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Politicking at MACo Conference is Low Key

What a difference an election cycle makes.

Four years ago, then-Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Martin O'Malley and Doug Duncan took full advantage of the networking opportunities at the annual summer conferences in Ocean City hosted by the Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Counties. The Baltimore mayor and Montgomery County executive were accompanied by a retinue of aides as they made the rounds, as did sitting governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.(R).

This year's just-completed MACo conference was decidedly more low key.

Two candidates considering the governor's race showed up at Friday night's crab feast, the see-and-be-seen event of the conference. But Larry Hogan and George Owings spent no small part of the event chatting genially with one another, and conference-goers were hardly lining up to have their photos snapped with either.

Both were Cabinet secretaries under Ehrlich, with Hogan managing the state's appointments process and Owings running the Department of Veterans Affairs. Hogan is telling people he might seek the Republican nomination for governor if Ehrlich doesn't get in the race (an announcement could be several months away). Owings, a former lawmaker from Southern Maryland, is gearing up for what would certainly be a colorful Democratic primary campaign against O'Malley.

Hogan and Owings also attended Saturday morning's speech by O'Malley, and both were happy to serve up quotes about what they thought. Hogan's zingers seemed the more practiced. A sample: "O'Malley's slogan used to be 'Believe.' What we heard this morning sounded more like 'Make Believe.'"

For his part, O'Malley put in a relatively low-profile appearance at the crab feast, where attendance was down this year, as it was at the conference generally. Two of his longer conversations were with Attorney General Doug Gansler (D), who is also up for reelection next year, and Warren Deschenaux, the legislature's chief number cruncher. Both were wearing shorts, the preferred attire of perhaps half the men at the early-evening event.

Notably, O'Malley drew a standing ovation from the MACo crowd, even after telling them he would cut state aid to local governments by $250 million. His somber speech ended on an inspirational note, as the governor borrowed words from his 6-year-old son: "I can't wait for today."

Two other statewide elected officials -- Lt Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) -- both appeared at the conference earlier in the week but had left town by the time of the crab feast or the governor's speech.

-- John Wagner

By John Wagner  |  August 16, 2009; 4:06 PM ET
Categories:  Governor , John Wagner  
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