Across Maryland Saturday, the crowded field of Democrats vying to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan campaigned for votes, aware that just over two weeks remain before the June 26 primary.
Former NAACP chief executive Ben Jealous appeared at Morgan State University with comedian Dave Chappelle. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who along with Jealous was atop the Democratic field in a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released Tuesday, stumped with local politicians in the key battleground of Baltimore County.
In Annapolis, Hogan gathered his own faithful, kicking off his bid for a second term at a restaurant packed with hundreds of supporters, and dismissing his would-be opponents as just so many liberal politicians.
“I don’t know much about these nine candidates running for governor,” Hogan said. “But I do know one thing — and that is that every single one of them wants to take us in a completely different direction ...
“Do we want to take Maryland backward and return to the failed policies of the past?”
To hear Baker tell it, Hogan is the one making decisions that are bad for the state. A former state delegate and two-term county executive, he wants to boost funding for public education, institute a $15 minimum wage, revive the Red Line light rail project in Baltimore that Hogan suspended and expand recycling and environmental programs across the state.
On Saturday, he took the stage at Baltimore County’s Security Square Mall with Baltimore Council member Tom Quirk, state Sen. Shirley Nathan Pulliam and other elected Democrats and asked people to support him as they prepare to head to the polls.
“If you help us push for these next 17 days, we’re going to make a better Maryland, we’re going to win this governorship and we are going to change things for good,” Baker said.
Quirk had been a supporter of gubernatorial candidate Kevin Kamenetz, the Baltimore county executive who died unexpectedly May 10.
Now he is backing Baker, who has the support of much of the state’s Democratic establishment, but according to The Post-U-Md. poll is little-known outside the Washington suburbs.
“I think he’s the one Baltimore County will go for,” Quirk said Saturday. “I think he’s the winner, and we are going to work hard to make sure that happens.”
Pulliam (D-Baltimore County) has known Baker since their days in the state legislature but had a hard time deciding whether to back him or state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), the only current state lawmaker in the race.
“I look at [Baker’s] history and his experience in the executive branch of the local government and I decided that’s who I wanted,” Pulliam said. “We’ll be carrying him on Election Day.”
Baker, who has struggled with fundraising, said he believes his campaign is picking up momentum. “We are raising more money in the last week than we ever have,” he said. “It’s coming late, but it’s coming in time enough for us to get the message out there.”
At Morgan State, 34-year-old Akil Patterson sprang to the front of the auditorium with a bullhorn in his hand.
“I believe that we will win,” he shouted as a diverse crowd of about 175 people waited for Jealous and Chappelle to arrive.
“I believe that we will win,” the black, white, young and older voters repeated.
The event showed a different side of Jealous, who often spends time at events talking about his work at the NAACP and the “big things” he wants to do in education, criminal justice and health care in Maryland.
Jealous said Chappelle — whose father is Jealous’s godfather — is the person who convinced him that states should legalize adult recreational use of marijuana, which he describes as an issue of inequity. Jealous says legalization would end the scourge of violence in Baltimore and generate tax revenue to help pay for universal prekindergarten.
Poking fun at Chappelle’s use of the drug and his own biracial background, Jealous told the Morgan State crowd a story from the 1990s. Chappelle had flown to Mississippi to do a show, he said, and Jealous had just been released from police custody in the state after being arrested in a political demonstration. Jealous picked Chappelle up at the airport. They were soon pulled over by police.
“I was a little nervous. I just got out jail, my god brother has pot in his duffel,” Jealous said, before explaining that the police officers eventually recognized Chappelle and let them go. “We’re two black guys in Mississippi. I don’t know maybe they thought I was Puerto Rican.”
Jealous and Chappelle held a similar rally in Prince George’s County on Friday afternoon. At both, some said they came to see Chappelle, but left committed to Jealous.
“You guys got a wonderful opportunity in this guy,” Chappelle told the crowd Saturday. “I hate politics and what’s happening in our culture . . . This is an opportunity to reinvest and right our ship.”
Outside Hogan’s kickoff event, about a dozen Democrats, including Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews and Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller, staged a small protest.
Weller, who held a “Hogan shortchanges students” sign, said “morale is low” in schools because the governor “has not listened to teachers or parents.”
Inside, however, Hogan, who is unopposed in the primary, told the boisterous audience that education “has been a priority since day one.”
His supporters — many of whom came with their families — drank beer and ate bar snacks in the large Union Jack’s pub, where pool tables were re-purposed to hold cheese plates. British flags were painted on the walls, and American country music was blasting. In a white tent outside, volunteers handed out campaign signs and stickers to attendees.
Several in the crowd said they appreciated Hogan’s moderate approach and his avoidance of controversial social issues, as well as his willingness to disagree with President Trump, who is deeply unpopular in Maryland.
“Hogan has been very smart about distancing himself from some of the more extreme rhetoric,” said Cameron Pritchett, 24.
Democrat Jeff Taylor, a police officer and former Marine from Baltimore, said he considered voting for Hogan’s Democratic opponent in 2014 but is glad he voted for the Republican.
“I’ve met him twice, and he’s a down to earth person,” said Taylor, 42. He credited the governor with making the health of the Chesapeake Bay a priority: “I’ve been out there fishing, and you can already tell the difference.”