Ben Jealous’ victory last week among a group of eight Democrats vying to unseat Maryland incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is a signal that the Democratic Party continues to move to the left, say political observers. That has excited his supporters, but may spell trouble for him in November.
Jealous, a former president of the NAACP, captured the party nomination with nearly 40 percent of the vote on June 26, ahead of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, who received about 29 percent of the vote. Jealous’ campaign centered on criminal justice reform, education funding, healthcare and immigration. But his success had less to do with the issues than the fact that he outraised his opponents and garnered support from key progressive groups, such as the Maryland State Education Association, according to Steve Silverman, a former Montgomery County councilman who now heads a government relations firm in Silver Spring.
“He had an effective ground game and got union support and had more money for TV” than his opponents, Silverman said. “I don’t think most average Democratic primary voters saw extraordinary distinctions among any of the Democratic candidates.”
Hogan is enjoying approval ratings of around 70 percent and is favored to win re-election. Jealous, Silverman pointed out, tried to tie Hogan to President Donald Trump throughout the campaign in arguing that his opponent has not adequately stood up to the president on immigration. But Silverman said the argument likely won’t resonate with voters since Hogan has adopted policies that contradict Trump’s, such as his decision not to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.
Jealous has also accused Hogan of being tone deaf on police accountability, particularly following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, which sparked riots in Baltimore. But David Lublin, an American University professor of government and author of the Maryland political blog Seventh State, said Hogan will likely pivot to the issue of the protestors instead of police.
Lublin said the governor will tout his quick response in arriving on the scene and calling for National Guard troops. Meanwhile, Lublin said, Jealous’ references to the protests as an “uprising,” could be used against him.
“If I’m Larry Hogan, I ask [Jealous] in a debate, ‘How can burning affordable housing down for seniors… how was that an uprising? How did that improve an economically-developing Baltimore?’” he said.
Jealous’ running mate, Susan Turnbull, said based on conversations she has had with constituents, Jealous’ enthusiasm will not be lost on voters.
Lublin said the general election will ultimately be decided not by the low-income minorities in Maryland that Jealous hopes to mobilize, but by upper- and middle-class white, centrist voters. Among that group, he said, are Jews.
“It’s not that Hogan has to win the Jewish vote, but he’d like to make inroads into it,” Lublin said.
Cardin looks ahead
Like Jealous, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) faced a host of primary challengers. But the similarity ended there, with Cardin winning 80 percent of the vote. He will face Republican Tony Campbell and independent candidate Neal Simon in the fall, but is expected to easily win a third term.
Cardin told Washington Jewish Week that he was “heartened by the positive response” to his re-election campaign.
“We’ve delivered as an independent voice to the policies of the Trump administration,” he said. “But we also recognize that we’ve got to connect with the voters, protecting Medicare and Medicaid. These are things we’re very passionate about.”
Cardin’s immediate attention is focused, not on the election, but what is likely to be a contentious confirmation process for a Supreme Court justice to replace retiring Anthony Kennedy. Trump said he plans to name a nominee to the court by July 9. Cardin urged Trump to select a politically moderate nominee.
“He should talk to members of Congress and reach out to find a mainstream nominee, a Merrick Garland-type nominee,” Cardin said, referring to President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Senate Republicans refused to give Garland a hearing due to the upcoming presidential election.
“You want a Supreme Court that’s going to interpret the Constitution, but do so in a way that brings the country together,” he said.
Cardin said he is concerned Trump may nominate a young, conservative nominee similar to his last pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch. He hopes that unlike Gorsuch, the next justice will be someone “less activist.”
“I want a person who’s going to interpret the Constitution according to the principles of our country,” he said. “We just saw a decision that upheld the president’s Muslim ban. I don’t want to see that type of an activist court.”