Can the professor analyze his way to Congress?
Conversations with Allan Lichtman
a Bay Weekly interview by Sandra Olivetti Martin
After 30 years, it’s time for Maryland to hire a new senator to take over from Paul Sarbanes, who retires at the end of this year. Ten Republicans, 18 Democrats and one Green are vying for his job. Twenty-six of the bunch will fall behind in the Primary Election September 12, leaving us one Democrat, one Republican and one Green for the November 7 General Election, when the hiring gets done.
The Republican candidate is likely to be Michael Steele, now lieutenant governor.
Sporting Democrats are enjoying a horse race with a back field led by two, Ben Cardin a Maryland congressman and Kweisi Mfume a former congressman and former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People running neck and neck, each with about a third of the vote. Among the other 15 men and one woman, nobody has broken into double digits.
So why is smart Democrat Allan Lichtman, a college professor at American University and oft-quoted political analyst, running this race? Shouldn’t he know he has no chance?
That’s one of the questions editor Sandra Martin asks him this week.
Bay Weekly With one percent in the most recent poll, shouldn’t your political instincts tell you that the finish line is so far ahead that you should head for the stables?
Allan Lichtman I’ve not registered much in the polls yet, but I’m not sure that means much. One thing I can tell you about Maryland politics is that the conventional wisdom is always wrong. I can’t tell you how it’s going to be wrong, but it’s always wrong.
Lt. Gov. [Kathleen Kennedy] Townsend was supposed to be a shoo-in. In the last Democratic primary for governor, Parris Glendening was not conventional wisdom’s favorite.
Barbara Mikulski beat out governor Harry Hughes to become senator.
Conventional wisdom’s never right; it’s just persistent.
I think the voters will look for alternatives.
Bay Weekly Our readers can’t hear you, but you’ve got a big voice, as if you’re used to campaigning. But this is your first race.
Allan Lichtman I’ve been teaching for 32 years in big rooms and small, freshmen to PhDs. I developed my voice in lecture halls to reach students without a microphone. I’ve never used a microphone because I lecture from heart with passion and conviction. I believe what I’m saying, and that’s what my campaign is all about. Now I’m saying what I believe in a different context.
Bay Weekly Why did you switch from the other side, from professor and analyst to candidate?
Allan Lichtman I watched the front-running candidates for some time before I decided to enter.
Mr. Cardin is an old-line politician. He twice voted for the Bush position on the war. If we sent him to the Senate, it would be like throwing a pebble in a pond: a little bit of a ripple and nothing changes.
I’ve watched Mr. Mfume, the other frontrunner, and I’m sympathetic to the idea of an African American senator. Then I saw the hollowness at the core of the Mfume campaign: no big ideas, no development of issues, no themes. I looked at his record at the NAACP and he didn’t move the ball in 10 years.
So I didn’t see the current officeholder or the former officeholder as offering Maryland the kind of basic change we need. My vision was, I could be a candidate who brought something new.
Bay Weekly What do you stand for?
Allan Lichtman The passion, the conviction of the outsider; willingness of the teacher to listen and a record voters could count on: 32 years of teaching, 35 studying Maryland politics, an expert witness in 70 voting and civil rights cases.
I’d be the only lifetime teacher in the United States Senate. There are 53 lawyers, 80 or 90 professional politicians, but no one to speak for parents or 100 million children and young adults.
While everyone is talking of the Democratic party needing a theme, I’m running on a theme: There is too much government intruding in our private lives, and too little government meeting our needs education, getting us off the fossil-fuel economy, providing decent health care and having a foreign policy that serves our national interests and America’s role as a beacon of hope around the world.
I’ve tried to merge the best of the conservative tradition with the best of the progressive tradition in Maryland.
I have a 14-year-old son born on my 45th birthday, April 4 (1947 and 1992), and I firmly believe that we need to bring this country back on track, need to bring it back on track to give my son and all our children the future they need.
Bay Weekly So how do you upset the conventional wisdom?
Allan Lichtman You excite the grass roots. You’ve got to have something to say. You’ve got to be able to say it in an interesting way that can be understood. As they say in the South, down where the goats can get it.
And you upset the establishment by challenging them. I’m willing to do comparative politics. Cardin and Mfume both came in with enormous advantages: Mfume with virtually universal name recognition and a very strong African American base. Cardin, an incumbent with millions of dollars who’s been around 40 years. Either one of them could have wrapped up this election and they didn’t. The race is still open.
And you beat the establishment by being creative. On our website, we’re running the advertisement Splash for Change.
I’m the only Harvard PhD to jump into the lake to make a point. Literally, I stand by a pond, and I have a pebble in my hand and I say sending a conventional politician to Washington is like throwing a pebble in a pond. You get a little bit of a ripple and nothing will change. Then I jump in the C&O Canal in a full business suit it was in the middle of February and make a full splash. It shoots back to me in front of the capitol and I say Let’s make a big splash and really change Washington.
Bay Weekly A smart man like you has to have some kind of calculus for victory…
Allan Lichtman This is a very crowded field, and as a political analyst, I believe that’s to my benefit because it lowers the threshold of votes you need for victory.
It could be as low as 175,000 to 200,000, about what it takes to win a countywide general election: For example county executive, in Montgomery County.
The other interesting calculus is that the two favorites haven’t moved an inch. As a matter of fact, Cardin has gone down and Mfume has been between 28 and 31 forever. Both have had a chance to get up to the plate and swing and they haven’t. Combined, they’re getting 55 to 60 percent.
Bay Weekly Undecided seems to be running as well as or better than either of them.
Allan Lichtman In the latest poll, 36 percent.
You can win this election just by getting the undecided vote. People are not tuned in yet. I don’t see much of a commitment as I speak to thousands and thousands of voters.
If people get the chance to hear the message of the candidates, you can fly under radar and pick up 175,000 votes. Voters are very open minded as of yet.
Bay Weekly What are you doing to persuade undecided voters to consider you?
Allan Lichtman Outreach to young people. We’ve pioneered the use of MySpace.com in the nation. We have 3,500 friends signed up, most in Maryland, and we interact with them all the the time. These are 18- to 25-year-olds who use cell phones and never show up in polls.
We’ve rolled out our school bus Professor Lichtman Takes Professional Politicians to School as a campaign vehicle.
And I’m the only one addressing local issues. I’ve produced four regional compacts on how I can help people in our communities, because when the chips are down, you want to ask yourself how can your senator improve your life. Beyond their particular local issues, people want the same thing all over the state: good education for their kids, access to decent health care, a clean environment.
Bay Weekly Our readers are environmentally aware and devotees of Chesapeake Bay. What are your Bay credentials?
Allan Lichtman I’m not a sailor, but I canoe and kayak and hike. I’ve been all through Southern Maryland, I’ve walked on the Bay…
Bay Weekly Do you mean you can walk on water?
Allan Lichtman I can’t do that, and neither can the frontrunners, though they say they can.
I do parades, like the one in Ocean City, where I was the only candidate who didn’t ride. I ran the parade route. I’m a runner, also a cancer survivor of almost four years. As part of my campaign, I’ve been doing five-kilometer races and running parades to demonstrate fitness, prevention and show you can bounce back from anything. I like to say I’m the only candidate running on more than his mouth.
Bay Weekly Our readers will meet you the same week that many of them and many politicians buy their tickets to Calvert County’s 25th annual Celebration of Life Cancer Gala at Rod ’n’ Reel, a huge contributor to the fight against cancer. How have you beaten your cancer?
Allan Lichtman I had prostate cancer. Let me say to every man that I discovered it by regular checkups and might not have otherwise. It was small but very aggressive. I dealt with it surgically and psychologically and physically by getting into the best shape I can, exercising, being active and sending out my message: You can bounce back from anything. You can do anything by putting your mind and will to it.
In October, I ran a 5K race with the American Survivors Network and finished second.
I’ve just been to Rod ’n’ Reel for the fireworks, and I’ll be there again for the Cancer Gala.
Bay Weekly As a political analyst, you’re famous for your 13 Keys to the Presidency. What’s the key to the biggest upset in Maryland political history, getting Allan Lichtman elected as senator from Maryland?
Allan Lichtman The key is getting my message out to enough people. The people are yearning for fundamental change. They are not satisfied with the two front-runners, neither of whom offers any hope of changing Maryland and America for the better. If I can talk to enough people, I could win.
Of course it would be a huge upset if I won, but upsets happen all the time. That’s why we have campaigns, why we have elections.