Rascovar: Get ready for Maryland’s Democratic circus in race for governor

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The Maryland seal in the carpet of the Governor's Reception Room at the State House. Len Lazarick photo

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

If the election for Maryland governor were held tomorrow, Alec Ross would win: He’s the only one who officially has announced his candidacy.

Alec who?

Get ready for a circus of a gubernatorial campaign among Democrats. Ross is just the first of what could be a carload of clowns pouring out of a small VW Bug with the bumper sticker: “Dump Hogan.”

Good luck on that one.

Ross’ slick, four-minute video introducing himself is instructive.

He lays out the “poor boy makes good through education” saga. The opening line of the video: “Growing up in coal country taught Alex Ross about hard work.”

He stresses his days teaching sixth-graders at an inner-city Baltimore school. He preaches the need for bold thinking and innovation in education.

Overriding theme

More than anything, he hammers at Gov. Larry Hogan “for allowing Donald Trump to bring his agenda to Maryland.”

That’s THE theme of the upcoming Democratic primary campaign. Every gubernatorial candidate will be shouting it from the hilltops.

Ross zeroes in on Hogan joining Trump’s controversial education secretary, Betsy DeVos, in a much-publicized photo-op session in a Montgomery County classroom. DeVos would love to see mass privatization of public schools – a radical but necessary solution in her eyes.

Ross attacks the education problem from the Democratic far-left rather than the Republican far-right. He’d use technology and a massive boost in schooling that prepares students for 21st century jobs. He wants to employ innovation to bolster public schools, not obliterate them.

He goes on to attack Hogan for “not standing up to Trumpism,” for failing to oppose Trump’s budget plan that would wipe out Chesapeake Bay cleanup funds.

It’s the first direct shot across Hogan’s bow in the governor’s race – but it will sound all too familiar by the June 28, 2018 primary.

Ross was a Hillary Clinton adviser on technology in the Obama administration. Innovation and looking at problem-solving differently is his thing.

But will that be enough to win an election?

Resume gap 

Ross, like many of the likely candidates, is a new face to most Marylanders. He has never been elected to political office for dog catcher or anything else. He’s taught in a classroom, written a book, held a federal job as an adviser but never been in the thick of local or state politics.

He’s lacking a key element on his resume.

That’s also the case for Jim Shea, a highly regarded Baltimore attorney who ran Maryland’s largest law firm for 22 years. Shea devoted considerable time serving on civic boards and public service commissions. His slogan: “A Fighting Voice for Maryland.”

No elected office appears on Shea’s resume.

His theme is similar to Ross’.

On his website Shea says, “Maryland and our country are under daily attack by Donald Trump, a man who cares only about himself and who is hostile to our American way of life. Meanwhile, our governor sits silently, watching from the sidelines, even as the progress we have made in Maryland is threatened on a daily basis.”

This is why Shea is “laying the groundwork” to run for governor. “There is simply too much at stake.”

Funny but that’s what all the governor wannabes are saying.

Making the rounds

Both Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Prince George’s County Executive Rusher Baker have been making the political and publicity rounds for months laying their own groundwork for a gubernatorial run focusing on the Trump threat and Hogan’s “go along to get along” attitude.

Kamenetz and Baker, though, have limited appeal and are widely unknown outside their home areas.

Baker has an added problem: Another African-American, former NAACP president Ben Jealous, is talking about a run for governor. That could split this large, influential Democratic primary vote.

Jealous wants to be the far-left Bernie Sanders clone in Maryland, preaching a social agenda of drastic change. That may have limited appeal in a state where Sanders lost by nearly 30% to the more moderate Clinton in Maryland’s presidential primary.

Meanwhile, three-term Rep. John Delaney is looking at a run for Government House. He’s much more in the moderate, “blue dog Democrat” camp, touting his own innovative plan for a massive re-building of America’s infrastructure and sharply taking Trump to task for his radical proposals.

Delaney, too, is little known outside his sprawling Western Maryland/Montgomery County congressional district.

One advantage: He made a fortune (estimated net worth: $180 million) by establishing two New York Stock Exchange companies that helped small and mid-sized businesses obtain loans. He could self-finance a very expensive campaign (think former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) to make himself and his ideas a household word.

Montgomery candidates

Name recognition would not be Doug Gansler’s problem – a two-term state attorney general and a two-term state’s attorney in populous Montgomery County.

Gansler, though, is remembered for a disjointed and sometimes comical race for governor in 2014 when he received only 24% of the Democratic primary vote.

He’s now got the advantage of being an outsider (working for a Washington, D.C. law firm) and he has a statewide network of contacts and voters who supported him in the past. He and Delaney, however, might split the key Montgomery County vote.

Gansler’s plight could become even more perilous if another Montgomery politician jumps into the race – state Sen. Rich Madaleno, a vocal foe of Hogan’s legislative policies.

Madaleno would capture much of the state’s gay vote (as Del. Heather Mizeur did in the 2014 primary with 22%) and would be a popular choice in his home district. His leadership role in Annapolis on budget issues isn’t well known and could relegate Madaleno to a back seat in a statewide race.

There’s also a chance still another Montgomery County politician could be pushed into the governor’s race – Attorney General Brian Frosh.

He’s been a popular AG and has not hesitated to criticize Trump. Frosh is positioned to grab tons of headlines in the next year, thanks to legislation passed over the governor’s veto giving Frosh full power to file suit against Trump actions if he deems it appropriate.

He’s a quiet, often cautious, liberal Democrat who could be viewed as a bridge-building unifier within the party.

All of these contenders will be singing from the same “Dump Trump/Hogan” hymnal. How Democrats figure out which one is best qualified to take on a hugely popular, moderate Republican governor is the big question.

Or will the Democratic primary be a destructive civil war in which the party’s far-left, “progressive” wing turns the election into a Pyrrhic victory for the winner, with little or no chance against Hogan in November?

Barry Rascovar’s blog is politicalmaryland.com. He can be contacted at brascovar@hotmail.com. 

  • Peter Samuel

    The Dem clowns are all expected to pile out of the bus screaming “Kill roads, Kill roads.”

  • samac

    Only in MD can a former politician working for a Washington DC law-firm plausibly present himself as an “outsider”.