By Brooks DuBose
Capital News Service
As expensive ads in favor of Republican incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan went out on Maryland television channels this month, his Democratic challenger, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, has yet to respond with his own TV spots.
Hogan has poured more than $1 million from his substantial campaign coffers into print, radio, television and online advertising since June, according to campaign finance documents.
Some ads — paid for by the Hogan campaign — have touted the governor’s record on the economy and education.
Others — paid for by the Republican Governors Association — have attacked Jealous, labeling him a socialist.
Jealous had less than $300,000 on hand as of Aug. 21, the most recent filing deadline, while Hogan had about $8 million in the bank, the documents show.
The Democrat’s campaign has spent north of $130,000 on ads since entering the Democratic primary race in September 2017, documents show, but in the months since winning the nomination in June, Jealous hadn’t spent any funds on television or radio ads by the Aug. 21 filing date, the documents show.
The Baltimore Sun reported in June that the Jealous campaign was planning a six-digit ad buy, but campaign documents from that month do not show any media purchases other than an ad in the Afro-American newspaper for $1,500 and $255 in Facebook ads.
Political analyst Todd Eberly, an assistant professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Jealous’s lack of response to Hogan’s media blitz is a matter of money.
“If you look at their cash-on-hand numbers, if (the Jealous campaign) had tried to respond in any meaningful way, it would have taken really every last little bit of money that they had,” Eberly said. “I think it was just a realization of the fact that we can’t respond to this at this point.”
The Republican Governors Association has thrown its financial might behind Hogan with August attack ads of their own, multiple news outlets reported.
The Democratic Governors Association said it would “be making investments in states across the country this fall” but would not share their specific plans for supporting Jealous, association Press Secretary Melissa Miller told Capital News Service in a statement.
“The RGA is forced to spend big to try to defend Hogan because they know his record is out of whack with the people of Maryland,” Miller said. “The DGA will continue to work to make him a one-term wonder.”
Jealous has allowed Hogan to define him as a candidate, Eberly added, something that is difficult to reverse if no response is made.
“As a challenger to a popular incumbent, you never want to have radio silence if that candidate is defining you to the public,” he said. “So, no, you don’t want to let the charges go unanswered. … This is sort of campaign basics here: You define your opponent before they have a chance to define themselves. That’s exactly what the Hogan campaign has done the last two months.”
Jealous campaign focused on ‘positive vision for the future’
Jealous Communications Director Jerusalem Demsas dismissed that notion. Jealous “doesn’t need to respond to ads that are blatantly untrue,” she said. “If Larry Hogan wants to continue running a negative campaign, that’s up to him, but the voters of Maryland are looking for someone who can actually give them a positive vision for the future.”
She continued: “Ben’s strategy in this campaign is to continue to speak to healthcare, education and the issues that speak to working people. … We’ll have an ad campaign in the coming weeks that will talk about his message more clearly, and in the same way as the primary, it will resonate with the electorate that is looking for someone who is actually going to solve their biggest problems.”
Another stark spending contrast: printing and mailing campaign materials to potential voters. Hogan had spent more than a half million dollars printing campaign materials like yard signs and stickers, and mailing campaign information. Jealous had not used any campaign cash on mailing and less than $10,000 on bumper stickers and other campaign materials, campaign documents show.
However, Jealous has not lagged behind on salaries, travel and other fees. Since Jan. 11, the Jealous campaign had spent more than $450,000 on salaries for campaign staff, travel and other fees as of Aug. 21. Hogan — who didn’t have a primary challenger — has spent about $370,000 over the same time period, according to campaign finance filings.
Recent Maryland election results have shown that spending the most money on a campaign does not necessarily ensure victory. In 2014, Hogan, a political newcomer, defeated his highly favored opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, despite being outspent 3 to 1. At the time, Brown maintained a 14-point advantage over Hogan, polls showed.
A Gonzales Research and Media Services poll from August showed Hogan with a 16-point advantage over Jealous, among likely voters.
“If I was the Jealous campaign I would absolutely be looking at what happened four years ago and basically arguing, ‘Look, all the money was with Anthony Brown. Everyone assumed Anthony Brown was going to win,’” Eberly said. “The Hogan folks were far outspent, he wasn’t known and he wound up scoring a political upset.”
The impact of campaign finance cannot be underestimated but there is a bigger question here. Why isn’t Ben Jealous able to attract campaign donations? Two/thirds of Maryland voters are Democrats so fundraising shouldn’t be a problem if Jealous were a viable candidate. He’s gotten some donations from out of state donors but isn’t making much traction with getting money from Maryland voters or even Democratic politicians (the latter having presumably a vested interest in regaining the governorship).
There are 2 likely answers to that question: (1) They don’t think he can win or (2) They don’t want him to win. Sky-high approval ratings support the first possible answer. As to the second answer, I believe that Democratic officials are scared to death of Jealous’s new age progressive-ism; it’s a major threat to their style of traditional liberalism. They are afraid that Jealous can’t be controlled. Four more years of Larry Hogan, a known quantity who has demonstrated his willingness to work with Democratic leadership. To many, he is the safer bet.