The Maryland Republican Party finds itself without an attorney general candidate on February 21. The filing deadline is February 25 at 9 p.m.
Previously, Richard Douglas had been considering a bid for attorney general as a Republican and ultimately decided not to run. Democrats running include Aisha Braveboy, Jon Cardin, Bill Frick, and Brian Frosh.
As I reported on February 11, Michael Peroutka was planning to run for attorney general. I’ve learned today that Peroutka is definitely not running. I also have confirmed that MD GOP officials are already meeting with other potential candidates to try to find someone before the deadline. Why did Peroutka back out? That’s a good question and I will get to that in a moment. First, let’s look at some background information on the issue.
Electing an attorney general is not solely a recent problem for the MD GOP. The last Republican Attorney General in Maryland was Edward D.E. Rollins who was in office from 1952-1954. Before him, Alexander Armstrong was Attorney General from 1919-1923. Before that, there were two Republican Attorneys General in the 1890s (George Riggs Gaither, Jr. in 1899 and Harry Clabaugh from 1895-1899.) Since 1875, only the above men have been a Republican Attorney General of Maryland.
in 2010, MD GOP Chair Audrey Scott (mentor of current chair Diana Waterman) was unable to find a Republican candidate to face Doug Gansler. This allowed Gansler to raise money that he never spent that year. Some would say that Audrey Scott helped Gansler bankroll his 2014 gubernatorial bid by not finding an opponent. If the Maryland GOP doesn’t find a candidate in the next few days, they could end up helping the Democratic nominee (someone like Jon Cardin or Brian Frosh) bankroll their re-election campaign or run for another office in 2018 in the same fashion.
A Baltimore Sun story back in July discussed the four Democratic candidates who were already running and said this:
No Republicans have publicly declared an intention to run, but state GOP leaders say a few people have privately sought support and will soon step forward.
Todd Eberly of St. Mary’s College also commented on the situation at the time to The Daily Record:
“It speaks to the sorry state of the Republican party in Maryland,” said Todd Eberly, assistant professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “You’re not going to have Doug Gansler … you’ve got an open race, the potential for a divisive Democratic primary.
“If they want anyone to ever take them seriously, they’ve got to win some statewide offices every now and then, which means trying to build a bench instead of running these throwaway challenges.”
The Baltimore Sun reported on Tuesday that state Republican leaders have said a few potential candidates have come forward privately and that someone would soon do so publicly.
Exactly who that candidate might be, however, is a mystery to many.
“I cannot think of who in the world would even be sort of that candidate,” Eberly said.
After this news coverage, Jackie Wellfonder blogged about the situation, since it was a hot topic among Republicans at the time. Wellfonder got the following statement from MD GOP Chair Diana Waterman:
I am actively recruiting an AG candidate, having spoken with several individuals who are still thinking about entering the race. This is a very difficult position to fill. Most qualified candidates are engaged in private practice and either can’t or don’t want to leave it (understandably). I am consulting Central Committee members, attorneys, and elected officials to find a great candidate for the Republican ballot.
Greg Kline responded with a post that included this:
The good assistant professor [Eberly] is right that a lack of a candidate even being discussed does reflect poorly on the MDGOP but he his so wrong about the state party not having a bench or plenty of qualified, potential candidates. Of course, what the hell would the faculty of St. Mary’s College ever know about Maryland Republicans? They aren’t reported upon in the Huffington Post after all.But I digress.On Thursday night, I shared a list of about 150 Maryland Republicans who would be qualified for the post of Attorney General. As I explained then, I compiled the list in 10 minutes and it is far from comprehensive. It included such well know names as Kendall Ehrlich, the 2006 AG nominee Scott Rolle, over half a dozen members of the General Assembly, a dozen or so sitting State’s Attorneys and literally scores of active Republican lawyers who hold some elected office, have run for office or are contemplating a run.So, yes, we have a bench and we have plenty of names.That is not the problem.So why don’t we have a candidate or even a public name of someone seriously contemplating an AG run?
Essentially, the chairman is acknowledging there are plenty of potential candidates but the party cannot “close” any of them.Why?It isn’t the reason the the chairman claims. Why would a Republican candidate have to leave a private practice? Not to run, of course, though they would have to take time away from it like everything else? If they won? Sure, but does anyone really believe the MDGOP is getting “no’s” because potential candidates are afraid they might win? We should be so lucky and besides that wouldn’t be an issue for a sitting State’s Attorney or really for a member of the legislature.As someone who got one of these calls, and no not from the Chairman, I can tell you why they are not getting a yes. Any potential AG candidate knows that they would be on their own running statewide. The state party is too much focused on creating a list of people to call and too little focused on what they are going to tell the person on the other end of the phone.As I mentioned on Thursday night, candidate recruitment isn’t about finding candidates, that is candidate scouting. Candidate recruitment, like recruiting for a college football team, is about selling the experience and making someone want to be a part of something.This is exactly what the party isn’t doing.
- Get written commitments from every MDGOP elected official (and to the extent possible candidates) to support and, if requested, publicly endorse the party’s AG candidate. This means using their networks to push social media contacts and encourage donations. It means welcoming the candidate to all their events and making sure to introduce them to their supporters.
- Have a plan in place with every county central committee to coordinate an announcement and again push social media contacts when a candidate is announced. A potential AG candidate shouldn’t have to spend months going to central committees to introduce themselves and ask local central committees to put the candidate in contact with local activists and clubs. That should be standing by just waiting for someone to run.
- Get commitments from as many sources as possible to support the candidates fundraising efforts. Host a fundraiser, sign a letter of support, send a letter to their network requesting that they contribute to the candidate. The MDGOP has no money to give but it is full of members who should be standing by to help with fundraising for any candidate willing to step up to the plate.
- Coordinate with new media to maximize exposure of the candidate upon their announcement. The state party has been doing a better job working with new media. We obviously would want to talk to any MDGOP AG candidate. This should be a no brainer.
- Have the MDGOP make available at the convenience of the candidate and his or her campaign all training resources. If we are begging someone to run tell them that we will provide the training for them rather than just let them find their way to an already scheduled training. This also means the state party makes a commitment to provide all the technical assistance they can.Putting this together would be difficult and not without challenges but it should be the minimum the party can do to incentivize someone to run statewide and I am sure there are plenty of other things the state party can add to this list.If the work was done putting it together, finding a candidate would be the easy part. There really is no excuse.
I remember since the summer the issue of an attorney general candidate has remained a hot topic among party insiders and activists. Many Republicans I’ve heard, including at least one Red Maryland contributor, expressed a desire for any candidate at all – the proverbial “warm body” to run. Party officials, especially since Joe Cluster became Executive Director, have been focusing on filling every race with at least one GOP contender. In addition to other reasons given for a lack of candidates, I’ve heard that the 10-year licensed to practice in Maryland requirement has ruled out some of the potential candidates. Before I reported on Michael Peroutka’s plans to run, I had been hearing that Waterman and Joe Cluster had been recruiting him and talking to him about running.
Michael Anthony Peroutka is a longtime purveyor of eccentric (to be charitable) ideas on the U.S. Constitution, the role of religion in government, and other subjects. He was a third-party candidate in 2004 and just last fall he advised supporters to “disengage themselves from the Republican party and their brand of worthless, Godless, unprincipled conservatism.” (Shouldn’t he take his own advice?) Were he to win a statewide nomination, Democrats would have a field day trying to drag down more electable Maryland Republicans by tying them to his views. A plane with this much baggage should never get off the ground.
I could not in good conscience support Peroutka had he become the Republican nominee for Attorney General. His Christian reconstructionist beliefs are just as statist as any progressive vision of government. His notion that government comes from God twists history and the words of our Founders into a bizzaro world philosophy.
I next asked Newgent if all of his criticism was related to Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution (IOTC.) Newgent’s response:
My criticisms are mostly related to IOTC theory. I will note that I do find it hypocritical that Peroutka who believes that its not government’s role to take care of people, foisted his own step daughter on to the state.
Regarding reports that Maryland GOP leadership, including Diana Waterman and Joe Cluster, recruited Peroutka, Newgent said:
I can’t speak to the recruitment efforts of the MDGOP. I would hope though that Peroutka was not actively pursued by the chairman or the executive director. Its one thing to get a warm body on the ballot, but Peroutka on the ballot would in my opinion be a drag up and down the ballot.
I asked Newgent if he was concerned now that the party might not find a candidate for Attorney General before the deadline as well. His response:
Again I can’t speak to the party’s recruiting efforts, though it is disconcerting that less than five days from the deadline, no one has filed.
Newgent’s first answer would seem to go against Kline’s suggestion #1 from this summer that I listed above (getting everyone in the party to support the recruited AG candidate.) Newgent’s criticism of Peroutka and the IOTC is pretty well explained in his comments. His remarks about Peroutka and his step-daughter relate to events detailed by Van Smith of The City Paper in 2004. At the time, Peroutka’s wife responded to the allegations in that story. I wrote before about allegations of racism that were thrown at Peroutka and the strong response he made to them. Peroutka’s IOTC also employed current controversial Delegate Don Dwyer in the past.
Additionally, Newgent is critical of the MD GOP leadership if they were recruiting Peroutka under a theory of finding a “warm body” to run. This is apparently in direct contradiction to what a Red Maryland contributor said on the air in a previous online radio broadcast.
I would agree with Newgent it is disconcerting that a candidate has not been found yet so close to the deadline. Some might disagree with his other points, however.
I talked to one Republican party insider who talked openly about the recruitment process and about frustrations that many in the party leadership had about the lack of cooperation from others in getting involved in finding a candidate for Attorney General.
This party insider told me:
There is a lot of frustration when people like Mark Newgent and Greg Kline snipe from the sidelines at the people in party leadership who are actually doing the work of recruiting candidates. What have Newgent and Kline done to help recruit candidates for attorney general? Kline is eligible to run himself, why hasn’t he considered running to help the party field a strong candidate?
The party chairman and her executive director have been working to find an attorney general candidate for months. Was Michael Peroutka the best possible candidate? No. However, he was a candidate who was willing to run and willing to spend a substantial amount of his own money on his campaign. Now we have no candidate and may end up without one again this cycle all because a few loudmouths made the perfect the enemy of the good. Michael Peroutka would have been a Republican name on the ballot in November and would have made the Democrat nominee spend money against him. That money will now help whoever that Democrat is in the next election unless a candidate can be found at the last minute.
It’s nice that people who sit on their asses and write blog posts can help attack what would have been a Republican candidate. It would be nicer if they got off their asses and helped with candidate recruitment and actually attacking Democrats. It brings to mind this quote –
The other piece of the recruitment efforts of the party relates to Collins Bailey. Bailey, the First Vice Chair of the MD GOP, has apparently been making the effort to recruit candidates. Bailey, who also ran against Diana Waterman and Greg Kline in the last race for chairman, uses his AOL email address (could somebody tell him about MailChimp or Constant Contact?) to blast emails out to his own personal list of people. There is no unsubscribe mechanism in the emails and I’ve heard some people claim they were added without being asked. When Bailey isn’t too busy plagiarizing Brian Griffiths, he sets up conference calls that often conflict with central committee or Republican club meetings and result in people streaming out of those meetings to get on to his calls. It appears that Bailey is using his low tech efforts to pursue his own agenda at the expense of the party’s.
There are at least three sides to every story. I’ve tried to objectively help present as many differing viewpoints regarding the situation of why the Maryland Republican Party does not currently have a candidate for attorney general and why Michael Peroutka bailed out on running. If you piece together all the divergent threads, it would be reasonable to surmise that Peroutka decided to spend his time and money on other concerns after realizing that he would be taking fire from not only Democrats regarding his baggage and his views, but also vocal Republicans who opposed his candidacy.
With the arguments about Peroutka, it would appear that it boils down to the people who would settle for having any candidate on the ballot to challenge and probably lose to the Democrats versus people who don’t want someone they see as fringe. Additionally, there are activists in the GOP who like Peroutka and what he stands for who were excited about his candidacy. I am sure they will add another set of voices that differs from that of the party establishment disagreements detailed above.
The Maryland GOP’s circular firing squad is apparently alive and well and is warmed up for another election year. It is a shame that people in a party that is so completely out of power get into fights about everything from the petty to the major. The party needs to be unified if it wants any chance of success and there are too many people in all factions who don’t seem to want to make this happen. Too many people are content fighting over scraps of bread and being a minor functionary in some level of the party that is lacking any real power.
Is there going to be a sea change in voter attitudes that changes things? Will the party be taken over by what some call the “Liberty” activists that includes the Campaign For Liberty along with other Tea Party groups? Are state parties becoming obsolete, as my friend Jackie Wellfonder asks?
Who do you agree with above? Greg Kline? Mark Newgent? Walter Olson? The party insider who spewed so much nasty vitriol towards others while refusing to go on the record? Or are you of a totally different opinion? Do you think the lack of a candidate for attorney general could be a major blow to Diana Waterman’s chances to continue as party chair?
My personal opinion is that there is plenty of blame to go around. Peroutka apparently won’t change his mind and run so the priority now is to find someone before the deadline. I’m sure there will be consequences in future fights over the direction of the party, but right now the priority for the Republican party needs to be moving foward for this year’s elections. These fights don’t make me want to become active in the Republican party honestly and I’m sure some will jump on me for that, but it’s not the role for me right now.
We shall see what happens in the days remaining for the filing deadline and then the months leading up to the primaries and the general election. I’m not confident that there will be much to celebrate in November for Maryland Republicans except maybe in the legislative and local races.
I’m sure this piece will generate a lot of comment. If you want to be heard on this matter let me know in the comments below and I’ll consider doing a follow-up with reactions to all I’ve laid out above.
Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore since 2006. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus. He has been involved in the pro-life movement nationally and locally since 2010.
Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.