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Who’s coming back? State lawmakers entering unique election landscape

National political mood shadows campaign season, with each party facing its own internal battles as well

Gov. Larry Hogan (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Recent polling suggests Gov. Larry Hogan is successfully walking the fine line between differentiating himself from President Donald Trump but not turning off Trump supporters. ‘My sense is that Hogan’s biggest threat is a deep-seated opposition to Trump,’ says Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The confetti and balloons that fell on the House of Delegates and Senate did not only mark the end of the 2018 General Assembly session – it also opened the curtains on this year’s election season.

Monday’s close of the 90-day session marked the sprint to the 2018 primary election in June and a longer march to the November election.

And while some would argue that Gov. Larry Hogan has been running for re-election since he took office in 2015, political observers say they are expecting a more public and obvious campaign effort in which Democrats will seek to defeat Hogan and incumbents face significant challenges in their own primaries.

“I’m waiting for the switch to flip,” said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College.

‘Drum of bipartisanship’

Hogan’s campaign message was a major part of his last session of his first term.

“We started out this session saying let’s put aside the politics, let’s try to come together and do things in a bipartisan way,” he said. “We put forth a really aggressive agenda, almost all of which looks like it’s going to get done.”

Hogan’s official email blasts and public comments made frequent note of an effort to be bipartisan. In some cases, he irritated Democrats who accused him of stealing their ideas for his own legislative priorities.

Hogan remains personally popular among Maryland voters according to a number of polls, including Kromer’s Goucher poll. Voters tend to see the Republican governor as a moderate — something the Kromer said Hogan will need to accentuate in a year where Democrats are counting on a blue wave to roll over Republicans nationally and in Maryland.

“Hogan is going to continuously beat the drum of bipartisanship,” she said. “We’re going to hear it so much it should be put on a T-shirt at this point.”

But the unpopularity of President Donald Trump could be tough to overcome in Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin.

“My sense is that Hogan’s biggest threat is a deep-seated opposition to Trump,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “He’s got to make voters see he is not part of the Trump machine but also walk a fine line when differentiating himself and possibly turning off Trump supporters.”

A recent Goucher poll found that Hogan, a disciplined campaigner, has so far managed to walk that fine line. Kromer noted that many who felt Hogan had not gone far enough were also not likely to vote for Hogan anyway.

Meanwhile, more than a half-dozen Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III; former NAACP president Ben Jealous; Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz; state Sen. Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County; attorney Jim Shea; businessman Alec Ross; and Krishanti Vignarajah, a former policy aide to Michelle Obama, will be focusing on separating themselves from their opponents.

They also face the challenge of overcoming in many cases poor name recognition and a high number of undecided voters.

“If you’re Baker, Jealous and Kamenetz, you’ll want to do everything you can to make it a three-way race,” said Kromer.

Changes, challenges

The election season will also bring its share of challenges for a number of incumbent Democrats from members of their own party.

Eberly said the primary challenges are driven by frustration of younger elected officials and a growing “division in that party” with a progressive movement that seeks to unseat moderate Democrats.

“There’s not a lot of opportunity for people to advance,” he said. “People get elected and hold on to those seats forever. For many, there’s no other option except to run against an incumbent.”

For first-term Del. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore, the time was now.

“Everyone has been telling me, ‘Wait your turn,” said McCray, who is challenging Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a six-term Democrat.

“You’ve never seen this many senators challenged,” McCray added. “So many people are struggling to survive that you start to feel you have no other choice” but to challenge an incumbent.

Nearly 20 percent of the Senate’s members have announced they will not seek re-election. Some, such as Sens. Edward J. Kasemeyer and John Astle, Democrats from Howard and Anne Arundel counties, respectively, are retiring. Others, such as Madaleno and Sens. Jim Brochin, C. Anthony Muse and Victor Ramirez, Democrats from Baltimore and Prince George’s counties, respectively, are seeking other elected offices.

Still more face challenges in the primary or general elections.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. noted the departures on Monday night, saying “nine members of the Senate are not going to come back and the fact that we know other members of the Senate are not going to come back but they don’t know it yet.”

Some would like Miller to be part of that list after being targeted by what he called a “renegade union.”

The Service Employees International Union Local 500 announced the formation of a Super PAC they said would work to elect more progressive Democrats and specifically targeted the long-time Senate leader.

Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot joined the union’s effort at a rally Monday, saying he would actively campaign against Miller and similarly called for the ouster of House Speaker Michael E. Busch, saying both had been in office too long.

“I’m here to reform a party that I love, the Democratic Party, and we’re going to do #DisruptTheMachine and #ForThePeople and we’re going to remind Democrats about the principles and values that they all adhere to,” Franchot said following the union rally.

Eberly, the St. Mary’s College of Maryland professor, said beating either Busch or Miller will be tough for Franchot and doing so might not yield the results the comptroller seeks.

“If the leaders go, they won’t be replaced by moderates, they’ll be replaced by more progressive Democrats,” said Eberly. “That’s where all the passion is. I don’t think pushing (Busch and Miller) out will recreate the leadership he says he’s envisioning.”

Additionally, a number members of Miller’s senior leadership team and other Democrats — Sens. Nathaniel McFadden, Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, Joan Carter Conway, Delores Kelley, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and Barbara Robinson — are facing primary challenges, something insiders say would have never happened a decade ago.

Sheldon Laskin, Zirkin’s primary opponent, stood behind those union leaders at the Monday rally. He was joined by former delegate Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat seeking to fill the seat formerly held by Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks.

Republican gains?

Meanwhile, Hogan maybe looking to grow his party in the legislature after a number of bruising veto overrides.

Rumors abound of a plan to pick up as many as five seats in the Senate or seven seats in the House to prevent a veto-proof Democratic majority in at least one chamber.

Republicans are hopeful that the seat currently held by Brochin in Baltimore County will fall their way. The party is also eyeing seats held by moderate Democratic Sens. Kathy Klausmeier and Jim Mathias, in Baltimore County and on the Eastern Shore respectively.

Hogan’s first endorsement of the 2018 election came last year when he appeared at a fundraiser for Del. Christian J. Miele, who is challenging Klausmeier. But an expected blue-wave backlash against a Trump presidency may force Hogan to focus on his own political survival.

“The primary goal here, if you’re the Hogan campaign, is to make sure Hogan is re-elected,” said Kromer. “After that, he can shift his focus to the next four years and party-building.”

That could force Hogan to be more strategic, focusing on races that will help him, such as Miele’s race and the Baltimore County executive campaign, where he has already endorsed Maryland Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. over Republican Del. Patrick L. McDonough, who has called himself “The Donald Trump of Baltimore County.”

“It would have to be a collaborative effort with candidates repeating the Hogan mantra and towing the Hogan line as much as they can,” said Kromer.

Intraparty drama

Democrats aren’t the only party with primary election drama, however.

In southern Maryland, Hogan apparently will turn his attention from seeking to increase Republican members in the House and Senate to attending the fundraiser of a challenger to incumbent Republican Sen. Stephen M. Waugh.

Eberly said Hogan’s appearance is “out of step with his larger image” and could invoke comparisons to Trump, who also has opposed incumbents in his own party.

“That’s not the sort of thing you’d want to do if you want to send a message that you’re trying to get things done regardless of party,” said Eberly.

Hogan, who has done few fundraisers for state senators so far, is an announced guest for Jack Bailey at an April 27 event. Neither Hogan’s campaign nor Bailey, responded to requests for comment.

The split appears to be over Waugh voting to override Hogan’s veto of a bill that prevents colleges from asking about criminal histories on entrance applications.

Waugh said Hogan’s planned appearance is evidence that the governor “does have an enemies list.”

“Southern Maryland will have a choice between a lap dog for Hogan and a bulldog for southern Maryland,” Waugh said. “This year I delivered for southern Maryland on school safety, veterans, tax cuts, and the higher-ed center. I asked for this job to work for southern Maryland not for some governor.”

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