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As falling political dominoes go, the announcement Thursday by Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) that he won’t seek a third term in 2022 — and plans to retire from politics altogether after 36 years as an elected official — is a big one. Several ambitious politicians were awaiting Frosh’s decision with bated breath.
Appropriately, there’s a long list of possible Democratic candidates who might run to replace him, including a sitting congressman, a former Maryland first lady who is now a judge, a former member of Congress who is now a judge, and high-powered state lawmakers.
But the reality is that the Democratic primary field next year might not be so big. The last three times there was an open-seat race for attorney general in Maryland — in 1986, 2006 and 2014, when Frosh won — the number of candidates was actually relatively small.
And this time, there is a potential contender who could come close to clearing the field: U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D), the state’s former lieutenant governor.
Brown, like so many high-ranking Maryland elected officials Thursday — with the notable exception of Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. — offered effusive praise for Frosh’s 35-year tenure in Maryland politics shortly after the attorney general’s announcement, calling him “an exceptional public servant and champion for the rights and wellbeing of Marylanders.”
On Thursday evening, Brown provided a statement to Maryland Matters confirming that he is taking a close look at the race.
“Maryland faces many challenges as we continue our recovery from this pandemic and reckon with systemic racism in our society,” he said. “I have been encouraged by many to strongly consider a potential run for Maryland Attorney General. I plan to explore and discuss this opportunity to serve with my family and my constituents. I’m committed to serving the people of Maryland in any office where I can add value and continue to make progress on behalf of the state we all love.”
Brown has been talking with fellow Democrats for weeks about the possibility of running for attorney general if Frosh retired, reminding them that he was always interested in the job: A former vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis, he considered running for AG in 2006, when he was just back from serving in the Iraq War. He wound up accepting an offer to join then-Baltimore Mayor Martin J. O’Malley’s ticket instead and spent the next eight years as lieutenant governor.
Several Democratic sources said they expect Brown to reveal his political plans for 2022 as soon as next week. Although some Democratic activists fault Brown for running a lackluster campaign against Hogan in 2014, he would start the AG’s race with far more name recognition than any other Democrat and would presumably be able to stand up a statewide fundraising operation quickly.
Brown reported more than $1.5 million in his federal campaign account as of Sept. 30, but he can only directly send $6,000 of it to any fund he opens to run for state office. However, he can refund contributions to his federal account and ask donors to give to his state campaign instead.
Another potential top contender in the attorney general’s race is state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), the chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee who has been on a fast political track since arriving in Annapolis in 2015. Smith — like Brown, a military veteran — is popular with his colleagues in the legislature, many of whom might be inclined to help him if he makes a statewide bid, and is steadily boosting his profile across the state.
According to sources, Smith was making phone calls on Thursday to gauge support and was pushing the argument that he is far more grounded in the law than Brown. But Smith, who is 39, is a full generation younger than Brown, who turns 60 next month, and may have more to lose politically if he gives up his gavel and a safe seat in the Senate for a statewide run.
“I’m doing my due diligence and seriously considering a run,” Smith told Maryland Matters on Thursday.
Through mid-January, Smith had $122,083 in his campaign account.
Another intriguing name emerged as a possible Democratic candidate late Thursday: Catherine Curran O’Malley, the former Maryland first lady who is a Baltimore City District Court judge — and is the daughter of former state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D).
A source close to O’Malley said she was surprised by Frosh’s announcement but has been encouraged by friends in Maryland and at the national level to consider the race, among other possible political options. Her husband’s political network remains active and could be an asset if she gets into the primary.
Six other Democrats seen as potential candidates for attorney general confirmed directly or through associates Thursday that they are considering the race:
- Baltimore County Del. Jon S. Cardin, who was runner-up to Frosh in the 2014 Democratic primary and possesses more name recognition than the average state lawmaker, thanks in part to his uncle, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D). He reported $31,778 in the bank as of mid-January.
- House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), who is a prosecutor in the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney’s office. He reported $105,893 in his campaign account in mid-January.
- Elizabeth Embry, a special assistant to Frosh in the attorney general’s office who ran for mayor of Baltimore in 2016 and for lieutenant governor in 2018.
- State Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery), a former federal prosecutor who pondered running for state comptroller in 2022. Feldman, the vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, reported $346,319 in his campaign fund in mid-January.
- Frank M. Kratovil Jr., a former congressman from the 1st District who is now a Queen Anne’s County District Court judge.
- Gaithersburg City Councilmember Ryan Spiegel, who developed a statewide network during a stint as president of the Maryland Municipal League.
Several of the potential candidates said they would hope to add to Frosh’s legacy.
“It’s a great opportunity to build on Brian Frosh’s work in so many areas, including environmental justice, consumer protection and prosecuting trafficking in illegal unlicensed firearms,” Clippinger said.
Maybe and no
Several Democrats who are seen by party leaders and strategists as potential candidates did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday or could not be reached: April McClain Delaney, Washington, D.C., director of the group Common Sense Media and wife of former congressman John K. Delaney; Montgomery County Councilmember William Jawando; Anne Arundel State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess; Montgomery County State’s Attorney John J. McCarthy; and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.
All three state’s attorneys could face some political peril at home in 2022 and may decide that a statewide race has more appeal: Colt Leitess is seeking reelection in a purple county in a year that is shaping up to be tough for Democrats, though she has no Republican challenger yet. Colt Leitess was the appointed state’s attorney in 2014 when she sought a full term and lost to Republican Wes Adams. She defeated him four years later in a rematch.
McCarthy, who has held the job since 2007, faces three Democratic primary challengers next year. And Mosby, a magnet for controversy, is currently the subject of a federal investigation into her financial dealings and those of her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick J. Mosby (D). Mosby supporters held a news conference Thursday calling on the Department of Justice to terminate the investigation, and no one has formally announced a plan to challenge her in 2022.
Three other Democrats seen by party operatives as potential candidates appear to have taken themselves out of the running.
In a text message, Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) confirmed that she is not interested in entering the race to replace Frosh but said that she’s heard from “progressive-minded Democrats” encouraging her to throw her hat in the ring.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks and Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy also signaled Thursday that they have no interest in running.
There has also been some speculation that Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard), the vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis, would look at the AG’s race. But she seems ticketed for a bigger leadership position in the House soon.
Despite the lengthy list of potential Democratic contenders, recent history suggests that the field will be relatively small, as possible candidates weigh their political prospects and the risks of giving up their current seats, among other considerations.
In 1986, when Curran was elected, he won a close three-way primary. In 2006, with Curran retiring, there was also a three-way Democratic primary, though only two candidates remained on the ballot by the time the primary election was held. In 2014, four Democratic candidates initially filed to run for attorney general, though it wound up being a three-way race that Frosh won easily.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, James F. Shalleck, a long-time GOP activist who was one of the prosecutors on the famous “Son of Sam” case in New York in the 1970’s, has entered the race for attorney general. It’s possible, though, that Frosh’s looming departure could prompt other Republicans to eye the race.
Bruce DePuyt and Hannah Gaskill contributed to this report.