The Battle for America 2010: In Maryland, Is the Left Emboldened or Afraid?

While those on the liberal side of the political equation had a difficult time last weekend drumming up support for their cause — even with the prospect of a free bus trip to Washington, D.C., and a box lunch courtesy of Big Labor — a small protest at a rural Maryland Americans for Prosperity rally could be a harbinger of things to come as the left gets more desperate.

Maryland’s Eastern Shore is best known as the home of Perdue chicken. But it’s also ground zero in a rematch between freshman Democratic Congressman Frank Kratovil and his Republican opponent, state Senator Andy Harris. In 2008, Kratovil won by a plurality of less than 3,000 votes out of 360,000 cast (a Libertarian candidate took just over 2 percent), and chances are the second battle could be as close as the first. While the district was one of the areas in Maryland carried by John McCain, Kratovil prevailed by stressing his “independent, conservative” values and garnering the endorsement of outgoing Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, whom Harris defeated in a bitter GOP primary.

But the reality of Kratovil voting for the stimulus bill and cap and trade angered a number of his constituents to the point of contentious townhall meetings and his being hung in effigy. This year Kratovil has shied away from public events and, sensing his vulnerability, last Thursday the national chapter of Americans for Prosperity scheduled its only Maryland visit for the “November is Coming” bus tour at a stop just outside of Salisbury. Here’s part of what happened as the rally got underway.

The chicken suit man, dubbed the “Offshore Bird” as an obscure way to say something lame about outsourcing jobs, is a liberal with another operative, who as we’ll discuss in a moment is well known to Maryland Democrats. Certainly the counter-protest was a surprise and shock to those at the meeting, which drew about 60 people even though it was a midday event forced inside due to weather. Andrew Langer, who heads the Washington-based small business advocacy group Institute for Liberty and was a featured speaker for the event, stated that “as a rule, I have no problem with infiltrators, counter-protestors, or anyone (who) comes from a left-leaning persuasion showing up at Tea Party events. … I generally thank them for coming and invite them to engage in respectful discussion. Though I’ve been at events where their manufactured opposition had shown up, I’ve never actually engaged directly with the astroturf, and hadn’t seen it so blatant until this event.” This came from a man who spoke at last year’s 9-12 rally in Washington.

Added local radio host Duke Brooks, the other featured guest: “Since the leftists … know for a fact that they can’t win in the open marketplace of ideas, and they have lost on the issues, their only recourse is to ‘Pearl Harbor’ people like AFP and try to get some camera time.”

That’s exactly what they did, although in this case they may have been disappointed because the only media that showed up for the event were a couple of local bloggers. The even worse news is that I was one of them.

Leading the counter-protest was a local left-wing activist by the name of Chuck Cook, who bills himself as a field organizer for the Maryland Democratic Party. He was running the “Offshore Bird” show; his presence put the state Democratic Party directly into AFP’s event. As you can see in the video, Cook was recording the event as it went down, as were some of the AFP members.  Presumably he intended to disrupt AFP’s event and then post it to YouTube for the world to see. And as we’ll see in a moment, his plan may have had other state Democratic Party involvement.

It was Cook’s involvement which led Langer to say, “For a paid operative of the Maryland Democratic Party to show up to disrupt a local non-partisan event is just stunning. It demonstrates that they feel so threatened by the very real popular discontent that they’re more than willing to have their paid employees invent groups in order to maintain their hold on power.”

In fact, I asked Maryland Democratic Party chair Susan Turnbull for a response to this incident, and apparently they’d already put a statement together for press inquiries like mine. How about some projection with a heaping side of in-your-face arrogance?

“The ones who should be apologizing are the leaders of Americans for Prosperity who are backed by big corporations that ship jobs overseas. The Offshore Bird and his supporters were simply there to politely draw attention to AFP’s hidden agenda at an event that was open to the public. It is clear from the video that the AFP only believes in the right to peaceful assembly when it suits their interests.”

In other words, you will listen to us and like it. That’s the attitude of a party that controls all the levers of power in Annapolis. It’s also hypocritical, when you consider the piles of money that leftist George Soros routinely showers on liberal groups and causes all over the country. To them, Chuck Cook has become a hero of the movement – he’ll likely get a promotion in the near future.

And just to correct Turnbull, the main thing that’s clear from the video is that a party whose policies are killing the Maryland poultry industry would be wise to steer clear of chicken suits.

As for the AFP, it isn’t going anywhere in Maryland. Their state chapter is doubling down with another more localized bus tour (dubbed the “Now or Never Maryland” tour) that will span the length of the First District, which wraps from the eastern suburbs of Baltimore around the top of Chesapeake Bay to encompass the Eastern Shore. And while AFP won’t be adding security, according to Maryland state director Dave Schwartz, they “will be aware of possible intimidation tactics, and be able to be more proactive because of the incident.”

With experts divided on whether the race is a toss-up or leaning Republican, and the First District’s history as an R+13 district, it’s certain that Free State Democrats will be cooking up even more mayhem for conservatives as the election draws closer. But it’s hard to top this kind of October surprise, even if a day early.