Despite the fact that Maryland has a 2-1 edge of Democrats over Republicans, Democrat nominee for Governor Anthony Brown managed to lose the election to Republican Larry Hogan, who was virtually unknown when he won last week. And in the wake of Maryland’s gubernatorial election, there are lessons for Hillary Clinton, the hands on unannounced favorite Democratic 2016 Presidential candidate. Being a frontrunner can be a blessing and a curse, as Maryland’s Anthony Brown discovered.
While many Democrats shunned the President to campaign for them, Anthony Brown did not shy away from the star power of many Democrat politicians including President Obama, Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton who came to rallies in support of Brown. No amount of star power from other politicians could save the shellacking that Brown received at the hands of Hogan. Brown lost by over 9 percentage points in a heavy Democrat state. Brown did not lose because he aligned himself with party Democrats and President Obama. He lost because he broke many unspoken rules as a candidate.
Brown was so busy being the front runner that he forgot that he had to campaign for the job. He was not going to be anointed or appointed to the position of Governor. As soon as the primary ended in June, 2014, Brown acted as if the general election win were a fete accomplished. As a frontrunner, Brown ran a lackluster campaign. And he was too often trying to avoid any mishaps that he took many things for granted. Campaigning is like a contact sport that requires often taking risks.
The rule in politics and in life is to never take people for granted. Brown presumably assumed that the large numbers of Democrats in the three major areas of Baltimore City and the DC suburbs of Prince George’s County (Brown’s home base) and Montgomery County would magically appear and vote for him without much campaigning. The results revealed that many Maryland voters in 2014, like many in the country, stayed home. Many voters may have felt they had no reason to vote. And Brown failed to give them a reason. Campaigning is also a team sport and Brown did not strongly engage the team—the voters.
Brown never strayed away from the message points of his predecessor, Governor Martin O’Malley, a potential 2016 presidential candidate. Brown failed to explain how he would improve people’s lives. And he did a poor job of explaining what he would do as Governor, instead of merely attacking Hogan as a Republican. He failed to explain what he stood for on issues and why he deserved to be Governor—albeit after botching the MD health care exchange site. And being the Lt. Governor alone was not a good enough reason to vote for him, as Brown apparently thought.
Messaging is a key factor in any political race. And the Brown campaign failed to get a message that was clear and concise. Quoting party lines and party message points is not the same as having a message that resonates with voters. Telling stories is one way that voters understand what’s at stake for them in their personal lives and why their vote counts. Hogan repeatedly told stories through his ads while many of Brown’s ads attacked Hogan.
Brown has a similar style in some respects to Hilary Clinton. To say he fails to show and express emotions would be an understatement. Voters need to see the human and emotional side of candidates. Surprisingly, the concession speech that Brown gave showed an emotional, personal side of him with reasons why he entered public service that never revealed itself during the campaign.
While Brown did not distance himself from President Obama, he failed to learn anything from the two campaigns that President Obama ran to successfully win two terms as President. While Hillary Clinton may decide to distance herself from President Obama, she also needs to learn how President Obama did the seemingly impossible—as the first African American President who also won re-election. President Obama knew how to campaign and win two terms in areas where blacks, women and minorities are not always high on the list of priorities. Maryland’s new Republican Governor Elect, Larry Hogan campaigned in all areas of Maryland including urban Baltimore City. Hogan didn’t take anything or anyone for granted. And neither should Hillary Clinton should she decide to run. Hillary Clinton could learn from Brown by not repeating his mistakes.