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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Jealous strategists buoyed by absentee ballot requests

Ben Jealous speaks next to running mate Susan Turnbull outside Eye Candy Opticianry on West 36th Street in Hampden. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Ben Jealous speaks next to running mate Susan Turnbull outside Eye Candy Opticianry on West 36th Street in Hampden in September. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Senior advisers to Maryland’s Democratic nominee for governor say a sharp increase in the number of absentee ballot requests is a harbinger of both a predicted “blue wave” and the defeat of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

The figures released by senior advisers to Ben Jealous show a sharp uptick in requested ballots, a positive development for a challenger who has trailed Hogan all summer, including in two major polls this week.

“I’m buoyed by these numbers in a very big way,” said Travis Tazelaar, campaign manager for the Jealous campaign.

Tazelaar repeated that Jealous’ goal is to push turnout in a year that many expect to favor Democrats across the country– hence the so-called “blue wave” prediction — and push the Maryland Democratic nominee above 1 million votes — a mark no Republican governor has surpassed.

“It’s numbers like these that confirm what we know,” Tazelaar said, referring to the increased absentee ballot requests.

So far, 70,374 absentee ballots have been sent to voters. Approximately 65 percent of those were mailed to Democrats. The overall total represents nearly a doubling of the ballots mailed out at the same time in 2014.

Jealous’ advisers say more than half the requests are from voters who did not vote four years ago, and 60 percent are requests from women.

John Willis, executive in residence at the University of Baltimore School of Public and International Affairs and a top political adviser to Democratic former Gov. Parris Glendening, said the increase is significant but not determinative.

“Everyone wants to know the results of the election before the election,” said Willis. “Let’s have an election.”

Democratic Party leaders called the bump “organic” and said it was not the result of  an extraordinary effort to drive up absentee requests.

“The absentee ballot applications and their organic energy really is a signal of what we’re seeing in our offices and what we’re seeing in communities across the state and every county,” said David Sloan, who is leading the Maryland Democratic Party’s campaign effort.

The Jealous campaign also gave reporters some insight into expectations that 54 percent of all registered Democrats in the state will come out for the general election. If that happens, they predict, that figure will translate into 57 percent of the total number of voters who cast a ballot.

“That’s a modest figure,” said Willis, adding that it’s something for the Jealous campaign to be excited about.

Jim Barnett, Hogan’s campaign manager, disagreed.

“That is not an unreasonable number,” said Jim Barnett, Hogan’s campaign manager. “It is also an admission that a blue wave of Democratic turnout, as they define it, cannot change the outcome of the race. In fact, they must attract much more actual support from voters than they are currently getting, and they have shown zero ability to do that. In fact, all the recent public polls show they are headed in the wrong direction.”

As the campaign for governor heads into the final two weeks before early voting, Jealous continues to find himself trailing Hogan significantly in the polls — including an internal survey released by his own campaign in July — and campaign fundraising.

“Given that there is a 2-to-1 voter registration for Democrats in Maryland, perhaps this is an optimistic take from the Jealous campaign on the surge of absentee ballots,” said Melissa Deckman, a political science professor at Washington College. “That might make more sense if recent polls didn’t show that large numbers of Democrats plan to vote for Hogan.”

This week, the Washington Post and Annapolis-based Gonzales Marketing and Media Research released polls on Tuesday and Wednesday showing Jealous trailing Hogan by 20 and 18 points, respectively.

Those polls similarly show that Hogan is doing well in most areas of the state and continues to hold the support of the so-called “Hogan coalition” that includes his Republican base along with moderate independents and more than a third of likely Democratic voters.

Barnett, Hogan’s campaign manager, said the absentee requests are inflated by a provision that allowed voters to simultaneously request an absentee ballot for both the primary and general elections. Additionally, Barnett noted that about 58 percent of the general election absentees  returned so far are Democratic — a figure lower than the 75 percent at the same time in 2014.
Barnett said the campaign’s internal modeling shows as many as two-thirds of those requesting ballots are likely Hogan voters.

“This gets to the fundamental problem with Ben Jealous’ pie-in-the-sky turnout scenario,” said Barnett. “It doesn’t matter if there is a ‘blue wave’ of turnout because so many Democrats are choosing Gov. Hogan and his bipartisan approach over Ben Jealous and his extreme and irresponsible ideas.”

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