By John O. Sullivan
Maryland is a very Blue state. Since the start of the 20th century, Maryland has only elected 6 Republican governors, to 13 Democratic ones. Only one of those Republicans, Governor Theodore McKeldin, served two terms. This is not a mere statistical coincidence. Maryland holds close to a 2-1 registration advantage in the state, and while Democratic voters are largely concentrated in the Baltimore Metro and Capital regions, statewide elections are done on a popular-vote basis, making any geographic disadvantage irrelevant.
In just under 16 months, Marylanders will be going to the polls to elect a governor. Sitting Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who grew up in Maryland’s DC suburbs, will face off against a to-be-named Democrat. Governor Hogan won the Governor’s Mansion with a 51-47 margin. It was hardly a blowout, but still a decisive victory and even more impressive considering the Republican disadvantage in voter registration.
Governor Hogan is in a very good situation politically, considering the fact that he’s a Republican in Maryland. His most recent approval ratings are at 63%. It is worth noting at this time that in 2004, Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich (who went on to lose his re-election bid) had a similarly high 64% approval rating. When voters have been asked if they would hypothetically vote for Governor Hogan or the Democratic nominee, he drops to a 41-37 position, still leading by 4 points with 20% undecided This question about potential challengers, however, is a deeply flawed question in Maryland’s current political climate. Allowing voters to chose “Democratic Nominee” or “Larry Hogan” allows voters to imagine their ideal Democratic candidate. However, important conditions that allowed Hogan to win victory in 2014 still prevail today, namely his own moderate status and a crowded Democratic primary field.
A crowded primary field weakens the Democrats because while Hogan is the unquestioned chief of the Maryland Republican Party, it isn’t clear who the Democratic nominee will be. There is no clear leader, but there are a number of possible candidates. This same conundrum led to Democrats in 2014 staying home because their preferred candidate hadn’t won. In 2010, the Democratic gubernatorial ticket received over one million votes, in 2014, about 200,000 fewer people voted for the Dem’s gubernatorial candidates. By contrast, the 2014 Hogan ticket received about 100,000 more votes than the 2010 Republican ticket. However, this Democratic Depression did not affect the Comptroller’s race, for which the winning Democrat received roughly the same number of votes in 2010 as in 2014.
This, coupled with Hogan’s moderate and independent appeal, proved deadly. But who are all these Democratic candidates? And who has the best chance of winning this political fight?
A-Listers: People who could actually win
Ben Jealous’s primary claim to fame is that in 2008, he was elected the youngest ever national leader of the NAACP at age 35. Ben Jealous was widely credited with with revitalizing the NAACP as a national political force, increasing the organization’s number of donors by nearly a factor of 10. Since leaving the NAACP, Jealous became a partner at Kapor Capital, which operates under the mantra that ““Genius is evenly distributed across zip codes. Access and opportunity are not.” More recently, Jealous supported Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Primary.
State Senator Rich Madaleno is a lifelong resident of Montgomery County, Maryland, and was the first openly-gay member to be elected to the General Assembly. If he wins next November, he would be Maryland’s first openly gay governor. Madaleno is considered a progressive, and (but) he supported Secretary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Primary.
Rep. John Delaney is currently representing Maryland’s 6th district in Congress. He is the former CEO of a publicly traded company, and is the 3rd richest member of Congress. While he has not formally declared his candidacy for the governorship, he is widely regarded as a possible contender with significant name recognition. Due to his significant personal wealth, he could also easily self-finance a gubernatorial run.
Tier 2: Junior Varsity
First let me say, Elijah Cummings is no middle weight. Representative Elijah Eugene Cummings, a lifelong Baltimore resident, is an absolute giant in the Democratic party. This is the same person who, just 2 months before the Democratic Senate primary, was considered a serious threat to steal the race, even though he hadn’t campaigned at all. He would be a serious threat, but he is included on this list because at this point he probably won’t leave the House.
Heather Mizeur took the progressive wing of the Democratic Party by storm in the 2014 Democratic primary, taking third place with a surprising 22%. She would certainly stand a fair chance at winning the Democratic primary, and she might even have a shot at the governor’s mansion, but it certainly doesn’t seem like she’ll be stepping on to the field, as she has retired from politics to start an organic farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Rushern Baker is the current Prince George’s County Executive. His name is perennially mentioned as a candidate for assorted higher positions, however none have ever come to fruition. While he certainly has the executive experience and some degree of name recognition, one wonders if he has the combination of political chops, name recognition, and statewide appeal to make an earnest challenge.
C-Listers: The Benchwarmers
Kevin Kamenetz is the Baltimore County Executive. His name was mentioned early as a serious contender for the Governorship, however the serious bungling of a school improvement program may have torpedoed his already unsteady chances.
Commonly remembered as “That guy who ran for governor and barely beat Heather Mizeur,” former Attorney General Doug Gansler, who initially ran as a crime-fighting moderate, had his integrity impuned in multiple scandals, including accusations of his requesting his police escort drive aggressively, accusing another candidate of playing the “race card,” and most significantly, allowing drinking at his teenage sons party, which he attended. Gansler is done in Maryland politics, despite pundits who are tossing his name around.
The Current Attorney General undoubtedly has Gubernatorial ambitions, however he can also read a poll and knows that this primary will be crowded. With the knowledge that he is likely to win reelection in a landslide and the new powers given to him by the General Assembly to file lawsuits against the federal government without the permission of the Governor, Frosh will be better off biding him time as AG until a more opportune moment comes along.
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake probably could have run for Governor and won in 2010. However, her handling of the Baltimore City riots in April 2015 was highly controversial, both inside and out of the city. So controversial that she did not seek re-election as mayor. She was once a potential future governor, but no longer.
Businessman with no governing experience turned Chief Executive? Sounds familiar…
At the end of the day, the race to challenge Hogan will most likely come down to a race between Jealous and Madaleno, with the possible inclusion of Delany and Baker. Madaleno has the advantage of years of State level experience, he has been a stalwart of the State Senate for years, and comes from a high voter turnout county. Should Congressman John Delaney enter the race, it is likely that the Primary battle would become all about who has the best name recognition. Unfortunately for Madaleno, that probably not him.
Jealous lacks the state level experience of Madaleno, but has been a champion of racial equality and comes with a national resume. He is likely to be a serious contender, but the race will include complex dynamics. Madaleno and Jealous will be competing for the progressive vote. Simultaneously Baker will also be competing with Jealous, but for the minority bloc. Delaney will try to scrape votes out of the moderate suburban and rural Democrats, and all the while, the C-List candidates will snipe at the bigger candidates in an attempt to make headlines.
It remains to be seen how the Democratic Primary race will play out, but it will certainly be interesting. One thing is for certain, the longer the Democratic campaigns run without a clear forerunner, the better change Governor Hogan has of retaining his seat.