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Commentary Election 2022

Josh Kurtz: In election’s final days, check out this invaluable website, run by a top Hogan adviser

Ron Gunzburger, a senior adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan (R), working on his politics1.com website at City Dock in downtown Annapolis. Photo by Josh Kurtz.

Obsessed over which party is going to control Congress come January?

Wondering whether the Democrats have a shot in Montana’s new 2nd congressional district? Worried about how many competitive races in California you’ll need to keep track of on election night?

Then you will need to check out — if you haven’t already — the website politics1.com.

This scrappy, indispensable 25-year-old website — one of its charms is it doesn’t look much different than it did when it launched a quarter century ago — contains updated political headlines and tweets from around the country and other interesting information. Most important, it lists every candidate running for statewide office and every candidate running for congressional seats in all 50 states, with links to their official and campaign websites, along with race ratings from Inside Elections, the nonpartisan political tip sheet.

I first began using politics1.com in 2002, when I became politics editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. It was an invaluable resource, a quick and handy reference guide for races around the country. And it was especially fun and useful early in an election cycle, when it listed not only declared candidates for every office, but potential candidates whose names had been floated someplace or other. These possible contenders were listed in italics.

Politics1.com quickly became a go-to site for elected officials, political operatives, academics, journalists and political junkies all across the country, publicized almost exclusively by word-of-mouth. But what I only discovered just a few years ago is that politics1.com is the brainchild and side hustle of Ron Gunzburger, a top aide and longtime confidant to Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

Gunzburger, one of the deepest political junkies I’ve ever met, launched the site in 1997. He had admired a primitive CNN/Time magazine website that covered the 1994 midterm election called All Politics, and was surprised that it wasn’t reprised for the 1996 presidential election. That was the impetus for politics1.com.

“I thought it was really good,” Gunzburger recalled in a recent interview of the All Politics site. “I was waiting to see what would come along in the 1996 cycle and nothing did.”

Even though the site took off quickly, Gunzburger never imagined that he’d still be working on politics1.com 25 years later.

“I’m a political junkie and it turns out there are a lot of others,” he said, a rare understatement for him.

This is not a full-time endeavor for Gunzburger — it never has been and was never intended to be. Gunzburger, 59, has had a lifetime of working in politics — for Democrats and for moderate Republicans. He grew up in a political family in South Florida — his mother, Suzanne Gunzburger, a Democrat, was the longest-serving Broward County commissioner in history.

Gunzburger became even more excited by politics at the age of 12, when his mother endorsed Jimmy Carter for president early in the 1976 election cycle. Suzanne Gunzburger was very active in the campaign, and Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, once stayed at the family home.

Gunzburger came to Washington, D.C., for college at George Washington University, hung around on Capitol Hill, collecting autographs and forging relationships, and eventually built his own career as a lawyer and political strategist. On Capitol Hill, he worked both for Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt, who would go on to become the House Democratic leader, and for his local congressman, Clay Shaw, a centrist Republican from Florida.

Chatting up the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee one day over 30 years ago, a fellow by the name of Tom Cole — now a veteran congressman from Oklahoma — Gunzburger learned of a guy who was thinking of taking on entrenched U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D).

“Cole said, ‘if you like long shots who have a shot, I have a candidate in Maryland that you should meet,'” Gunzburger recalled.

That’s how he made the acquaintance of Larry Hogan. Gunzburger would go on to run Hogan’s 1992 campaign against Hoyer — which remains to this day the closest general election campaign Hoyer has ever faced. And through the years, they stayed in touch.

“We just hit it off,” Gunzburger said, “and we’ve known each other since then. Although our politics are very different, I saw that he was a good person.”

When Hogan was elected governor in 2014, Gunzburger was working as general counsel to the Broward County Sheriff’s Department. But they texted with some regularity, with Gunzburger offering strategic advice, during the campaign and after Hogan took office. He became a $1-a-year political adviser, making occasional trips to Annapolis to confer with the new governor and his staff.

Gunzburger said the 2018 mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in the Parkland school district, where he was on the scene with all the first responders, and an earlier mass shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale airport made him eager for a change of scenery. So after Hogan’s reelection in 2018, Gunzburger and his husband, Dana Buker, moved to Annapolis. Gunzburger became a full-time senior adviser to Hogan, with a broad portfolio, while Buker, who also had a long record of government service, went to work for Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), where he is now the office ombudsman.

Gunzburger may be a political junkie, but he’s also a Renaissance man, with an ability to hold forth on any number of topics, including gardening, an activity he’s especially devoted to. The first time we met, a few years back, the topics of conversation — he did almost all of the talking — included: gardening, Hogan, Hoyer, the Holocaust, Roger Stone, Annapolis history, Paris history, fine wine, national political pundits, his father’s escape from the Nazis, Gephardt, the most prominent political reporter in Broward County (a college classmate of mine), hurricane preparation, land preservation in Florida (or the lack thereof), web hosts, the beauty of losing campaigns, fellow Hogan advisers, his husband’s brilliance, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale real estate, John Lindsay, Bill deBlasio, and other stuff I’ve forgotten.

But through it all, politics1.com has been the abiding passion.

Gunzburger compares running the site to “a Tom Sawyer painting the fence operation. I get a lot of help.”

Specifically, Gunzburger gets tips about political rumors and candidate filings from consultants, local political parties and journalists — and sometimes from the candidates themselves.

While the site features an occasional Google ad, “it’s not enough to pay the rent,” he says.

Gunzburger spends most evenings updating and tweaking the site. In January, at the dawn of a new election cycle, he does a more intensive scrubbing. But the formula never changes.

“It’s not the prettiest site in the world, and that’s on me,” he concedes.

But it hardly matters. All the basic information a political junkie needs is right there, in plain text. Bells and whistles be damned.

With Hogan leaving office in 2 1/2 months, Gunzburger isn’t sure what he’ll do next. But as he looks back over his career, he’s proudest of some of the work he did for Hogan during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I don’t know if anything else I do for the rest of my life will be as important,” he muses.

Of course, creating politics1.com is a pretty good legacy.

“If my site was a kid,” Gunzburger jokes, “it could have graduated law school or given me a grandchild by now.”