The botched ObamaCare rollout that has given Republicans a hammer going into the 2014 election cycle is now splitting Democrats in deep-blue Maryland, as the problems become political fodder for next year's gubernatorial race.
Despite Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley being among the first to embrace the Affordable Care Act and create an online exchange, the state-run site has had a disastrous start, like the federal exchange. This has left gubernatorial frontrunner and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who helped lead the local ObamaCare launch, taking hits from fellow Democrats.
“It’s almost like a Saturday Night Live skit,” primary challenger and Attorney General Doug Gansler told reporters last week. “It’s comical that it’s not working. … It’s tragic for folks who don’t have access to health care.”
While the health care overhaul's launch has caused consternation for Democrats across the country, Maryland is the rare battlefield where the issue is creeping into a major party primary.
Gansler -- whose campaign had its own rocky start – trails Brown by double digits, according to the most recent poll, and has tried to pin the website problems on the lieutenant governor, Maryland’s second in command.
“Brown and others were so boastful about Maryland leading the country [but] here we are behind such states as Nevada and Kentucky, let alone California and states like that,” Gansler recently told Politico.
Fewer than 4,000 Marylanders enrolled in the first two months, well short of the goal of 25,500. Just 7,435 have signed up through the first three weeks of December, though O’Malley says the site problems essentially have been fixed.
Brown, as co-chairman of the Maryland Health Care Reform Coordinating Council, was the two-term governor’s point man on improving health care across the state.
And though Brown was not directly involved in building the site, Gansler has nevertheless blamed him for failed leadership and for being part of an administration that outsourced website work to North Dakota while Maryland has “literally the smartest people in the country.”
Meanwhile, Maryland Democratic Rep. John Delaney is suggesting Maryland scrap the site and send residents to the federal exchange.
Still, no matter how nasty the primary gets, the party certainly is favored to win the November election, considering only two Republicans have taken the governorship since the late 1960s. The Democratic primary is next June.
Though Gansler continues to hammers away at Brown and the rollout debacle, he faces criticism about using the situation to right his struggling campaign, in which he calls himself “an early and ardent supporter of President Obama’s health care reform law.”
His campaign problems began in August when an audiotape surfaced in which Gansler suggests Brown, who is black, was relying more on his race than his successes.
The incident was followed by revelations in October that Gansler forced his State Police detail to break traffic laws to get him to appointments and that he stopped by a summer beach bash attended by his son and fellow graduating seniors where underage drinking seemingly was taking place.
Gansler has never denied the allegations but has accused the Brown campaign of dirty tricks.
“[Gansler] made some stupid mistakes but he’s a good candidate,” Democratic strategist David Heller, president of Main Street Communications, told FoxNew.com on Tuesday. “He’s very smart and a great fundraiser. But Brown has the blessing of O’Malley and half of the state’s congressional delegation. It’s not a fair fight.”
To be sure, O’Malley has groomed Brown for years, giving him a lead role in health care reform and the successful effort this year to tighten statewide gun laws.
Brown indeed has endorsements from both Maryland senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, as well as from House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and Reps. Elijah Cummings, Donna Edwards and John Sarbanes, all Democrats.
The most recent major poll, by Maryland-based Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies Inc., was conducted in the first 13 days of October and had Gansler trailing by 20 points.
Gansler spokesman Bob Weelock told FoxNews.com on Tuesday he “couldn’t and wouldn’t” speculate on how the extended ObamaCare fallout and Gansler’s campaign tactics might impact voters.