Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, a former NAACP leader making his first run for public office, is raking in endorsements with eight months to go before the June Democratic primary.
The announcements of support — including from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in July — have created buzz for Jealous's populist campaign at a time when most of the other candidates are more focused on fundraising and small-scale, low-visibility visits around the state.
"It's a healthy sign," said John T. Willis, a Democratic Party insider and politics professor at the University of Baltimore. "The endorsements can help you with perception of being a top-tier person and help you in your fundraising efforts, but how that translates to votes is a long way away."
Jealous, one of five first-timecandidates in the race, has 12 endorsements, compared with four for Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and zero for the other six Democratic hopefuls.
Both he and tech entrepreneur Alec Ross, a political newcomer who entered the race in April, are blanketing social media with announcements and comments and routinely hold Q&A's on Facebook. Both have paid communicationsstaff to promote their public appearances,which some of the other campaigns have not done.
Most of the others also are less active on Twitter and Facebook, a social media platform that played a key role in RepublicanGov. Larry Hogan's victory in 2014.
State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery), who entered the race in July, has swiped at some of Jealous's publicity. After Jealous touted his plan for college affordability at an event featuring a live-streamed speech from Sanders this month, Madaleno criticized Jealous's proposal as lacking specifics, adding that he has used his own perch as a lawmaker to work on the issue for years.
Madaleno's campaign staff said they have knocked on doors in eight of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions and plan to continue that effort. The rest of the candidates are also trying to get their messages out to as many voters as possible, meeting residents in small groups at supporters' homes, chatting with neighborhood association members at community centers and attending local Democratic breakfasts and dinners to shake hands with the party faithful.
All of the candidates except Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who joined the race less than two weeks ago, participated in at least one of the two forums that have been held in Montgomery County.
But fundraising is their most urgent task.
With Hogan sitting on a war chest that topped $5 million earlier this year, political experts say Democratic hopefuls will need substantial resources to compete for the primary and have a shot at upsetting the popular incumbent. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz had an early start, reporting $1.6 million in his campaign account earlier this year.
No fundraising reports are required this year for state candidates in Maryland who are running in 2018. The first election-year reports, due Jan. 17, will provide a clearer picture of which candidates have an early advantage.
Raising money could be difficult, especially with a crowded field of candidates in an era where Democratic fundraising is down nationally, analysts said.
"I'm sure that is trickling down to the states," said QuinceyGamble, who helped run Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown's losing gubernatorial campaign in 2014.
Candidates who are struggling to find donors could end up dropping out by Feb. 27, the deadline for filing for the race, political observers said. Or, some of the hopefuls could decide to run for lieutenant governor as part of another gubernatorial candidate's ticket.
Polls, like endorsements, can also lend credibility to candidates, although they can also shift significantly as the race continues.
This month, Baker's campaign received a big boost from a Mason-Dixon poll that said he appeared to be the strongest contender in the Democratic primary and has the best advantage in a theoretical one-on-onematchup against Hogan.
Baker, who does not have a campaign communications director and has not publicized his appearances extensively, trailed Hogan by seven points in such a matchup. Kamenetz was 13 points behind Hogan; Jealous was down by 16 points; and Madaleno trailed by 19 points.
"The polls have been pretty helpful in distancing ourselves from the pack," said Andrew Mallinoff, Baker's campaign manager. "More people are paying attention."
The primary has also caught the eye of the Republican Governors Association, which says it has a robust tracking program to keep cameras on Democratic candidates in case they make gaffes. Jealous has been a focus for the group recently because he is more prone to make public appearances and stake out far-left positions.
"With multiple Democratic candidates for governor in Maryland often proposing costly and outlandish spending schemes, the RGA will ensure voters understand just how dangerous and reckless their policies would be for Maryland's economy," said RGA spokesman Jon Thompson.
Over the weekend, all eight Democratic candidates — attorney James L. Shea; Krishanti Vignarajah, a former policy aide to Michelle Obama; Baker; Jealous; Kamenetz; Madaleno; Rockeymoore Cummings and Ross — traveled to a Maryland State Educators Association convention in Ocean City to stake their claims to an endorsement from the powerful group.
Union officials do not plan to vote on whom to back until April.
Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.