The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With Md. primary weeks away, 7 Democratic candidates have at least $1M

Races begins to make a strong pivot to TV advertising

From right, Rushern Baker, Wes Moore, Doug Gansler and Jon Baron stand at their podiums just before a debate of eight candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor on June 6 in Owings Mills, Md. (Brian Witte/AP)

With weeks left until the primary, Democrats in a crowded race for governor are about to unleash their war chests to vie for the attention of voters who have yet to tune in.

Six candidates have the resources to mount significant television ad campaigns before the July 19 contest, according to campaign finance reports released this week.

“There will be an absolute blitz,” Roger Hartley, dean of public affairs at the University of Baltimore, predicted of the TV advertising in coming weeks. “The funding is extremely important to reach their base of voters, reaching those committed to them or leaning their way. … And they need to reach the undecideds and move them in their direction.”

As the race heats up and makes a strong pivot to TV advertising, campaign finance reports show author and former nonprofit chief Wes Moore with the biggest haul in recent months.

Moore has raised over $2.5 million since mid-January, the last filing deadline, and has $2.1 million in his campaign coffer. Moore can also benefit from Opportunity Maryland, a political action committee that has $618,000 available to spend, though like all independent expenditure committees, it cannot coordinate directly with the Moore campaign.

Moore’s tally doesn’t include the money that his campaign took in Tuesday night at a virtual fundraiser with Oprah Winfrey, who spent an hour on a Zoom call with about 250 supporters who paid between $100 and $6,000 to attend.

Behind Moore is state comptroller Peter Franchot, who has $1.6 million on hand.

All together, the field of 10 Democrats has $8.5 million to sway voters, and they’re still cobbling together more cash as they fight for an electorate that candidates — and their internal polls — say has largely not been paying attention.

Franchot is followed by Jon Baron, who reported having $1.6 million, and former U.S. labor secretary Tom Perez, with nearly $1.4 million.

Baron, a former vice president of a policy analysis firm and one of the lesser-known candidates in the field, is self-financing his first bid for office. He loaned his campaign $1.7 million in early January.

Perez can also benefit from spending by Maryland Opportunity, a super PAC largely funded by unions that endorsed him. It has a TV ad promoting him in the Baltimore market.

In the final stretch, candidates in the crowded field are jockeying to differentiate themselves and explain to voters, particularly the undecided or unenthused, why they should cast their ballots for them. The money race defines who has the resources to make their messages break through.

Baron and former attorney general Doug Gansler each aired their first campaign ad this week. Gansler has just over $1 million to spend, $800,000 of which he personally loaned to his campaign two months ago. In Gansler’s ad, he asks voters to imagine getting carjacked and suggests that he’s the tough-on-crime candidate who can turn around rising violence statistics. Baron’s ad introduces him to voters and pokes at the Democratic establishment, saying the state hasn’t moved forward and that he’ll bring new solutions.

Perez also put out an ad this week, transitioning from a biographical pitch to telling voters he’s from the “GSD” or “get stuff done” wing of the party.

Former U.S. education secretary John B. King Jr. has $827,700 to spend. An independent expenditure, PAC for the People, has $236,500 to use on his behalf.

Ashwani Jain and Jerome Segal have $20,000 and $8,000, respectively. Former Prince George’s county executive Rushern L. Baker III, who suspended his campaign last week, had under $12,000 cash on hand with a request for nearly $62,000 from public financing.

Justin Schall, a Democratic strategist who managed Anthony G. Brown’s 27-point gubernatorial primary victory in 2014, said any candidate with about $1 million has the resources to try to reach voters in the coming weeks, but most will have to decide between aggressive mail campaigns to likely voters or a strong television presence.

“With a million dollars, you really can’t do both,” he said. “Those candidates with less money have to make these really hard decisions, where there’s no clear right answer.”

The two candidates with the most money have also already spent a fair amount contacting voters and appear to have enough to both launch a mail campaign and blanket airwaves enough to make a difference to voters.

“While they have a choice of 10 people, they’re probably only going to hear and about remember two — Franchot and Moore,” Schall said.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, former Maryland commerce secretary Kelly Schulz is outpacing her competitors with $784,900 on hand. Schulz has more than twice as much as disbarred attorney Robin Ficker, who has an outstanding loan of about $1.2 million owed to his campaign, and five times the resources of Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick), who is endorsed by former president Donald Trump and has $188,000 to spend.

The war chest of Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore) tops Bowie Mayor Tim Adams in the race for state comptroller. Lierman has $1.5 million on hand, outpacing Adams, who has $966,000 headed into the final weeks of the campaign. Adams, who loaned his campaign $2 million when he initially launched, raised less than $10,000 this cycle.

In the race for attorney general, Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) has $1.2 million, about $400,000 more than former judge and former first lady Katie O’Malley, who reported a balance of nearly $839,000.