The Year Of The Woman

One day into the New Year, and the branding has already begun. It’s the Year of the Woman in Maryland politics. 

Women voters in Maryland are being targeted with television ads about the two candidates running in the state’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, underscoring the battle underway for a demographic that will play a key role in choosing a successor to Barbara A. Mikulski, the pathbreaking dean of the Senate women.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County began airing a new commercial this week promoting his record on women’s issues. The spot comes as a powerful national women’s group with a history in Maryland politics is running $1 million in advertising for his primary opponent, Rep. Donna F. Edwards of Prince George’s County.

In races across the state, candidates are working aggressively to reach women, who typically account for about 60 percent of the turnout in Maryland Democratic primaries — and who observers believe will be energized by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to vote in larger numbers this year.

“There are many women who are looking at her candidacy as historic,” said Steve Raabe, president of the Annapolis-based polling firm OpinionWorks. “That certainly isn’t going to hurt the turnout among women.”

And it’s not just the Senate race, either. It’s happening in both open House races as well.

In the 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Montgomery, Frederick and Carroll counties, former television news anchor Kathleen Matthews focused her first position paper on what she described as women’s issues, including paid family leave and equal pay.

State Sen. Jamie Raskin, also running for the Democratic nomination in the 8th District, announced a group of female supporters early in his campaign that will help organize other women to back the campaign.

Several women’s political organizations, meanwhile, have endorsed state Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk in her bid in the 4th Congressional District, which includes Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. Another candidate in the 4th, former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey, launched a group of women supporters in December.

Given the statistics on turnout, appealing to women is critical. Moreover, there is a natural fit between certain issues that matter  to women - pay equity, family leave, child care - and economic justice issues generally that are of critical importance to the increasing progressive left wing of the party’s electorate. If you’re a candidate with a real and meaningful track record on these issues, then you’re in the game.

But let’s be brutally honest in a way that John Fritze perhaps can’t be: being a female candidate in 2016 is an advantage. It’s Donna Edwards’ calling card - if she wins, it will be because she argues that she brings a unique perspective as a black woman (race isn’t exactly relevant, either, prtixularly in the Senate contest). Kathleen Matthews and Joseline Pena-Melnyk are surging because they’re working hard and running good campaigns, but part of their appeal is that they’re women.

It’s a fine line. Nobody should be elected solely because of their identity: race, gender, ethnicity, generational, etc. But it is a factor. 

“Vote for me because I understand what it’s like to be a woman.”

“We need more voices that will speak to women’s issues and concerns.”

If being a woman is all you’ve got, then you’re not going to succeed. But the women in all three races have extensive and impressive track records, and being women only enhances that appeal. How it all plays out in the end will be one of the key story lines between now and April 26.

Release The Hounds

In less than 30 hours, the calendar will turn from 2015 to 2016, and the furious campaign fundraising will come to an exhausted halt. But for now, the hunt is on for someone, anyone, to make a last donation and swell the coffers of the many federal candidates in Maryland. Nobody is safe; I’ve received over a dozen emails and a phone call just this afternoon alone.

“Release the hounds!” cried Mr. Burns.


CD8: Wherein I Suck It Up And Call ‘Em Like I See ‘Em

I wrote the original version of this post almost a month ago. I hesitated to post it then, for a number of reasons, some of which are described below. I’ve played around with it some, but not all that much. It’s Tough Love Tuesday. Time to pull the trigger. Blam. Here we go.

Seven candidates are running to represent the new CD8, what with Chris Van Hollen off to war for a Senate seat with my former client Donna Edwards. I know all seven of them to varying degrees: all the way from Joel Rubin and David Anderson, both of whom I met within the past three months, to Jamie Raskin, who I met at the very first Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club picnic at my house in 2005. Six people ran the Raskin campaign together in 2006 - and two of them lived at my house. My wife Rebecca Lord was Jamie’s political director. I didn’t take a title (I called myself minister without portfolio, Jamie called me his practitioner of the dark arts, others called me “Dr. Evil,” and I have the t-shirt to prove it, a gift from my fellow Raskinistas after the campaign) because I did oppo research and online stuff that would have looked bad coming from “staff.” But I was at every meeting, and I did a little bit of everything - field, events, media, you name it, I did it. When the press today says I was campaign counsel, that’s literally true - but also absurdly misleading at the same time.

But even in the middle, there are interesting relationships. I ran for delegate with Will Jawando in 2014. I’ve worked with Ana Sol Gutierrez on legislation in Annapolis. I knew Kumar Barve a little bit before this year, but now, having spent time with him on this campaign, I consider him a friend. I’m old enough to remember Kathleen Matthews as the news anchor for Channel 7, and I’ve gotten to know her a little bit too.

So unlike the first two tough love posts, this one is by far the toughest - for me. In this race, several of the candidates are people I think of as friends, some more so, some less, but the fact remains. So I’ve wavered over what to do. Do I give the real honest to God unvarnished truth? Do I pull my punches and sugar coat it because I like these folks, even the ones I don’t know as well?

I put a huge amount of stock in trust, and loyalty. Those who know me well will agree with that readily. I am a stubbornly loyal person, sometimes to a fault. So I’m a weirdo here - not quite a journalist, not quite a politician, nor a lobbyist, but someone with real skin in the game, trying to provide a perspective that nobody else can, not because I’m so smart or anything obnoxious like that, but because I’m me - part fish, part fowl, 100% loyal, yet publishing according to my own rules, which I can’t even tell you what they are - like former Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography, “I know it when I see it” is my rule.

So this exercise puts me in a bit of a bind. I’m loyal, yet I’m supposed to deliver tough love. I know things, and they inform my judgment, but it would be wrong to say some of those things directly. So you’re going to have to trust me when I say this: I know more about much of what I’m about to say than anything I’ve written so far, but I’m not always going to say why. Which leaves a few - not many - opinions I have that I can’t say, because they’re based on things that would violate my conscience to reveal. All in all, though, I feel like I can deliver an honest and complete assessment without those particular opinions. What’s left is complete and informative - I hope - and accurate, as far as it goes. And honest. Always.

So with that absurdly long winded open, here goes. In random order:

Joel Rubin: I came prepared not to like him. He was getting in late, I’ve never heard of him, and his experience is all DC-based. Marylanders hate that kind of guy, as I’ve written before. But he’s charming and smart, as is his wife, who I sat next to for two hours during his first debate. And he clearly knows his stuff about foreign policy and finding his way around the thickets of the DC foreign policy establishment. So I’m sorry I ripped him for doing an interview with a Republican blogger. But …

I still have no idea how Rubin intends to be anything other than an afterthought in this race. He has no Maryland experience at all, other than some involvement with the Town of Chevy Chase, he’s young, he has no money and he’s up against well-funded, experienced, deep rooted opponents who have a nine month head start on him. Joel, I’m glad to have met you, but WTF, dude?

David Anderson: the contrarian in the race. Even though I don’t agree with him I appreciate his bringing up issues and taking positions no one else wants to talk about. Two things: one, see my comments above about Joel Rubin. Second, Dave needs to work on delivery. It’s one thing to disagree, but he shouldn’t be so disagreeable when he does it. He’s coming across like a jerk - which he’s not - by being abrasive. He’d get far more mileage out of humor than distemper.

Ana Sol Gutierrez: Ana is as charming as can be, but translating strong name recognition and favorability into something more is not going to happen by itself. More money, more campaign presence, and more policy chops would all help a lot. She’s doing the best job so far of running an identity politics campaign, but my sense is that there’s a lower ceiling for her than for the other identity politics candidate . . .

Will Jawando: . . . perhaps because he’s pitching himself as both the only African-American and the only millennial candidate in the race. How that second category works for him is going to be key. If he can find a way to make and consolidate even some of that appeal, he has a chance to rise. And nobody gives as good a speech as Will does, especially when he talks about his background. But it can come across as canned sometimes, and he needs to show some more personal touch in crowds. Honestly, Will, watch the way your wife works a room and do more of that.

Kumar Barve: the most experienced and accomplished legislator, a trailblazer in the Indian-American community, works hard, doesn’t seem to get anywhere so far. What’s wrong with this picture? I think he can and will do better money-wise but there seems to be something missing. His campaign ad about his grandfather is one of the best I’ve ever seen. He needs to let people see his sense of humor. He continues to exude confidence and good cheer, but something new is called for. I’ve said less here than I want to, but I really am perplexed.

Kathleen Matthews: the lightning bolt from out of left field (I love mixing metaphors), she’s shaken up this race from the drop. Tapped into major financial networks, she’s raised a lot of money, but only in the last report did she pass Jamie Raskin in contributions. A smooth, smooth presence, she’s quickly managed the transition from good public speaker to confident and assured candidate (not an easy transition). Kathleen is a Rohrschach test - people’s reactions to her say far more about them than they do about the candidate (the last candidate I said this about was me. You’d be amazed how many people went from thinking I was the anti-Christ - bad parent, secret Republican, thief, not at all progressive, anti-labor - to not being able to make it through the day without one of my blog posts). Matthews has been slammed as a corporate shill, an out of touch rich white woman, a conserva-Dem, anti-choice, pro-fracking, uninvolved, inexperienced, unqualified and ultimately illegitimate candidate. All in less than seven months. She’s handled it well, showing grace and charm.

Well done. So far. But there’s more to do. The criticism isn’t going to stop, but she can meet it without giving it credence. She has a good stump speech but it needs more. My sense is that she’s being cautious in her approach and I respect that, but I think she could get a lot of mileage out of playing against type. Let it rip a little, let people see her get worked up, angry, passionate. Real. Not saying she’s not, but so much of good politics is making things visible. Show, don’t tell. Etc.

Jamie Raskin: this was his race to win early on. He was in early, he generated enthusiasm and support, but he needed - from day one - to broaden the base, to not pitch the campaign at Takoma Park, but to think Bethesda and Rockville and Gaithersburg and Frederick and Westminster. And moderates, at least a little bit. And people who didn’t know him. Of which there are a lot.

But the race he’s run has been a replay of 2006. Well, this ain’t 2006. Raskin isn’t an insurgent - he’s an experienced legislator with a strong record of accomplishment. And Kathleen Matthews is not Ida Ruben, no matter how hard Jamie tries to fit her into that box.

CD8 is not LD20. A congressional race is not a state senate contest. It’s not just bigger, it’s DIFFERENT.  And while he has a great campaign team that is totally committed to him, it’s not like 2006 in another way: back then, we told him “no” a lot, and he listened a lot, and he only rarely fought our collective advice. That was an unparalleled team of utter neophytes who all turned out to be really, really good at politics. Now, he’s “Jamie Raskin, progressive icon” and who’s got the nerve to tell that guy “no”? It’s not their fault, we were just lucky enough to be around him before the mythology and the inevitability began.

People don’t want a “transformational” congressman, they want a “transactional” one. Where’s my social security check? Why haven’t I gotten my immigration visa? I need a passport - yesterday. Washington isn’t Annapolis. Jamie’s not going to change the world, and the people who think he can? They’re already going to vote for him. The people Raskin needs to persuade think he’s full of himself with all the superlatives in every email, every Facebook post.

Look, full disclosure - Jamie Raskin repaid 10 years of my loyalty horribly in 2014. Details irrelevant here. Despite that, I continue to talk to him about his campaign and tell him what I think. We’ve had a lot of conversations about a lot of things that ultimately are between me and him and nobody else. But nothing here will be news to him. I don’t claim objectivity but the reality is that virtually all of the above is being noticed and discussed by a lot more people than just me.

Well, that’s that. I hope my comments are taken in the spirit in which they’re offered, but that’s not for me to decide. My work here is done. For now. 119 days to the primary, 107 days to the start of early voting. Tick tock.

Comin’ Right Up

Yes, it’s Christmas, but I just binge watched the last 8 episodes of The Newsroom, a thoroughly manipulative and often reprehensible, yet strangely addictive and compelling television program to people - like me - who are susceptible to witty and intelligent yet completely unbelievable banter, and who want to believe that everything ends well and the guy and the girl always get together in the end. In other words, hopeless romantics. It’s an Aaron Sorkin thing: I hate myself for being manipulated while simultaneously wanting to live in a world where the stupid yet awesome things he likes to portray actually happen.

So now I’m all charged up about all the cool stories that I have in mind for the next few weeks. Here you go. I need to go watch a horror movie or something to rebalance my brain.

1. In six days, we reach the end of the Q4 campaign finance reporting period. These numbers - which by the way won’t be filed until January 31 - will be the last formal measure of the fundraising efforts of all the Senate and House candidates before early voting starts on April 14. The 2016 Q1 reports won’t be due until the next day, April 15. What will the numbers look like? From everything I hear from a wide range of sources, the operative word is “down.” What will matter in the great majority of situations is “how far down?” and “how did the other guys do by comparison?”

2. Campaign strategies will begin to take shape in a way that we as observers will be able to, well, observe. Who’s got the best ground game? Who’s active in what kind of outreach activity? Who goes on the air, and what kind of message will they be delivering? Who jumps first into the direct mail pool?

3. Polls. There’s only been one internal House poll in CD8, one outside poll in the Senate, and none in CD4. I’ve been hearing rumors about more polls, but nothing concrete, not even for the guy willing to report rumors if enough people are talking about them. It’s all vague and contradictory right now, but I’m going to try to dig up what I can.

4. The candidates going to Annapolis for  days starting on January 13: Kumar Barve, Ana Sol Gutierrez, Jamie Raskin, Dereck Davis, and Joseline Pena-Melnyk. Barve and Davis are committee chairs. How will they and the others manage the competing demands of session and a primary that is now 123 days away? Striking a balance is critical: too much Annapolis means you lose the primary, but too much campaign means you get criticized for not doing your job, which means you lose the primary. See Cardin, Jon, 2014.

5. Issues. Every legislative session brings issues to the fore that nobody was thinking about when session began. Criminal justice reform, police accountability, veto overrides, education, alcohol, the budget, I’ll be doing my best to keep tabs on all of them, not to mention stuff we aren’t even thinking about right now.

6. The presidential primaries. After months and months and months and months of blather, the first votes will be cast in Iowa in 38 days, and in New Hampshire in 46. I’ll be following that too. Right now, if you put a gun to my head, I’d bet that when the smoke clears, it’s going to be Clinton vs. Cruz.

7. Whatever other crazy shit that Maryland politics, the Internet, and my loopy brain can dredge up for your entertainment and amusement.

Hope that’s enough. Going to watch that movie now.

BREAKING: Raskin Endorsed By CPC

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest caucus in the House at 72 members, announced today that it is endorsing Jamie Raskin in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. Here’s the press release:

Progressive Action PAC Endorses Jamie Raskin for Congress in Maryland’s 8th, Citing His “Effective Progressive” Leadership in Annapolis

SILVER SPRING, MD – Progressive Action PAC, the political arm of the 72-Member Congressional Progressive Caucus, announced today that it has endorsed State Senator Jamie Raskin in his campaign for Congress in Maryland’s 8th District.
“Jamie is a passionate progressive, has a proven record of legislative accomplishment, and has put together an impressive grassroots campaign that engages in serious policy discussion about the critical issues of our time, including gun safety, criminal justice reform, and environmental change,” said Congressman Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I am endorsing Jamie because I know he will be an effective progressive leader for the people of Maryland when he comes to Congress.”
“I’m honored to endorse Jamie Raskin for Congress. He’s not just a progressive activist but a national thought leader and a seasoned legislative actor who gets things done,” said Congressman Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“With Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrats have the chance to send to Congress one of the country’s most effective progressive leaders,” said Congressman Mark Pocan, First Vice-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Whether it is voting rights, campaign finance reform, gun violence prevention, environmental progress or civil rights and liberties, Jamie has delivered time and again as a Maryland State Senator and a respected professor of constitutional law. I’m endorsing Jamie because we need him to stand up in Congress for the American people against big-money special interests and to defend the Constitution and Bill of Rights against the Tea Party.”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is the largest caucus within the House Democratic Caucus and consists of 72 Congressional members. Founded in 1991, the CPC is a diverse and powerful caucus that advocates for a strong progressive agenda. Progressive Action PAC is the political arm of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and endorses candidates for Congress across the country who champion progressive change in America.
“What an honor,” said Senator Raskin. “I want to thank the Progressive Action PAC and Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus for their support. I’m inspired and fortified by great leaders like Congressman Grijalva, Ellison and Pocan, and I will work with all the Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to go out and elect a Democratic Congress and a progressive agenda.”
Senator Raskin added: “I’m running on a decade-long record of effective progressive leadership in Annapolis. I want to go to Congress take on the NRA to pass common-sense gun reform, to combat climate change and break from the carbon barons, and to address the striking economic and political inequality in America that is eroding the middle class and thwarting opportunity for millions of people.”

It’s Go Time

That’s the takeaway from this John Fritze article on the CD4 and CD8 races.  As we approach Christmas and the calendar flipping over, the House campaigns are getting ready to rumble. When we all wake up on the first business day of 2016 (January 4), there will be only 101 days left until early voting begins on April 14. And 90 of those days will be taken up by the 2016 legislative session in Annapolis.

The candidates running for Maryland’s two open House seats have operated mostly out of view so far, building campaigns and raising money in the shadow of the state’s high-profile race for Senate.

That’s about to change.

As they turn toward the post-holiday stretch, when more voters will begin tuning in, several top candidates in Maryland’s 4th and 8th Congressional Districts are preparing to ramp up their advertising and presence on the trail.
The shift represents not only a natural course adjustment as the April 26 primary election nears, but also a recognition that the upcoming session of the General Assembly will have implications for both races. At least five state lawmakers — including two committee chairmen — are running for Congress this year.

How the leading candidates handle the dual responsibilities of the campaign and Annapolis is going to be a key question to watch. Too much time on the campaign equals criticism that you’re not doing your job. Too much time in Annapolis and your reward is you get to go back again next year having lost your shot at a seat in Congress. Finding the sweet spot is critical. 

EXCLUSIVE: Pharma Bro And CD8

Earlier today, I - quite gleefully - reported on the arrest of “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli, and later even threw in some perp walk pictures. That was fun.

In the immortal words of late night pitchman Ron Popeil, “but wait, there’s more!”

This afternoon, I received an anonymous email suggesting I “should Follow Will Jawando money from Shkreli.” Intrigued, I went to the FEC website to look. And yes, there was “more.”

In this case, the picture tells the story.

Now, before the shit starts to fly, let me be clear. There’s no suggestion that these contributions are illegal. Or unethical. And to be fair, although Shkreli was notorious in the pharma field for a good while - at least as far back as 2014, as noted here - and had been fired by Retrophin, the company whose lawsuit ultimately got Shkreli arrested today, the “Pharma Bro” story that made Martin Shkreli the face of pharmaceutical industry greed didn’t appear in print anywhere until September 17, following which it went viral quickly. But all 14 contributions were made between August 26 and September 15, prior to the story becoming national news.

But there are 14 contributions from Turing Pharmaceuticals, Shkreli’s new firm, including a full $5,400 donation from Shkreli himself, and that is news. A total of $28,300 was contributed by Turing employees - four for $5,400 each, two for $2,000, and one $2,700. That’s a lot, especially for a company with no obvious ties to either the candidate or to the CD8 race. And Shkreli’s arrest today makes the issue even more newsworthy.

As for me, as I suggested in a prior unrelated post, I’m just bringing up the issue. I don’t have an opinion, nor an axe to grind. I have no favored candidate in CD8, and I haven’t even begun to decide who will get my vote. But one of my main goals here is to be informative.

Consider yourself informed.

UPDATE: Curse my parental responsibilities! John Fritze of the Sun also has the story, along with Will Jawando’s statement that he intends to donate the TuringShkreli contributions to a local charity. Jawando stated: “I met Mr. Shkreli one time and he decided to support my campaign after hearing me speak.”