CRISFIELD — Like salmon swimming upstream to spawn and swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, July in Maryland for some means the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake, a migration to a far-flung edge of the map for what some call the “midsummer classic” of state politics.
“It’s peak Maryland,” says Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College and director of that institution’s state politics poll. “For somebody who is really into Maryland politics it’s just great to see all the campaigns here and all the politicking.”
It was Kromer’s first time at the event, now in its 42nd year and typically held, as tradition holds, on what often feels like the hottest day of the year. Kromer and others were sparred the blistering heat and humidity, however. And while some cracked crustaceans and snacked on hush puppies, onion rings and ears of corn, politics was also on the menu for those interested in such things.
“There’s a great crowd and a nice energy,” says Gov. Larry Hogan, who is running for a second term. “I’m not sure too many people here want a change in direction.”
Tawes, as it is known, began as a fundraiser for its namesake, a Crisfield Democrat who served as governor from 1959 to 1967. The event later became a fundraiser for the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce and has earned a reputation as being a must-attend in campaign years for candidates from all corners of the state.
About 4,000 people paid between $45 and $60 to dine on crabs and clams and fries and corn and perhaps catch sight of local and statewide candidates and elected and former elected officials of all political stripes.
If Tawes is the center of the Maryland political universe on one day, then tent of Bruce Bereano, the Annapolis power lobbyist, is the center of the event. Bereano estimates about 1,200 people — Democrats and Republicans — will find their way to his tent and be issued a red plastic wrist tag that is required for food service. But despite the bipartisan representation, make no mistake about it: Bereano is for Hogan. Large signs in support of Hogan hang outside and inside the tent, and Bereano large bibs emblazoned with “Governor Hogan for Governor” for which the lobbyist paid.
Hogan has been one of the more-popular attendees the last four years, and the short walk from the Tawes entrance to Bereano’s tent is slowed to a crawl as reporters compete for time and attendees ask for selfies.
Hogan also had time for politics, including a swipe at a single-payer health care plan that a legislative report priced at $24 billion — more than doubling the current state general fund budget. It’s a plan similar to one favored by Ben Jealous, Hogan’s Democratic opponent in November. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, it’s not magic,” said Hogan, adding that such a plan would result in thousands in new taxes for each person in Maryland.
The claims are similar to ads being run by the Republican Governors’ Association that brand Jealous as too expensive for Marylanders.
“When politicians get scared they revert to this type of advertising,” Jealous said just inside the gates of Somers Cove Marina. “It makes voters depressed. It’s not what we need. It’s the worst type of ugly partisanship.”
Jealous arrived to his first Tawes event midway through, after a morning campaign stop in Hyattsville and as most Democratic members of the House of Delegates were hustling back to Annapolis to attend an afternoon caucus meeting.
Jealous, wearing a Baltimore Ravens cap and Under Armour t-shirt — he’s been accused of not being from Maryland — had a smaller entourage moved around more easily than Hogan. He did not enter Bereano’s circus-sized tent, instead greeting diners who sat near the edges as he walked by.
The Democratic nominee promised a campaign of ideas and contrasts to Hogan, including tuition-free college and single-payer health care.
“I just came through a hotly contested primary and he had the benefit of not having an opponent,” Jealous said of Hogan. “Now he has a real opponent and we will see what we saw (in the primary). I’ll start behind, I’ll catch up and I will win.”