The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Dozens of Democrats are endorsing Md.’s Republican governor. Will it matter?

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) addresses supporters during a reelection campaign kickoff at the Union Jack's British Pub on June 9 in Annapolis, Md. (Pete Marovich/for The Washington Post)

They are mostly older, mostly white and mostly male.

Many have not held office in years.

But Gov. Larry Hogan is hoping that the 40 Democrats — and counting — who have endorsed him in recent days will be a potent weapon in his campaign to defeat Democratic nominee Ben Jealous and become the first Republican governor to win a second term in Maryland since 1954.

“I’m a Democrat supporting Governor Larry Hogan because his actions over the last four years transcend party politics,” said Dennis Donaldson, who served as a state lawmaker in the 1980s, in a statement posted on Hogan’s Twitter feed Friday with the hashtag #DemocratsForHogan.

Dozens of similar sentiments have been tweeted since July 3, and Hogan campaign officials say more are coming.

Jealous spokesman Kevin Harris said the Democrats endorsing Hogan “do not reflect the diversity or values of the current Democratic Party,” which elected the civil rights leader and former NAACP chief in the June 26 primary over five other Democratic candidates.

Harris dismissed the list as a “gimmick” and noted that Republican former governor Robert L. Ehrlich rolled out a list of 26 Democratic supporters during his unsuccessful 2006 reelection campaign. But this year’s general election is more than three months away, and Hogan has already exceeded that number.

Goucher College political science professor Mileah Kromer called the strategy “part of Hogan’s messaging . . . the collective message of, ‘It’s okay for Democrats to vote for me.’ ”

The Democrats backing Hogan include 10 current local officeholders, the mayors of Gaithersburg and Bowie among them. The only person on the list as of Friday who has been elected to statewide office is Melvin A. Steinberg, 84, who was lieutenant governor from 1987 to 1995, during the administration of William Donald Schaefer, and was a state senator and Senate president before that.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who is a frequent Hogan ally, has said he will remain neutral in the race, endorsing neither Hogan nor Jealous.

Jealous, who would be Maryland’s first African American governor, built a winning primary coalition by reaching out to liberals, powerful unions and the state’s large African American population.

He has received support from progressive groups backing candidates of color across the country and could benefit from a political climate this year that has seen Democratic voters embrace diverse candidates at historic rates.

These Democratic primary voters say they’ll likely back Hogan in the fall

“It’s difficult to get people to vote across party lines, especially today,” Kromer said.

During the primary, Jealous campaigned with high-profile progressives including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). But most elected Democrats in Maryland supported his rival, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.

Baker and the other Democrats who ran in the primary are now supporting Jealous. He also won the endorsement this month of former vice president Joe Biden, who encouraged Democrats to end party infighting and come together ahead of the general election.

Jealous’s platform includes universal health care, legalizing marijuana and free college tuition. The contest between him and Hogan is shaping up as a referendum on whether Democrats can recapture political ground they have lost by pushing a strong progressive agenda and capitalizing on anti-Trump energy among Democrats.

But Hogan, who has a 69 percent approval rating, has repeatedly distanced himself from politics in Washington and touted his efforts to work with the majority Democratic legislature in Annapolis. (He does not often mention his sniping with Democratic lawmakers over school funding, spending projects and several cabinet appointments).

Jealous, Hogan will offer starkly different visions to Md. voters

In nearly 2,000 words of text rolled out as part of the #DemocratsForHogan campaign, current and former officials praise the governor’s “sensible, bipartisan reform” and call him “a rare leader who does what is right regardless of politics.”

“Governor Hogan has developed a real record of accomplishment benefiting the state of Maryland,” Steinberg’s statement said. “On the other hand, his opponent, Ben Jealous’ radical and irresponsible proposals would destroy our economy, and damage our past progress, and stifle future progress.”

Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said there is no denying the Democratic endorsements are “bad news” for Jealous in a state that remains largely centrist, even though registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than 2 to 1.

When Hogan defeated then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown in 2014, he did so with the support of Democratic voters, but few elected officials were willing to “break rank,” Eberly said. “Now he’s been in office for a few years, he’s got a record, and they’re able to say it’s not just voters, it’s members of the party establishment backing him.”

Still, the roster of endorsers so far does not include any Democrats who wield significant political power.

There’s Nathan Landow, a Bethesda developer who made plenty of enemies chairing the Maryland Democratic Party from 1989 to 1992 and donated thousands of dollars to Hogan in the months after the governor was elected; Casper R. Taylor Jr., 83, who was speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1994 to 2003; Scott Pastrick, who was treasurer of the Democratic National Committee during the administration of President Bill Clinton; and retired federal judge Alexander Williams, Prince George’s first African American state’s attorney.

Eberly predicted that if Jealous had a Republican endorsement, his campaign would “fly it high from the flagpole.”

“The problem is, they don’t have one,” he said.

Jealous spokeswoman Jerusalem Demsas countered that “Ben Jealous is fighting for raising the minimum wage and lowering prescription drug costs by going after Big Pharma. These are not issues that Republicans typically support.”

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