Maybe it’s the extreme weather we’ve had this summer. Maybe it’s too early to expect voters to pay attention to an election three months in the future. Maybe it’s a case of political amnesia. Whatever the reason, some Maryland Democrats are acting as if they don’t realize or don’t even care that the gubernatorial election in November will have major repercussions for the party and the state.
In 2014 when Republican Larry Hogan was elected governor and in 2016 when Donald Trump won the presidency, a major contributory factor was the number of Democrats who failed to vote because they had found flaws with the party’s nominee. They somehow rationalized that it really didn’t matter all that much if first Hogan and later Trump was elected. While it is true that both Anthony Brown and Hillary Clinton ran deeply flawed campaigns, their electoral defeats had real consequences for Maryland and for the United States.
Yet we are already seeing signs of that malady peculiar to Democrats, that a candidate has to be “perfect” to receive the backing of the purists in the party. Some supporters of Bernie Sanders, among others, saw Clinton as too tainted to deserve their vote. Is Ben Jealous running the risk of a similar defection from old line Democrats?
Is Jealous too liberal or too progressive for some Democrats? While that is the inverse of the challenge Clinton encountered, it’s the same dynamic. Jealous is still a relative outsider to Maryland politics despite his win in the May primary. He has neither a geographical nor institutional base. From that perspective, a major goal of his campaign has to be to “introduce” him to more Democratic voters than he was able to reach in the primary.
A more serious problem is that some Democrats in Blue Maryland are actually much more conservative than the stereotypes of the State might suggest. Many of them live outside of Central Maryland. Some are former office holders looking to gain a little attention. Even if you take account of these more nominal Democrats, like the group that recently endorsed Hogan, there are more than enough others in the party to elect Jealous if only they show up in November.
Some of the early commentary has pointed to Hogan’s popularity as a barrier Jealous will be unlikely to surmount. Yet, all of the polling has concluded Hogan’s personal favorability is significantly higher than support for his re-election.
Hogan has worked recently to put more distance between himself and Trump. And it is certainly true that Hogan is very different than the president. A campaign that tries to argue a close connection won’t be credible and will fail. On the other hand, Democratic turnout in the fall is likely to increase merely because of Trump’s erratic behavior without Jealous having to make the connection explicit.
In a state that has consistently voted Democratic in national elections, Jealous should have at least a slight home field advantage. As popular as Hogan is, his record of accomplishments is very thin. He has made a few popular moves, such as cutting tolls. For those living in Republican regions, his decision to eliminate the Red Line in Baltimore has helped secure his base, but it certainly doesn’t help him in other parts of the state. Moreover, despite his claim that Maryland is “now open for business”, the State’s business climate ranking was recently downgraded.
Can Jealous mobilize a coalition of Democratic voters that would oppose Hogan on policy grounds? The national trends seem to be heavily Democratic, with evidence of a significant energy and enthusiasm advantage. Moreover, the gender gap fueled by Trump’s boorishness is also likely to benefit Jealous.
A major unknown is whether Marylanders are willing to get past race and elect an African-American to statewide office. The historical record is not encouraging on that count, but, maybe, this will be the year that strong turnout, particularly among women, produces a historical outcome long overdue. My conclusion, contrary to much of the current conventional wisdom, is that Jealous has a very good chance to win in November.