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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Democratic field for governor is wide open, fraught with challenges

Untitled-1Democratic voters in Maryland have yet to coalesce behind a single candidate seeking to defeat Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

An early look at potential Democratic contenders by the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College showed no clear front-runner, unlike in 2006 when the party was faced with unseating another Republican governor. Additionally, the poll reveals an internal struggle within the Democratic Party that could ultimately turn the election.

Hogan is seeking to become the first Republican to be re-elected since Theodore McKeldin. He is still one of the most popular state executives in the country, though a recent Goucher College poll suggests a competitive race next November. Hogan’s challenger, however, remains unclear.

“There’s the negative where you can say, ‘Oh man, there’s nobody that’s well-known, you don’t have a front-runner,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the poll. “But the positive is, maybe Democrats are keeping an open mind, they’re going to give full consideration to all the candidates.”

The last part of the Goucher Poll released Tuesday morning surveyed 324 registered Democratic voters who said they would likely vote in 2018. Of those, 44 percent said they didn’t know who they would vote for if the primary were held today. The poll, because of its smaller sample size, has a 5.4 percent margin of error.

The field of primary contenders currently includes Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III; Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz; Montgomery County state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr.; former NAACP President Ben Jealous; technology policy expert and senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University and former aide to Hillary Clinton aide Alec Ross; former Venable chair Jim Shea; former Michelle Obama aide Krishanti Vignarajah; and activist and educator Ralph Jaffe.

Maya Rockeymore Cummings, the head of a Washington public policy firm and wife of Rep. Elijah Cummings, has also expressed an interest in running but has not yet filed nor established a fundraising account.

Baker tops the list of Democrats at 13 percent. Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler falls 2 points behind with Kamenetz and Rockeymore Cummings polling at 8 percent — within the margin of error.

In a different question, 28 percent of voters said they would consider voting for Gansler. Baker came in second at 21 percent.

Gansler told the Washington Post last week, while Goucher was still polling, that he would not run for the office.

Gansler, in an interview with The Daily Record, said his own internal polls showed he had an edge on other Democratic contenders but that defeating Hogan, even in an a predominantly Democratic state such as Maryland, could prove challenging.

“That wasn’t really the concern,” Gansler said. “From a raw political standpoint, defeating a well-funded, incumbent governor would be difficult for any challenger. It’s certainly possible. He (Hogan) is beatable but it’s going to be really difficult. He’s going to have $25 million to $30 million and he has high favorability numbers.”

“Of the (Democrats) currently running, I don’t know of one of them that is necessarily better for beating Governor Hogan, though all of them certainly represent Maryland Democratic values,” Gansler said.

More than a half dozen Democrats are vying for the party nomination to challenge Hogan, whose popularity in Maryland has made him the second-most popular governor in the country, according to national surveys.

On Monday, Goucher released a poll that found that Hogan’s popularity is still above 60 percent.

But Hogan is not without his challenges. That same poll showed a dip in the governor’s re-electability  — from 57 percent in a survey in February to 51 this month — as well as an increase in those who expressed concern about the direction of the state.

Democrats are not without their own challenges.

The party has no front-runner in the early stages of the race compared to the same point in the 2006 campaign, when then-Gov. Martin O’Malley was considered to be the expected challenger to Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Kromer said Democrats are in the “unfamiliar position of having a popular incumbent Republican governor.”

“Now you have it without that clear Democratic potential nominee waiting in the wings,” Kromer said.

Additionally, Goucher’s numbers suggest that the identity of the Maryland Democratic Party, as well  as finding a message aside from anger over President Donald Trump, could stymie efforts to unseat Hogan, according to Kromer.

“You have to demonstrate viability, especially for outside groups that may want to throw money into this campaign,” Kromer said. “They have to make the case that Larry Hogan is (a) Republican that is worth investing to unseat, that he is part of this whole Trump world that they want to get rid of.”

More than half — 55 percent — said they hoped for a more progressive or left-leaning challenger to Hogan while only 49 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as liberal.

Exactly 50 percent of the Democrats identified as either conservative or moderate Democrats.

“What if they don’t have someone the Democratic Party can coalesce around?” Kromer said. “It’s a fundamental question the Democratic Party has to grapple with.”

Already about 35 percent of Democrats said they were either voting for Hogan or leaning toward the Republican in the November election. A progressive candidate emerging victorious in the Democratic primary could push additional support to Hogan in the general election, Kromer said.

Since last November, Democrats in the state have increasingly attempting to tie Hogan to Trump, who is unpopular in Maryland. But poll results released Monday found that voters see Maryland’s governor differently than the president.

Kromer said Democratic challenges may have to give up running against Trump.

“They also have to start running on their own records,” Kromer said.



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