David R. Craig, the two-term Republican Harford County executive, doesn't plan to make a formal announcement of his plans for 2014 until after next year's General Assembly session, but all the signs point to a run for the GOP nomination for governor.
In an interview this week in Annapolis, the 62-year-old Craig outlined what could be the core themes of a campaign for the State House and expressed confidence he could mount a formidable challenge even in a Democrat-dominated state.
Craig mentioned the possibility of running for other offices, such as comptroller or his former post as state senator, but he just as quickly disavowed an interest in returning to a legislative role. He said he's been very comfortable as an executive, and Harford County voters seem to fine with him in that role, too. He faced no Democratic opponent 2010 re-election bid. Beyond the one mention of the comptroller's office, nothing Craig said indicated a serious interest in that slot.
One of the best indicators of his thoughts is the political brochure Craig handed a reporter. Entitled "Craig 2014," it doesn't mention a particular office. It can't be his current one, though, because he's term-limited.
The brochure goes on to recount Craig's long record of political success, dating back to his 1979 election to the Havre de Grace City Council. He makes a point of recounting all his wins against incumbent Democrats or in heavily Democratic districts.
If Craig gets into the race, he would likely join a crowded field of Republican candidates seeking to gain the nomination to succeed Gov.Martin O'Malley, a term-limited Democrat. In 2014, for the first time since 1998,Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.is not expected to be on the Republican ballot.
Among those Craig considers potential rivals for the nomination are Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, former Ehrlich aide Larry Hogan, Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin, former Sen. Marty Madden and former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Blaine Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, has also said he is contemplating a run.
Craig could be a formidable candidate in a general election because he is seen as a relative moderate with a proven ability to work across party lines. Much like former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, Craig is one of those relatively rare Republicans to maintain cordial ties to organized labor. Earlier this week he addressed a labor rally in Annapolis opposing O'Malley's plan to shift some teacher pension costs to the counties.
But Craig's strengths in a general election could be liabilities in a Republican primary, especially a field in which the votes of establishment Republicans could be split among multiple candidates.
Craig said an examination of his record will show he's been a faithful conservative but a moderate by temperament.
"It's about delivering your message and not being nasty about it," he said.
Should he run, Craig's message will center around education. The former teacher said he believes Maryland can deliver excellent educational opportunities for less money than it is spending now. Among his proposals: De-emphasize class size as a measure of quality, put the overwhelming stress on "the three R's" in the early grades and consolidate the schools' functions with those of county governments.
"Why do they need a procurement department? I have a procurement department," Craig asked.
The Harford executive also suggested that Maryland schools could save significant money by consolidating the curriculum-setting function. It's an intriguing idea in financial terms, but could prove controversial if it asks the state's 24 local jurisdictions to give up local control.
Craig candidly admits that his party's chances of capturing the State House will be better if President Obama is re-elected than if a Republican unseats him. He noted that non-presidential elections tend to swing against the party in White House.
Nevertheless, Craig sounds optimistic about his chances whatever the outcome in November.
"When Republicans run somebody with executive experience, we win," he said.