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Commentary Election 2022

Josh Kurtz: Is this Barry Glassman’s moment?

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R), shown here at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference in 2019, is running for comptroller. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The last Republican state comptroller in Maryland was one Phillips Lee Goldsborough, who served from 1898 to 1900, when William McKinley was president of the United States. So the odds definitely favor Brooke Lierman (D), the Baltimore City delegate, in the general election for comptroller this fall.

Not only does Lierman have history and party registration on her side, but she’s an indefatigable campaigner brimming with ideas for the office, who is poised to make history as the first woman elected independently to a statewide position in Maryland government. That fact alone gets a lot of people excited.

Lierman’s Republican opponent, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, is the most solid and qualified GOP nominee in several generations. In addition to his eight years as executive, he has served in the General Assembly and local government. He’s a sheep farmer and also had a long career working for BG&E. He’s well known and well liked in Maryland political circles.

But all that could be blotted out by the turn the state Republican Party has taken this election, nominating seemingly unelectable candidates for governor and attorney general. That puts the squeeze on Glassman, who must figure out how to distance himself from Del. Dan Cox, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, and former Anne Arundel County councilmember Michael Anthony Peroutka, the GOP candidate for attorney general, without completely alienating base Republican voters.

You can imagine a scenario where day after day, Glassman will be asked to answer for the extreme positions and conspiracy theories espoused by his running mates. It cannot be a happy circumstance for one of the few bipartisan happy warriors left in Maryland politics.

But could this in fact be an unanticipated opportunity for Glassman, one that no one really imagined just a couple of weeks ago?

Consider an alternative reality in which former State Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, the choice of the Gov. Larry Hogan wing of the GOP, won the Republican nomination for governor. All the attention, money, and political energy would be behind Schulz, who would surely be a tougher general election opponent for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore than Cox will prove to be.

Under that scenario, Glassman, like all Republican nominees for comptroller decade after decade, would be subject to the vagaries of the state’s typical partisan performance. The comptroller’s race would be overshadowed by the gubernatorial election, and Glassman’s arguments for himself would undoubtedly be ignored. He might benefit from the resources devoted to Schulz’s campaign and the notion that she had a decent shot of winning, but would very much be the second or third banana in the overall Republican conversation.

Now, however, Glassman is a man on his own, and that has its advantages and disadvantages. Yes, he may have undesirable ballot mates in the eyes of many political professionals, but he also has an opportunity to chart his own course. Perhaps some of the GOP establishment enthusiasm that would have been attached to Schulz’s campaign can now be focused his way.

Glassman can credibly argue that he’s the last sane Republican standing — and the only Republican standing in the way of Democratic hegemony in Annapolis. He can pledge to be a nonpartisan fiscal steward of Maryland’s treasury, and hint that Lierman’s agenda is too woke and too costly — and that she’ll try to use the job as a stepping stone to higher office. Some editorial boards will no doubt be responsive to this argument.

Glassman will need some Democratic validators, and there are probably a few of them out there, mostly older white men. He will have Hogan and some of Hogan’s top advisers on his side, and that can’t hurt. But he’ll need the media to pay attention, which will be a challenge with all the Republican crazy to keep tabs on.

You wouldn’t want to bet against Lierman in the general election. But you might want to pay attention to Glassman and how he operates in the spotlight. Sounding a warning against Lierman is still the longest of long shots, but it’s the only play he has.