campaign does not have nearly as many volunteers – about 1,200 so far – it has made more than 71,000 phone calls to Maryland residents in October, while holding phone banks in eight counties and the Eastern Shore.

These are self-reported numbers. Let’s break them down. 2600 volunteers have made 13,000 calls – that’s five per volunteer – over several months. Let’s say five months, that’s one call per month per volunteer. Ugh.

1200 Van Hollen volunteers have made 71,000 calls – in one month. That’s 59 calls per month per volunteer. Let’s see if they can keep it up, but for now, that’s just another category that Donna Edwards is getting whipped.

The whispers – too wispy even for me to report as news – are that she’s thinking about dropping back into the CD4 race. I put no credence into this story – yet – but yes, it’s that bad. Bad enough that we have to wonder if IE groups like EMILY’s List will go to the mat financially for her. With that financial hole staring at me, at a minimum I’d rethink my commitments.

Chris Van Hollen: a textbook race so far, combining the whole package – fundraising, media, grassroots, endorsements, appearances, messaging – but it’s November, not April. There’s still five months to go, and if Edwards retools and goes back to her bread and butter message – the voice of the African-American woman is a unique one that needs to be heard in the halls of power – she is still a serious threat despite all of his advantages.

Don’t believe me? I’ve got two words for you – Kweisi Mfume. In 2006, he ran a disorganized, shambling disaster of a campaign, Ben Cardin got all the money and all the endorsements and ran a textbook campaign. Final result – a much closer than everyone remembers margin of 44-41. There’s a few differences – Edwards doesn’t have the legendary stature that Mfume did, there aren’t a bunch of vanity   candidates peeling off support primarily from Van Hollen (they took 15% mostly from Cardin in 2006), and Van Hollen is a better candidate than Cardin. But the warning is the same – the usual metrics don’t apply in a race like this. Don’t stop running hard.

The trick for Van Hollen is to keep his foot on the gas pedal, but not so much so that he seems like a bully. He should win, and if he doesn’t it will be a huge upset, but if Edwards stays in and fights back it’s by no means a done deal at this point.

OK, I’ve probably pissed off everyone by now, so let’s take a break. I warned y’all that this wasn’t going to be super sweet and pleasant, but real self-asessment isn’t warm and fuzzy. It’s SUPPOSED to hurt – that’s how  self-improvement happens. To the two candidates – and the third who wants to be seen as one – believe it or not, I love you all, each in your own different ways. But for today, it’s tough love.

Next up: CD4, maybe tonight but more likely tomorrow. CD8 will be Monday. Stay tuned.

Weekend Highlights

Personal aside here: Thanksgiving has always been a time for self-assessment in my life, certainly as an adult. Since my wife passed away in 2012, I’ve taken the opportunity every year to weigh the good, the bad and the in between, and to figure out what I had to be thankful for – not so easy back then, but a good exercise that has gotten easier and better each year since. Here’s my latest Turkey Day rumination, with a link to the first one three years ago.

All of this is to say that this time of year has always been a time of reflection and taking stock for me. And as I thought about it yesterday and today, I thought – hey, if it’s good enough for me, why not apply it to all those campaigns I’m so obsessively covering? And then: wow, I’m a really smart guy, and good looking, too. That all makes a lot of sense.

So starting tomorrow, I’m going to scrutinize the campaigns the same way I’ve assessed myself the past few years: rigorously and without mercy. Blood in the streets kind of stuff. But all in the name of self-improvement and betterment. Of course.

You won’t want to miss it.