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Ben Jealous vs. Larry Hogan: The difference money makes

The number of Hogan campaign signs dwarfs that of his Democratic challenger, Ben Jealous, along a stretch of Adelphi Road near the University of Maryland in College Park. (Arelis R. Hernández/The Washington Post)

For every Ben Jealous campaign sign that commuters see on the busy stretch of roadway near the University of Maryland in College Park, there are a dozen others heralding Gov. Larry Hogan’s reelection bid.

The display along the grassy median reflects the large money disparity in Maryland’s hotly contested gubernatorial race, in which Jealous, a Democrat running for office for the first time, is trying to topple Hogan, a popular Republican incumbent.

Hogan has outraised Jealous more than 3 to 1, giving the governor a distinct upper hand not just along roadways, but in voters’ mailboxes and on their television screens.

With help from the Republican Governors Association — which has invested significantly more in the race than the Democratic Governors Association — Hogan has been able to tout his record and define Jealous as “extreme,” with minimal response from Democrats.

Jealous, a former NAACP president who spent the last few years at a socially conscious venture capital firm, has struggled to introduce himself and his agenda to voters.

“There isn’t necessarily a correlation between how much you spend and how much you win, or if you win, but in this case, it’s such an imbalance that that might apply,” said Melissa Deckman, a political science professor at Washington College on the Eastern Shore.

Hogan has raised $19.2 million this cycle, nearly $5 million of it in the last four months. According to the most recent campaign finance report, he had $3.3 million cash on hand in late October — 12 times more than Jealous.

Jealous spent nearly all he had taken in the run-up to the competitive Democratic primary in June. Since then, he raised $2.9 million; he ended October with $275,000 to spend.

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Hogan could commission hundreds of thousands of dollars in polls, buy billboards on the Eastern Shore and in Baltimore City, purchase technology to get out the vote and buy ads in the voter-rich D.C. media market. Jealous, who trailed Hogan by double digits in polls this fall, did not have the same options.

“Those are the choices when you have to run a lean campaign: Do you fund an organizer who can knock on doors? Or do we invest that money in signs?” said Kevin Harris, a senior Jealous campaign adviser. “Most times you go with the organizer.”

Neither campaign would discuss its spending strategy in detail. But it was clear the money advantage has helped Hogan push his platform of tax cuts, business development and compromise with the Democratic-controlled legislature, while Jealous had fewer options to promote his proposals, including universal health care, big boosts in education spending and a $15 minimum wage.

The RGA helped Hogan frame the debate, with a slew of television ads since early July that define Jealous as a “socialist” and a tax-and-spend Democrat. The onslaught left Hogan’s campaign free to focus on positive messaging.

Between late August and late October, the governor’s campaign spent more than $6.3 million on paid media, records show, rolling out more than a half-dozen ads targeting different demographics — African Americans in Baltimore and white women in Montgomery County among them.

“They’re really good ads,” said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College. “It’s targeted in really specific ways, and that’s what money buys.”

The RGA plans to spend $4 million on the Maryland race, less than it has pumped into competitive gubernatorial races in Florida ($10 million) and Georgia ($5 million).

The DGA, which is spending $8.5 million in Florida and $4 million in Georgia, has invested less than $250,000 in Maryland.

Voters say they have noticed the difference.

“I didn’t get a lot of information from Jealous,” said Douglas Klayman, 54, a Democrat-leaning independent from Potomac who cast a ballot for Hogan in early voting on Tuesday and said he would have supported the governor even if he had heard more from his challenger.

Marlene Zendell, a Democrat from Ellicott City, said she felt “ignored” by the Jealous campaign. “I have not received one letter or one phone call from his organization,” she said. “There are signs for Hogan everywhere in Howard County, and not one for Ben Jealous.”

Zendell, a lifelong Democrat, said she voted for Jealous by default, and to express her feeling about the current occupant of the White House. “I voted for him because I am a Democrat, and I hate Trump,” she said.

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Jonathan Newton, 46, an independent from Prince George’s County, said he received one mailer from the Jealous campaign and did most of his research online before deciding to vote for the Democrat. Jealous “represents the progressive values that I want for our state,” he said.

Being behind in the money game does not necessarily assure defeat — as Hogan’s upset win in 2014 attests.

The state Democratic Party and Democratic nominee Anthony G. Brown, then the lieutenant governor, spent roughly three times more that cycle than Hogan and the state GOP, with the Republican campaign relying mostly on public financing.

While more support from the state Democratic establishment this cycle would have helped, Harris said, it most likely would not have leveled the playing field. Hogan raised more money (nearly $2 million) at a single 2016 fundraising gala than Jealous raised between August and October.

And while Jealous, the DGA and a pro-Jealous super PAC have spent $3.3 million on ads, Hogan’s campaign alone has spent $7.9 million on paid media this year.

“With more resources, you can target more people and hit more people more times,” Harris said.

He said part of the campaign’s strategy is to target “sporadic” Democratic voters, those who sat out the 2014 election.

The campaign is working closely with the state party on voter turnout and strategy, giving $616,500 that helped the state party hire 50 organizers and open 26 offices statewide.

A $1 million ad from the pro-Jealous super PAC Maryland Together We Rise launched in the D.C. media market at the end of October and will run through Tuesday.

The super PAC is funded by wealthy out-of-state donors, including Freada Klein Kapor and Mitchell D. Kapor, close friends of Jealous from California who gave $450,000; major labor unions, including Service Employees International, which donated $200,000; and the Black Economic Alliance, a new political group focused on boosting the economic fortunes of African Americans, which gave $350,000.

Hogan’s $19 million haul since 2015 is one of the biggest totals amassed by a Maryland gubernatorial candidate. Brown and the Democratic Party, for example, spent a total of about $18 million in 2014 — including money that went into a competitive three-way primary race.

The cash imbalance was reflected in the final push for voters this weekend.

Hogan planned an elaborate party expected to bring several hundred supporters to a “victory rally” on Kent Island.

The Jealous campaign was relying on his celebrity friend and supporter, comedian Dave Chappelle, to help draw crowds to a parade and rally in Baltimore.

Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report.