Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose 2016 presidential campaign helped spark a national wave of progressive populism, came to the Washington suburbs on Thursday to endorse civil rights leader Benjamin Jealous for Maryland governor.
With President Trump in the White House, “we need more than ever, at the statewide level, a very different kind of leadership,” Sanders (I-Vt.) told a cheering crowd of several hundred. “And what Ben Jealous is about, he has a radical idea that maybe, just maybe, government should represent all of the people and not just the one percent.”
Jealous, the former head of the NAACP and Maryland chair of Sanders’s campaign, is one of several Democrats vying for the nomination to challenge popular incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R). State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, technology entrepreneur Alec Ross and attorney James Shea are running; Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, U.S. Rep. John Delaney and former state attorney general Doug Gansler are weighing bids.
The race is likely to reflect many of the Democratic-party fissures that were on display in 2016, with progressive voters splitting from establishment Democrats over the direction of the party. And it will offer a window into the strength of the anti-Trump backlash among independent and Democratic voters, with Democrats hoping to grab the governor’s mansion back from a moderate Republican who for the most part has kept his distance from the 45th president.
With just under a year until the primary, Jealous has so far drawn the most national attention. He was endorsed by Democracy for America even before he announced he was running. On Thursday, he won the backing of Our Revolution — the progressive group Sanders formed after his presidential run — and the Maryland branch of the American Postal Workers Union.
Sanders told his audience that Jealous’s campaign was essentially an extension of his own. He said the candidate — who supports a $15 minimum wage, free tuition at some public colleges and a state-run, single-payer health-care system — understands the pain felt by single mothers who have trouble paying child care, or minimum-wage workers who spend 50 percent of their income on housing.
“He knows that when we stand together, we can do enormous things,” Sanders said.
It remains unclear how much weight Sanders carries among Maryland Democrats, who backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary by a strong margin. The candidate Our Revolution endorsed in the recent Virginia gubernatorial primary, former congressman Tom Perriello, lost that race by a wide margin. But many in the crowd Thursday morning were clearly drawn by the senator’s presence.
“It was for Bernie,” Kensington resident Irene Kelly, 67, said of her presence at the rally. She said she didn’t know anything about Jealous, who is making his first run for public office, and spent part of the time before the event reading his Wikipedia page.
Chris Bonilla, an 18-year-old from Glenmont, said he is “intrigued” by the progressive movement and came to the event because of Sanders. Bonilla walked away impressed by Jealous, however, and said he had texted his cellphone number to the campaign.
Danielle Greene, a retired librarian from Falls Church, Va., said she made the hour-long drive to Silver Spring for a chance to hear Sanders in person. She left ready to contribute to Jealous’s campaign.
On Wednesday evening, Jealous, Madaleno, Baker and Kamenetz participated in a candidate forum in Silver Spring organized by Maryland Working Families and SEIU. Ross, Shea and Gansler were not invited.
Delaney and Hogan were invited but did not attend.
The groups said they sought the participation of candidates they believe have statewide name recognition and a strong base of support, and have shown a clear indication they are likely to run.
Ross and Shea, who like Jealous are first-time candidates, took issue to being excluded from the forum, which was closed to reporters.
“The people should be allowed to decide this election, which is why it’s so disappointing that great national organizations, with proven progressive credentials, would deny their members the right to hear from all of the candidates a year before the primary,” Shea said.
Daniel Ensign, a spokesman for the Ross campaign, said the election “should be about putting forward new ideas, meeting voters, and bringing new people into the process.”