The Brawl We Won’t Be Seeing Here (Plus: Women Emerge in Maryland)

by Josh Kurtz

Anyone rooting for Maryland to make a difference in the Republican presidential nomination fight had better pray for a closer-than-expected finish in today’s Florida primary.

By all accounts, Mitt Romney is widening the gap over Newt Gingrich in the Sunshine State and should win rather handily. Already you can hear the pundits declaring that Romney has “righted his ship” and will now cruise to the nomination.

(Why are nautical terms so overused in politics? And why is it that when you think of Mitt Romney righting his ship, you immediately conjure up the image of a yacht, with the candidate dressed like “Junior,” the character Tony Curtis played in “Some Like It Hot” when he wasn’t in drag?)

Has Romney indeed secured the nomination? Maybe not yet. But it’s pretty likely that by the time the Maryland primary rolls around on April 3, it’ll be all over but the shouting. At the very least, it will require a few more unexpected twists and turns – and this nomination fight has already produced plenty – for Maryland to be relevant.

That’s too bad. Not only would it be great, for political junkies and average Marylanders alike, to see the state matter politically, if only for a little. But it would also be great to see all the tribes in Maryland Republican politics duke it out for their preferred candidates – and that might actually help the state GOP in the long run.

Maryland leaders hit upon a good thing when they arranged, with officials from Virginia and D.C., to stage a mini-regional primary in February 2008. Although it was wedged between more important contests, the Maryland primary provided some excitement, and Barack Obama’s victories over Hillary Clinton in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. – over the wishes of Martin O’Malley, among other party leaders – were further evidence of his candidacy’s potency. Candidates, operatives and the media paid close attention – if only for a few moments.

This time, the three jurisdictions did not set their primary dates together, though D.C.’s is coincidentally the same day as Maryland’s. But it’s probably too little, too late. Forget Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida – the U.S. Virgin Islands (March 10), Hawaii (March 13) and Puerto Rico (March 18) will have more say about the Republican presidential nominee than we will.

Talk about indignities!

Which doesn’t mean the GOP contest is going to come to an end tonight. Gingrich will vow to fight on. Rick Santorum will try to identify more fertile territory for his low-budget social issues crusade. Ron Paul will keep running, because what has he got to lose? The fortunes of each will probably rise and fall a bit over the next few weeks.

Nevada, on Saturday, should be strong for Romney. Caucuses next Tuesday in Colorado and Minnesota, and a beauty contest primary that day in Missouri, are harder to read.

They will be followed by a three-week hiatus. What will the candidates be doing during that interregnum? Will the media be rushing to crown a nominee or trying to extend the fight? Will the so-called GOP establishment, whatever that is, be pushing ever harder for a Romney coronation? It’s safe to say that it will be tough for the candidates to build momentum during that period if they’ve had a few deflating performances in a row.

Primaries follow on Feb. 28 in Michigan – a strong Romney state for sure – and Arizona, where there is a sizeable Mormon population and where Romney’s decision to outflank Gingrich on the right on the issue of illegal immigration could make all the difference.

Super Tuesday is next on March 6, with voters in 10 states going to the polls, including four southern states (Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia), which could help resuscitate Gingrich some if his campaign still has a pulse – and if he can turn the conversation away from moon colonies and his own transgressions and back to more fertile, demagogue-able territory like food stamps (African-Americans, bad) and Saul Alinsky (left-wing Jews, ditto).

If the conventional wisdom holds, Romney should have the nomination sewn up after Super Tuesday.

But suppose the contest goes longer than anyone imagined and Maryland (whose primary will be held the same day as Texas’, Wisconsin’s and D.C.’s) is suddenly important. What would the race here look like?

Like most everyplace else, much of the Maryland Republican establishment is with Romney. Bob “Read My Book and My Column” Ehrlich is his state chairman, whatever that means (Ehrlich’s initial preferences in the two most recent Republican presidential nominating fights: Rudy Giuliani and John Kasich, respectively). Louis Pope, the Republican national committeeman from Maryland, is also in Romney’s camp.

More significantly, so is Kevin Igoe, the talented GOP strategist who actually knows a thing or two about winning elections here. Others backing Romney include Audrey Scott, Joe Getty, Addie Eckardt, Al Redmer, Steve Schuh, Bryan Simonaire, Alan Kittleman, Howie Denis, Charles Lollar, Lee Cowen and Kathy Afzali.

But the list of Gingrich supporters, while not as long, is also noteworthy – and maybe more important, populated with some true brawlers. It’s headed by Andy Harris and Ellen Sauerbrey, and includes Ron George, Tony McConkey, Cathy Vitale, Ed Reilly, Warren Miller, Trent Kittleman – Alan Kittleman’s step-mother – and Eulalia Mooney, Alex Mooney’s mom.

One can almost imagine the current Romney-Gingrich dynamic playing out among their supporters here – and the byplay between longtime rivals and antagonists on behalf of their chosen candidates.

But, alas, it is unlikely to happen.

Throughout this presidential campaign season, many Republicans have lamented that the party did not put its top tier of potential candidates on the playing field. Shame that our state leaders arranged things so we wouldn’t have a top-tier primary, either.

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From the Republicans to the Democrats: Emerge America, a national group that trains Democratic women to run for office, is now coming to Maryland. Already up and running in nine states, the group’s immediate goal here is to boost the number of women running for and serving in the state legislature.

Heading the effort in Maryland are Susie Turnbull, the former state Democratic chairwoman and one-time Democratic National Committee vice chairwoman, and Martha McKenna, an accomplished operative most closely associated in Maryland with the political success of Sheila Dixon (McKenna, Roll Call reported yesterday, is also about to take over the independent expenditure operation for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee).

Emerge Maryland is hosting its first event Thursday evening – not in Maryland exactly, but in the Georgetown home of Edie Fraser, a philanthropist and political activist. A Who’s Who of Maryland Democrats – women and men – have given the group seed money, and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nevada), who is running for Senate, are expected to be at the inaugural event.

We won’t know until late 2014 how effective Emerge Maryland is going to be on its first go-around. But whenever a national organization comes into Maryland and tries to replicate the success it’s had elsewhere, it’s worth watching. 

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