The potential for a new gubernatorial candidate in Maryland’s Democratic primary is adding another wrinkle of uncertainty to the crowded competition to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
The unexpected death last week of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has created an opportunity for his running mate, Valerie Ervin, to join a field in which six candidates are already running.
Ervin, who was the first black woman elected to the Montgomery County Council, has until Thursday to decide whether to dissolve the campaign, choose a new candidate for governor or run for the position herself.
On Monday, Donna F. Edwards, a former Democratic Maryland congresswoman who is an Ervin confidante, used Twitter to promote her friend’s potential candidacy, writing that she “should pick up where [Kamenetz] left off.”
“There’s no one better to carry on Kevin’s legacy,” tweeted Edwards, who is running for county executive in Prince George’s County. “It’s her time to lead Maryland and I am all in, if she is all in.”
Ervin, who met with Edwards on Friday after Kamenetz’s funeral, has not indicated whether she would place herself at the top of the ticket. A Democratic Party official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid, said Ervin is devoting serious thought to running.
Kamenetz’s family was sitting shiva, the Jewish mourning ritual, through Monday, according to Kamenetz spokesman Sean Naron. Ervin and Jill Kamenetz, the late executive’s widow, were planning to have a conversation at some point, Naron said, though he was unaware of the specific timing or purpose.
Ervin made a brief run for Congress in Maryland’s 8th District in 2015 but dropped out after struggling to raise money. A former labor organizer who has worked at the Center for Working Families and for the Working Families Party, she began her career in elected office on the Montgomery County Board of Education.
She would be the third African American candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, along with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and former NAACP chief Ben Jealous.
Her progressive credentials could draw votes from Jealous, who has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and several state and national progressive groups. And her roots in Montgomery County could help her compete with state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., whose legislative district is in the county.
Ervin could also draw female voters from former Michelle Obama policy adviser Krishanti Vignarajah, currently the only female gubernatorial candidate in a state in which women hold no statewide offices and the congressional delegation includes no women.
But with just six weeks until the primary, an Ervin candidacy would likely have minimal impact because she is not well known to the statewide electorate, some analysts said.
“The field is so crowded already, and there is no heir apparent. Her entering the race would not really alter it that much,” said Melissa Deckman, a Washington College political science professor. “We’re almost into June, and she doesn’t have a lot of time to introduce herself to voters.”
The field also includes Alec Ross, a Baltimore-based tech entrepreneur who worked in the Obama administration, and Jim Shea, a Baltimore attorney and former head of the University of Maryland Board of Regents.
A key question is to what extent Ervin, if she ran, would be entitled to the money that was in Kamenetz’s personal campaign account. He had amassed $2 million as of January, according to his campaign finance reports. Before his death, Kamenetz bought television advertisements to run in the Baltimore and Washington markets during the last two weeks before the June 26 primary.
As of mid-April, Ervin had $50,000 in her campaign account, and the slate she and Kamenetz formed had $1,000.
Board of Elections officials said last week they were uncertain what would happen to Kamenetz’s campaign account.
Kamenetz, whose political base centered around Baltimore County, chose Ervin to help him balance his ticket and build support in the Washington suburbs, where he was largely unknown.
Analysts said it is not yet clear whether his supporters would back other candidates or sit out the primary. Democrats in Baltimore County tend to be more moderate than their counterparts elsewhere in the state.
“Ervin does not just get Baltimore County voters because she was with Kamenetz,” said Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University professor emeritus of political science. “My hunch is that his most fervent supporters stay home or go to Hogan.”
Where Ervin would likely be most competitive, Crenson said, is in the Washington suburbs, and the competition there is “already rather crowded.”