In a night of contrasts, it was a very good night for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and for the progressive wing of the Democratic party, which nominated one of their own for governor and appeared to have knocked off several senior Democratic legislative leaders.
Hogan, who had no primary opponent, will be waiting for Democratic nominee Ben Jealous with an overflowing war chest.
“He’s had a lot of advantages and everything so far seems to be breaking his way,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Jealous, speaking in Baltimore Tuesday night, said experts will try to “discern the meaning” of his victory but said his policy positions will stand in stark contrast to Hogan.
“Tolls and puppies — he is the gimmick governor,” Jealous said.
Jealous was backed by many progressive labor groups and by the teacher’s union, the largest in the state. In his victory speech, he reiterated his stands on universal Medicare, expanded pre-K education, a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free college.
“I am not running to the left,” Jealous said. “I am not running to the right. I am running toward the people of Maryland.”
“Larry Hogan will lose in November because he is not ready to run against someone who knows how to build a people-powered grassroots campaign,” said Jealous.
Hogan’s campaign quickly issued a statement Tuesday night from a former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party who called on moderate Democrats to come to Hogan.
“It is imperative that Democratic voters who value moderation, fiscal responsibility and functional government support Governor Larry Hogan in the general election,” said former Democratic Party Chairman Nate Landow. “His record of sensible, bipartisan reform and his genuine decency is the antidote for what ails our politics today. He stands in stark contrast to the irresponsible and extreme ideas of Ben Jealous.”
Experts say the key for Hogan over the next five months is essentially to stay the course and continue to promote an image as a moderate, bipartisan Republican nothing like the GOP commander in chief whom polls show is widely disliked in Maryland.
“For Larry Hogan, the next five months will be all about staying the course,” said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College and director of the Goucher Poll. “He needs to continue to back and push policies that appeal to a broad cross section of Marylanders.”
Included in that, Kromer said, is Hogan’s continued efforts to distance himself from President Donald Trump, including his recent recall of Maryland National Guard soldiers assisting in patrolling the U.S.-Mexican border. The recall was part of Hogan’s opposition to federal policies that separated children from parents who entered the country illegally.
“He needs to keep reminding Democrats that he is a moderate and remind Republican voters that they don’t want to go back to a Democratic governor,” Kromer said. “While he is a moderate Republican, he’s still a Republican.”
Both said prior to election returns coming in Tuesday night that Rushern Baker III would be the better matchup for Democrats, citing Baker’s extensive executive experience as county executive in Prince George’s County.
But Baker’s lead over Jealous in polls leading up to the primary had been within the margin of error, and Tuesday night the former NAACP leader pulled out to an early comfortable lead he never surrendered.
Jealous “has to show the ability to moderate and appeal to voters beyond the most progressive parts of the Democratic base, or the party will have a very difficult time against Hogan,” said Eberly.
Kromer concurred, saying the Democratic candidate will have to “chip away at the Hogan coalition,” which includes moderate and conservative Democrats and independent voters. A more progressive candidate could present challenges for the Democratic Party in trying to convince non-progressive voters to abandon Hogan, she said.
Good night for Hogan
Aside from his own uncontested primary victory, Tuesday night was by all accounts a good night for Hogan as two of his hand-picked candidate won their primaries.
In Baltimore County, which will be key to the 2018 gubernatorial election, Maryland Insurance Commissioner and former state delegate Al Redmer Jr. defeated Del. Pat McDonough for the Republican nomination for the county executive’s seat.
Hogan backed Redmer early over McDonough, who has been compared to Donald Trump and referred to as “the Trump of Baltimore County” — a moniker McDonough has, at times, embraced. The governor, who has distanced himself from Trump, wanted a more moderate Redmer to protect his flank in Baltimore County.
But Hogan also knocked off an incumbent GOP state senator — Steve Waugh — in St. Mary’s County.
Hogan actively campaigned for Jack Bailey over Waugh, including robocalls in the district, criticizing Waugh for not supporting him on a veto override and working too closely with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
Miller may have also been one of the biggest losers in the primary.
He easily won his primary against Tommy Makila, who was backed by SEIU 500 and Comptroller Peter Franchot. However, Miller may hardly recognize his chamber with the apparent loss of three top lieutenants, including two sitting committee chairman.
Arguably one of the biggest surprises of the night was the defeat of Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Middleton, a six-term incumbent, was seen as a consensus builder on his committee and a lead supporter of paid sick leave legislation.
But Middleton, 72, appears to have been felled by Arthur Ellis, the challenger, because of changing voter demographics in Charles County and a growing African-American population in his home county.
Middleton loses in the same year the General Assembly voted to rename the Nice bridge in his honor. Middleton was a long-time champion of securing funding to replace the bridge that connects his county to Virginia.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore and Senate president pro-tem, lost to Del. Cory McCray, 35 and a first-term Democrat. McCray wore out the shoe leather in a retail campaign pitting the progressive upstart against the establishment McFadden, 71 and a six-term incumbent.
It also appears that Baltimore Democratic Sen. Joan Carter Conway, 67 and a five-term incumbent and chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, has lost her re-election bid to Del. Mary Washington, 56 and a two-term delegate.
Washington ran on a progressive platform. Early Wednesday morning, with 92 percent of the vote counted, Washington had a more than 1,500-vote lead over the pugnacious Conway, who earlier this year vowed that if she won in 2018 it would be her last term.
Changes in the House
The House of Delegates was not immune to big primary night changes. The biggest of those was the loss of Del. Joseph Vallario, D-Prince George’s County.
Vallario, 81, has served in the House of Delegates since 1975 and as the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee for the last 25 years.
Also out are incumbent Montgomery Democratic Dels. Maricé Morales and Shane Robinson, and Prince George’s County Democratic Dels. Jimmy Tarlau and Carlo Sanchez.
“Thank you for the greatest honor of serving as member of the Maryland House of Delegates. I unfortunately did not win re-election,” Morales wrote in a post late Tuesday night on Facebook.
Baltimore County race up in the air
Still unresolved is the winner of the Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive.
By early Tuesday morning, Johnny Olszewski Jr., who ran as a progressive candidate, had a narrow lead of 345 votes over Sen. Jim Brochin and 1,018 votes over Councilwoman Vicki Almond.
Olszewski, a former state delegate who lost his 2014 bid to succeed Sen. Norman Stone in Dundalk, is seeking a political comeback of sorts.
Brochin, who had a late lead in a Baltimore Sun poll before the primary, told WBAL television that Olszewski may have benefited from what he said was a mudslinging campaign by Almond, which included what he said was a misrepresentation of his record with the NRA. He told the station that he was hoping absentee ballots returned before the campaign heated up.
Also being watched with great interest is voter turnout.
Democrats who were expecting a supercharged political atmosphere and a “blue wave” of voters animated by their dislike of Trump could be disappointed. Privately, some Democrats expressed concerns Tuesday that voter turnout was tracking with the 2014 primary in some places.
By mid-afternoon, voters and poll judges around the state were reporting light turnout. This follows a robust early-voting period in which more than 85,000 people chose to take advantage of opportunities to cast their ballots early.
Political scientists nationally have believed that increases in early voting totals don’t always mean an increase in overall turnout.
“I think that’s what we’re seeing in Maryland,” said Nikki Charlson, deputy state elections director. “We’re also seeing a shift from absentee ballot (requests) to early voting.”
For Eberly, Tuesday’s turnout could mean trouble for Maryland Democrats hopeful that a Trump referendum will swamp Hogan.
“I think it’s going to suck,” Eberly said, speaking of turnout. “It’s been 50 years since the Democrats have had a race with this many good candidates and so much interest over who the nominee is going to.”
But Eberly said the race lacks excitement, adding “the blue wave may have crashed into the Chesapeake and dissipated.”
“You can’t argue that there is a blue wave in Maryland when people aren’t chomping at the bit to vote in the primary,” said Eberly, adding that the lack of enthusiasm increases Hogan’s chances.
“If turnout is low, I think I’d be willing to consider writing off the Democrats in November,” said Eberly.