WASHINGTON – Despite Maryland’s history as one of the original colonies and its proximity to national power, the state has never produced an American president, and isn’t expected to break the streak anytime soon.
Oh, to be sure Maryland native John Hanson did serve as president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, but there was no executive branch, and the nation’s founders basically just needed someone to run the meetings, said Charles J. Holden, history professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
And there was a presidential candidate or two: Former U.S. Attorney General William Wirt, born in Bladensburg, ran for the Anti-Masonic Party in the 1832 election, but sadly finished fourth. He did manage seven electoral votes from Vermont.
As for major party presidential candidates from Maryland, electoral votes are only a dream.
Although there was Vice President Spiro Agnew.
“Without Agnew’s resignation, Gerald Ford doesn’t become president,” Holden said. “In an unflattering way, that’s as close as we get.”
Ford was not from Maryland, of course, but was born in Nebraska and took office from Michigan.
“The strange irony is that it (Maryland) hosts a lot of events and is often a stage prop for presidential events,” said political science professor Tom Schaller of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Places in Maryland have presidential appeal. For example, Brookeville served as the nation’s capital for one day when President James Madison took refuge in the postmaster’s home during the War of 1812.
Baltimore and Annapolis also served as temporary capitals during the Second Continental Congress and the Congress under the Articles of Confederation respectively.
Baltimore also was the destination of choice in the 19th century for Democratic National Conventions, said Zach P. Messitte a political scientist at the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
In 2008, the political conventions will be in St. Paul, Minn., and Denver, and a slew of candidates are running — from Arizona, Nebraska, Colorado, Ohio, Iowa, Georgia, Connecticut, Kansas, New Mexico, New York and Illinois, just to name a few, but not Maryland.
Presidential hopeful, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., does, however, take the train through Maryland on his daily commute.
The state simply isn’t in position — politically speaking — to boost a candidate’s chances. It is strongly in Democratic hands, holds a late primary and hasn’t had presidential candidates in recent memory.
What that means, Schaller said, is “it’ll probably get less attention than any other state in the union.”
Regardless of its lack of presidential prowess, “Maryland has a lot of power, more power than ever before and is going to have a lot to say in this next election,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, citing House Majority Leader Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, and Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a Baltimore native and daughter of a congressman and Baltimore mayor.
Maryland often competes with neighboring Virginia, but there’s no contest when it comes to presidents. Virginia, known as “the mother of presidents,” is the birthplace of eight presidents.
Maryland’s situation is not unique, many states have not produced presidents. Yet at the same time small states like Vermont (Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge) and New Hampshire (Franklin Pierce), have.
A few Marylanders have been touted as possible chief executives.
Former Gov. Albert C. Ritchie attempted to parlay his state success into a Democratic leadership bid, but was soundly defeated in a crowded field in 1924 and again in 1932, Holden said.
Former Sen. Millard Tydings, stood up to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the late 1930s for what he perceived to be an assault on the Constitution, and there was talk of him running as the Democrats’ anti-Roosevelt candidate, but largely because of rumblings of war it never really gained any steam, Messitte said.
Then there’s Agnew, who resigned to avoid being tried for tax evasion, in connection with bribes he received while governor.
“Had Agnew’s Maryland-past not caught up to him, he would have made an attractive presidential candidate in 1976,” Holden said.
How Maryland was passed by in presidential politics is a story more of timing — it’s never had the right combination of factors in place to boost a nominee into the national arena.
“Maryland is like Massachusetts without the cache,” said Richard Vatz a professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson University. “It’s as heavily Democratic as Massachusetts is, but it just doesn’t play the presidential politics game.”
“There have been different formulas over time and it really comes down to population, big states have an advantage,” said Harry Rubenstein, curator of political history at the National Museum of American History. “You could argue that is the nature of democracy.”
Early on, Virginia and Massachusetts had relatively large populations and tight political communities. Subsequently they combined to produce the first six presidents.
Leading up to the Civil War, regional politics dominated, working against presidential candidates from border states, like Maryland, that didn’t represent a clear region, Holden said.
After the Civil War, the rise of industry caused population growth and an increase in electoral votes for northern manufacturing states and Maryland was again left on the outside.
This shift, Holden said, is responsible for “all those presidents no one remembers” leading up to the turn of the 20th century, like Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison or James A. Garfield.
The Senate is a natural place to look for presidential candidates, but over the past 40 to 50 years, aside from Agnew, Maryland hasn’t had any with national intentions, Messitte said.
“(Democratic Gov. Martin) O’Malley’s the first Maryland politician in a long time who has the star qualities to be a national candidate,” Messitte said.
Schaller said that if former Gov. Robert Ehrlich or former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, both Republicans, had won in November, they would have been on the short list for vice president.
Some other young Maryland politicians have national potential, the analysts said.
Reps. Chris Van Hollen Jr., D-Kensington, and John Sarbanes, D-Towson, and state Attorney General Doug Gansler have the early prerequisites — youth, charisma, intelligence — for a presidential bid, Messitte said, adding so much has to do with timing.
“It’s like the Age of Aquarius,” Miller said, “everything has to come together.”