By Barry Rascovar
Given Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s widespread popularity, it is difficult to grasp why so many Democrats are jumping into the race for chief executive of Maryland.
In the past week, state Sen. Rich Madaleno of Montgomery County formally declared and in a totally unexpected move the wife of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maya Rockeymoore, said she wants to run in the gubernatorial primary, too.
That’s in addition to technology innovator Alec Ross, Baltimore lawyer Jim Shea, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, U.S. Rep. John Delaney, former NAACP President Ben Jealous and former Attorney General Doug Gansler.
Madaleno’s entrance into the populated race adds a solid policy wonk who is giving up a promising career in the Maryland Senate. He knows the issues cold and has worked in the legislative trenches for the past 15 years arguing for progressive legislation and often getting important bills enacted.
Rockeymoore’s curious comments came as a shock to the political system. She is a near-total unknown – except as the wife of a longtime Baltimore congressman.
She has no background in Maryland state or local government – she is a creature of Capitol Hill. She has no political base of her own and is a mystery figure to virtually every voter in the state.
‘Different kind of leader’
Rockeymoore, who operates her own consulting firm in Washington, says she wants to run for governor because she has “a bold vision,” though that’s what every other candidate is saying. She also asserts she will be a “different kind of leader,” though that’s what Ross, Jealous and Shea also maintain.
And she notes the lack of a woman in the Democratic primary race for governor, though all the other contenders are almost certain to have similar liberal views on issues affecting women’s rights.
Yet in such a large field, anything could happen.
Still, why bother?
The Republican governor has sky-high popularity numbers and he continues to outfox his Democratic critics. It will take a set of external forces centered around the rising unpopularity of President Trump to make Hogan’s chances of reelection shaky.
The June 26 Democratic primary – 11 months from now – looks like it will be so chock full of candidates that it may be impossible to predict the winner.
Baker, the leading African American candidate, could see that large segment of the Democratic vote split among himself, Jealous and Rockeymoore.
Kamenetz, hoping to become the Baltimore-area candidate, could see that strategy shattered by the candidacies of Shea, Ross and Elijah Cummings’ wife.
Madaleno’s hopes as a popular Montgomery County senator could receive a body blow from the candidacies of John Delaney and Doug Gansler, both from Madaleno’s home county.
Madaleno, Jealous, Rockeymoore and Ross are hoping to gain the lion’s share of this state’s progressive Democratic electorate, even though the far-left hero in last year’s Maryland presidential primary, Bernie Sanders (who recently endorsed Jealous), got just one-third of the party’s popular vote.
At this early stage, the top contenders appear to be Baker and Delaney.
Baker’s edge is his long political career in populous and heavily Democratic Prince George’s County. If he can hold that vote together, he will be a formidable presence in such a big field.
Delaney holds a number of high cards. He will do very well within his congressional district that includes most of Western Maryland and portions of Montgomery County. He is perhaps the only moderate-centrist in the race with a solid track record in Congress championing bi-partisan, pragmatic solutions to national problems.
Buying an election?
Delaney’s biggest advantage is the tens of millions of dollars of personal wealth he can throw into his campaign. The Potomac congressman may not be a household word in Maryland today, but by next June his ads could be flooding the airwaves, making the man and his positions crystal clear to every Democratic voter.
Will that be enough? We’ve never been in such a situation in the Free State and it is difficult to tell how voters will react to a super-rich, self-financed campaign for the state’s top elective post.
Delaney also can make the case he is the only Democrat positioned to match the governor’s enormous stash of campaign funds and then far surpass Hogan’s fund-raising abilities.
It is, indeed, an odd bunch of gubernatorial wannabes, some with zero elective experience, others with a wealth of government expertise, a millennial contender, three African Americans (one a woman), a gay candidate, and an establishment, big-city lawyer.
It is a giant puzzle that could get more complicated as the contenders choose a lieutenant governor running-mate. Plus, we haven’t even started the endless rounds of gubernatorial debates throughout the state.
So stay tuned as the political world turns in Maryland: 2018 could give voters a wild roller-coaster of a ride.