FLINTSTONE, Md. — U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) won a gubernatorial straw poll held in the westernmost part of his Maryland district Saturday during an annual summit of the Democratic Party faithful.
Delaney captured 66 votes from the 188 summit attendees who cast ballots. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz made a strong second-place showing, with 41 votes in a region of the state where he is not well known. Benjamin Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, came in third place with 22 votes, outperforming five other potential gubernatorial hopefuls, including three politicians who have spent years in elected office.
The straw poll is statistically insignificant and took place more than a year ahead of the primary and far from the state’s Democratic strongholds in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs. Only one of the eight potential candidates on the ballot, tech entrepreneur Alec Ross, has officially declared he is running.
But the results can serve as an early indicator of enthusiasm for potential hopefuls vying for the Democratic nomination, and a measure of which of them so far has built an organization that could support an eventual campaign.
Democrats face a tough battle to wrest back the governor’s mansion from Republican Larry Hogan, who has enjoyed sky-high approval ratings in his first two years. They are hoping for a boost from Democratic voters who are energized in opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump.
The Democrats who spoke at the Rocky Gap resort Saturday offered a message of economic opportunity and tried to tie Hogan to the Trump administration.
Delaney roused the audience, saying Trump’s agenda will hurt Maryland more than any other state with cuts to the federal workforce, agency budgets and environmental programs.
“I’ve looked at the numbers. I’ve looked at the math,” he said, and proclaimed that Trump’s budget outline would be “an utter disaster for Maryland” if it was enacted. “And who has not said a word about it?”
The assembly of Democrats replied, “Larry Hogan.”
Delaney is popular in his district, which stretches from parts of Montgomery County north and west to the West Virginia and Pennsylvania borders. Many summit attendees wore Delaney stickers on their chests, pronouncing their support early.
Kamenetz courted votes early as well, calling summit participants before the event and securing a speaking slot.
“I’m worried about the direction the state is taking under Larry Hogan,” Kamenetz said in an interview. “We can run a fiscally responsible government and still achieve great things.”
Jealous, who considers himself an outsider and underdog in the race, arrived at Rocky Gap midway through lunch Saturday. He spoke individually with voters and made connections. He also was in Washington County two weeks ago to speak to a group of Democrats and, along with Delaney, will co-lead Hagerstown’s climate march Sunday.
Jealous said the odds of denying Hogan a second term are improving.
“I don’t look at the ‘would you have a beer with him?’ number,” he said. “I look at the ‘would you vote for him?’ number, and those numbers are looking like a double black diamond ski slope right now.”
Former state attorney general Douglas F. Gansler won 13 votes in the straw poll. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery) each garnered 12 votes.
Baltimore lawyer James L. Shea won 16 votes. Ross — who was not at the summit — did not get any votes. There were six write-in votes for candidates not on the ballot.
Whitney Duck of Frederick County said she was looking for a candidate who can move the state into the future economically, capture the enthusiasm of voters and offer a strong message.
“And it doesn’t have to be a man,” Duck said, who nevertheless was leaning toward voting for Delaney, her congressman, in the straw poll.
There were no women on the informal ballot.
For the first time since it began 12 years ago, the summit, which draws Democrats from the state’s westernmost counties of Allegany, Garrett, Carroll, Washington and some parts of Frederick, was sold out. More than 200 people attended the two-day event.
Organizers reported intense interest from young people and community members who had not engaged in politics before and are eager to participate at the local level.
“Marylanders are pissed,” said Delaney, who plans to announce whether he will run at the end of June. “I feel like it’s time for me to try to do something where I can make a bigger difference.”
More candidates could still emerge; the deadline for candidates to file for the June primary is in February.
“Considering the political landscape we are in, anything is possible,” said Nia Duggins, who has worked on several campaigns and is a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.). “What we now know is nothing is predictable anymore.”