Political professionals in Maryland have focused intensely on the races for governor and — to a lesser extent — comptroller during the still-young 2022 campaign.
There has been almost no discussion about who will serve as the state’s attorney general for the next four years.
But that will change in a hurry if incumbent Brian E. Frosh (D) decides not to seek a third term as the state’s top lawyer.
Frosh will turn 75 in October, and he did not attend the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference in Ocean City earlier this month or a recent Democratic Attorneys General Association gathering that was held online.
The absences have fueled widespread speculation that the Montgomery County Democrat will not run for re-election. The $205,092 Frosh reported in his campaign account as of mid-January isn’t a lot for a veteran statewide officeholder, either.
“He ain’t running,” one insider predicted confidently.
But others who have spoken with Frosh recently came away with the distinct opposite impression.
Frosh himself would only say that he is planning to announce his decision soon.
Interviews with more than a dozen well-connected Democrats over the last 10 days offer some insight into how events might unfold. Many of the people Maryland Matters spoke with were granted anonymity to discuss the state of play candidly.
If Frosh runs again, he will be considered a prohibitive favorite to win another four years as attorney general, though a Democratic primary challenge — particularly from a younger person of color — cannot be ruled out.
James F. Shalleck, a former federal prosecutor and Republican activist who recently stepped down as head of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, filed papers with the state on Wednesday to run for attorney general. It’s possible that a Frosh retirement will prompt other Republicans to look at the race.
Whomever the Republican nominee ends up being, he or she will face long odds.
Frosh has prevailed in every election he has competed in since 1986, when he won his first of two terms representing the Bethesda area in the House of Delegates. He went on to serve for 20 years in the Senate, including a dozen years as chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
If Frosh opts not to seek a third term, the Democratic primary battle to replace him could get interesting very quickly — though many leading Democrats and party strategists predict that state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) would be an early favorite.
Smith is relatively new to Annapolis, having been elected in 2014 to the House of Delegates and once to the Senate. (He was appointed to the Senate in 2016 following then-Sen. Jamie B. Raskin’s election to the U.S. House.)
Despite his relative youth and junior status, Smith, 39, was appointed chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee — Frosh’s former perch — in late 2019, and helped shepherd the police reform legislative package through the General Assembly earlier this year.
A lawyer by training, the Silver Spring native attended the National Intelligence University and has served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve since 2009. He deployed to Afghanistan for six months in 2019, causing him to miss the end of that year’s General Assembly session.
Smith would be the first person of color to serve as attorney general in Maryland history. Although he lacks a statewide network, he is well-liked in Annapolis and he could attract significant support from a range of Democratic establishment figures.
At least one potential rival said they would not run for attorney general if Smith enters the race.
Smith, who has already begun canvassing his district in advance of his re-election bid, reported $122,083 in his campaign account in mid-January. He declined to discuss next year’s campaign.
Should Frosh choose to retire, Smith almost certainly won’t be the only Democrat who would seek to replace him in 2022 if he decides to run for the seat, though none would probably start with Smith’s level of institutional support. A survey of Democratic politicians, strategists and party stalwarts produces a list of several other possible candidates if Frosh retires — including two who have sought the office before:
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy (D) — She ran for attorney general in 2014, coming in third in the Democratic primary, with 20% of the vote. An ambitious attorney and former state delegate in her first term as county prosecutor, she is considered more likely to want to run for Prince George’s County executive whenever there is a vacancy. But she might eye the AG slot again if she can see a path to victory. She had $74,945 in her campaign war chest in mid-January.
Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D) — An intriguing potential candidate whose name has surfaced repeatedly in recent days, the former lieutenant governor would enter the race a top-tier candidate. An aide declined to make Brown available for an interview, saying he was focused on Capitol Hill matters. But even with a very safe seat, Brown is thought to be restless in Congress, and may envision himself in an executive role again before long. Brown had less than $2,000 left in his state campaign account in mid-January and reported more than $1.4 million in his federal campaign account. But only $6,000 can be directly transferred from the federal war chest to the state fund.
Del. Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore County) — Cardin was the runner-up to Frosh in the 2014 primary and says that while the job of attorney general still interests him, he hasn’t given much thought to the idea that there will be a vacancy. If Frosh decides to retire, Cardin says he will give the race a look. Cardin reported $31,778 in the bank as of mid-January.
Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) — The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, whose day job is working as a prosecutor in Anne Arundel County, says the job of attorney general interests him, but he fully expects Frosh to seek re-election. Clippinger was campaign manager to Tom Perez when Perez ran an aborted campaign for attorney general in 2006. Clippinger reported $105,893 in his campaign account in mid-January.
Montgomery County Councilmember William Jawando (D) — The former Barack Obama aide has already announced his intention to seek a second term on the council, but he’s also keeping his eyes open for other opportunities and has publicly expressed a general interest in the AG’s job in the past. He’s been the leading advocate of police reform on the county council and has also worked to protect struggling tenants during the pandemic. Jawando had $23,062 in his campaign war chest as of mid-January.
Former Congressman Frank M. Kratovil Jr. (D) — Now a Queen Anne’s County District Court judge, Kratovil, who served one term in Congress representing the Eastern Shore, is known to be eager to get back in the political game and would take a hard look at the AG race if there was a vacancy. Kratovil would likely be the most politically moderate candidate in a Democratic primary for AG — which could be beneficial or a hindrance depending on how the rest of the field shakes out. Kratovil has no active campaign finance account.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John J. McCarthy (D) — McCarthy, the four-term prosecutor would start with one big advantage: Montgomery is home to one-in-six Maryland voters. But even though he’s facing aggressive Democratic primary opposition for the first time in his re-election contest, the 69-year-old attorney is still favored for another term — something he would have to take into consideration before deciding to roll the dice on a statewide bid. McCarthy had $146,297 in the bank in mid-January.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby (D) — Mosby in many ways has the most political talent and star power of any of the potential contenders — and also the most political baggage. She’s highly ambitious, and after more than 6 1/2 years in office, she’s no doubt thinking about her next political move. She’s got a loyal following in Baltimore. But she and her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick J. Mosby (D) have faced plenty of unwanted scrutiny over the past several months for various financial dealings and they reportedly are the target of one or more federal investigations. A Mosby spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment. Mosby, who is up for a third term in 2022, had $68,487 in her campaign account in mid-January.
Here are some other Democrats who are mentioned as possible candidates for attorney general but highly unlikely to run:
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) — The popular first-term executive opted not to run for governor next year. Insiders believe she is more likely to run for the U.S. Senate in 2024 if incumbent Benjamin L. Cardin — who turns 78 in October — retires. The county’s former top prosecutor would have been a top-tier candidate for AG the last time the job was vacant, in 2014, and would be again. But she has said publicly she’s committed to remaining county executive.
Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard) — Atterbeary took the reins on the House’s police reform effort in 2020 and 2021, demonstrating solid leadership skills. But as a favorite of House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and with an ever-shifting legislature, she may have committee leadership opportunities coming her way in the next few years.
Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) — She was a major mover in the police reform debate in the most recent legislative session — an issue she has worked on relentlessly for years. Carter seems most interested in running for Congress again someday, but some supporters will no doubt encourage her to take a look at AG if Frosh retires. On the other hand, she could be in line for the gavel at the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee if Smith is running for another office.
Former Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) — Elected attorney general in 2006 and 2010, the Montgomery County Democrat would be a viable candidate to get his old job back if his second run for governor falters, but those who’ve spoken with him in recent days came away convinced he intends to remain in the race for the top job and maintains he has a legitimate chance to win.
Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) — Lierman is a civil rights attorney, so a race for attorney general makes sense on paper. But she’s already immersed in and committed to her campaign for comptroller, which is well underway — and she is the early frontrunner.
Former U.S. Labor Secretary and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez (D) — Perez ran for AG in 2006, after J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) announced his retirement, but his candidacy was derailed after the state’s highest court ruled he hadn’t practiced law here for 10 years, as required. He would be Maryland’s first Latino AG if elected, but Perez has told associates he intends to remain in the race for governor.
Former state Sen. Robert L. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) — Zirkin retired from the state Senate in late 2019, giving up his post as chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. But even though he seemed through with politics at the time, he’s only 50, and he may yet have a second political act.
By Bruce DePuyt, Hannah Gaskill, and Josh Kurtz