By Len Lazarick

The crowded and competitive race for the Democratic nomination to unseat Republican Gov. Larry Hogan was on full display Tuesday night in Columbia as five candidates for governor and four for lieutenant governor wooed and wowed an overflow crowd of about 160.

“Any one of them would be better than the person we have now” as governor, said Rushern Baker, the Prince George’s County executive who has a slight edge in favorability over the others in recent polling.

“I don’t know if [Larry Hogan] is a good guy,” Baker told the crowd at the monthly meeting of the Ellicott City and Western Howard Democrats. But Baker does know that he’s “underfunded our school system,” which has slipped in national ratings, and he’s favored highways over mass transit. Both complaints against Hogan were raised by other candidates as well, despite Hogan’s persistent touting of “record funding” for education and building of the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.

Susan Turnbull, running mate for lieutenant governor with former NAACP president Ben Jealous, who was out of state, emphasized her own leadership roles in the Democratic Party as its state chair and long service on the Democratic National Committee,

Kevin Kamenetz, the Baltimore County executive, emphasized his own background and record, saying that “graduation rates have been going up every year” in his county, with no disparity between the races in those graduation rates. He pounded Hogan for canceling the proposed Red Line light rail project that would have run from Woodlawn to East Baltimore.

Sen. Rich Madaleno, vice chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee in Annapolis, emphasized the “real in depth experience of the government we’re trying to lead” with his running mate Luwanda Jenkins who has served in executive positions in state government under Democratic governors. He promised to fully implement the recommendations of the Kirwan education commission on which he serves.

Madaleno urged his audience to defeat Hogan and Republican Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, and restore “a strong Democratic government.”

Alec Ross, a technology advisor in the Obama administration, pushed his campaign theme that “talent exists in every ZIP code in Maryland, but opportunity does not.”

“The job of governor is not an entry level job,” said Ross, who like half the candidates has had no service in state government. “You need someone with executive experience.”

Brandon Scott, a Baltimore City Council member who is running mate for attorney Jim Shea, said, “We created Larry Hogan,” as the Democratic Party “allowed our message to get fractured…. We’re not reaching the people we used to reach.”

“Jim is the Larry Hogan who can reach moderate Democrats.”

Krish Vignarajah, a former aide to Michelle Obama and the head of an all-woman ticket, said, “I’m not just Donald Trump’s worst nightmare. I am Larry Hogan’s worst nightmare.”

But “we can’t just be anti-Trump and anti-Hogan. We need to give people a reason to vote” for us.

Most of the candidates also need to break out of the crowd, with all but Baker, Kamenetz and Jealous unrecognized by more than three-quarters of Democratic voters, according to a Mason-Dixon poll taken in late February.