Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) takes a selfie with Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous and Jealous’s running mate, Susan Turnbull, left, during a campaign event in Silver Spring on June 14, the first day of early voting in the state. (Cheryl Diaz Meyer/For The Washington Post)
Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous has assembled a well-funded, left-wing coalition in hopes of becoming that rare Democratic insurgent who defeats an establishment-backed party rival, top state politicians and independent analysts say.
The battle between Jealous, a first-time candidate, and Rushern L. Baker III, the two-term Prince George’s county executive, mirrors a national pattern: activists inspired by the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — and frustrated by recent Republican victories — are confronting more traditional candidates closer to the mold of Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 presidential nominee.
What’s different about Maryland is that Jealous, a former NAACP president, has expanded the Sanders base by adding support from influential unions, prominent African American politicians and cash from national liberal donors.
While insurgent gubernatorial candidates have not fared well in Democratic races in other states, polls show Jealous and Baker as the clear front-runners in a crowded field — with the caveat that enough voters remain undecided to scramble the race before Tuesday’s primary. Either candidate would face an uphill battle this fall against popular incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
[Here’s what you need to know about the Democrats running for Maryland governor]
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, a Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland, greets supporters during a campaign rally at a Baltimore County mall on June 9. (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)
In last year’s Virginia primary, then-Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam routed former congressman Tom Perriello, who waged a populist campaign and performed well in pre-primary polls but lacked Northam’s union endorsements and had less cash. In Iowa this month, Fred Hubbell, a retired insurance executive backed by party leaders, easily defeated Cathy Glasson, who described the race as “a nurse and a union leader against the political establishment.” In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is far ahead of his left-leaning challenger, former “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert), one of a raft of state Democrats who has endorsed Baker, said it was “appropriate” to liken his rivalry with Jealous to that between Clinton and Sanders — but with advantages for Jealous.
“Hillary had all the money, and Bernie had none,” Miller said. “In this case, the labor movement behind Ben Jealous is going to make sure that he has the money to get the vote out. Rushern doesn’t have the money.”
Jealous has pushed the party to the left on key issues in ways that his critics say could hurt Democrats in the general election. He tells audiences he’s building a multiracial coalition to “rebel together” and says the nation’s economic divide requires bold liberal policies to end poverty and improve the lives of working people.
Only with such a platform, he and others say, can Democrats spur turnout to defeat Republicans such as Hogan and President Trump.
“It’s really the next logical step after the Sanders presidential candidacy,” said Jennifer E. Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report. Sanders “fired up progressives. . . . There are voters, especially in primaries, who are open to things like universal health care, debt-free college and other things that Sanders talked about.”
[Post-U. Md. poll: Jealous, Baker lead in Democratic race overshadowed by Hogan.]
Hogan beat Democrat Anthony G. Brown four years ago despite a more than 2-to-1 Democratic voter advantage in Maryland. That loss, and frustration with the failure of the Democratic-majority state legislature to adopt a $15 minimum wage and other progressive measures, are fueling activists’ embrace of Jealous.
Melanie Oringer, a retired nurse who organized an event for Jealous in Gaithersburg last week, said she wanted to “change the narrative of the Democratic Party” so it would do more “to care for the welfare of the people.”
“I came to realize after the Bernie campaign that I could never compromise again, or nothing will ever change,” she said.
Jealous stumps at an early voting rally at Morgan State University in Baltimore on June 9. (J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post)
Baker attends a candidates’ forum at the NBC4/Telemundo44 studios on June 14. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
Jealous helped lead the Sanders campaign in Maryland, and Sanders has returned to the state several times to stump with him, most recently at a rally Monday that drew about 600 people and was the largest and loudest crowd of the Democratic primary so far.
Baker backed former governor Martin O’Malley in 2016, then Clinton, and Maryland Democrats went heavily for Clinton. Two years later, however, Jealous is expanding his base with support from labor organizations, including the state teachers’ union and Service Employees International Union — both of which backed Clinton in 2016.
Jealous also has targeted African American voters who often spurned Sanders, campaigning with prominent black Democrats including Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.). And his campaign is benefiting from outside spending by unions, progressive groups and individuals who together plan to raise $1.9 million for the race. Some of that money has gone to anti-Baker advertising.
At the Gaithersburg event, Jealous began his talk by recalling how, in Colonial times, poor whites and enslaved blacks united to protest a royal edict that would have required a parent’s social status to convey to their child.
“We rebelled, and we rebelled together,” Jealous said. “Irish indentured servants, African slaves woke up together in that moment.”
Today, he said, a similar alliance is necessary to advance causes like state-based “Medicare for all,” free community college and debt-free college.
“We are building a movement,” Jealous said.
[As Md. gubernatorial race tightens, Jealous getting $1 million boost from outside groups.]
From left, Rushern L. Baker III, Richard S. Madaleno Jr. and Ben Jealous listen to the host before a candidates’ forum on June 14. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
Baker remains well ahead of Jealous in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, the two most populous jurisdictions in the state.
He bristles at the idea that he’s insufficiently progressive; he wants to allocate more money for education and mass transit, and he supports a $15 minimum wage.
Baker said he lost union support because of tough decisions he made as county executive, including negotiating a deal for a regional hospital center that contributed to the downsizing of a hospital in nearby Laurel; welcoming nonunion hotels and grocery stores; and pushing for improvements in the county’s struggling public school system.
“My responsibility as governor will be to the citizens and not to individual special-interest groups,” Baker said, adding that Jealous is able to make attractive but costly promises because he has never had to oversee a budget.
“There’s nothing more progressive than finding a job for people, and we’ve done that in the county, or providing them with health care, or actually being able to balance a budget and make schools better,” Baker said.
“It’s one thing to talk about these things, it’s another to actually do them.”
Jealous says he would pay for his programs by raising taxes on cigarettes and on the wealthiest 1 percent of Marylanders, legalizing and taxing marijuana, freeing up resources by shrinking prisons, and closing corporate tax loopholes. He rejects the notion that his campaign is divisive or anti-establishment.
“We’re doing what every Democrat should be doing in 2018,” Jealous said, noting that his running mate, Susan W. Turnbull, is a former state party chair. “We’re uniting the party; we’re reconnecting its base.”
But Jealous also said Democrats “have been too cozy to Wall Street for too long” and added, “We think it’s urgent that we get refocused on ending poverty.”
Jealous’s campaign manager, Travis Tazelaar, worked on Baker’s 2006 campaign for county executive and later directed the state Democratic Party. He got to know Jealous while both were campaigning to persuade Maryland voters to approve the Dream Act and same-sex marriage in 2012, and he has led the charge to target Maryland constituencies that Sanders failed to attract.
One of their successes was an endorsement from SEIU 32BJ, whose senior vice president, Jaime Contreras, said it was “an embarrassment” that minimum-wage legislation stalled in the State House this year.
Working families and union members “feel the party has been too accommodating to the right,” Contreras said. “People want somebody who will rock the boat a bit with the Democrats in Annapolis.”
Former governor Martin O’Malley gives his endorsement to Baker on June 7 in Annapolis. (Brian Witte/AP)
Most top Maryland Democrats have backed Baker, and in past elections, such support was critical to winning the nomination. He is campaigning alongside other elected officials in the vote-rich Washington suburbs as well as Baltimore city and Baltimore County, touting his executive experience and his record of reforming schools and bringing development to Prince George’s.
But Baker has been slow to raise money. He pulled in $180,000 in the latest reporting period, compared with $380,000 for Jealous. About 900 small-
dollar donations to Jealous came from residents of California, compared with 600 from people who live in Maryland, an imbalance that led Baker supporter Valerie Ervin to call Jealous a “carpetbagger” last week. That jab grated on Jealous, who has lived in Maryland since 2012 and has deep roots in Baltimore, where his grandparents and parents spent most of their lives and where he served as head of the NAACP.
Party leaders “seem to be very nervous about a Jealous victory,” said a high-ranking Maryland Democratic elected official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the topic’s sensitivity. The official said Democrats worry that Jealous’s potentially expensive policy proposals would scare voters and result in a poor showing against Hogan.
Jealous and his supporters counter that an establishment candidate won’t energize voters.
“We have to have a bold progressive vision. I think that’s where we’ve messed up as Democrats,” said Will Jawando, a Jealous supporter who is running for the Montgomery County Council. “Don’t start compromising before you even get there.”
Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report.