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Hogan and Jealous jab during forum; guard accused of ‘slamming’ staffer

Democratic challenger Ben Jealous, left, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) prepare for their debate on Sept. 24. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous met Friday for the second time ever, and things did not go smoothly.

The candidates offered pointed critiques in their respective speeches during a Maryland Municipal League luncheon, and their campaigns sparred over an incident in which a Jealous bodyguard pushed a Hogan staffer away from Jealous.

Jealous’s campaign described the incident as minor and “fake news” and accused Hogan of trying to “distract from any real issues.”

But Hogan campaign spokesman Doug Mayer, who witnessed the incident, said the staffer was “slammed” into a concrete pillar outside the Westin Annapolis, where the luncheon was held.

The staffer’s job is to videotape Jealous during his campaign appearances. His footage, which was provided by the Hogan campaign, reflects his camera being jostled as he is heard saying, “Get your hands off me.”

In a separate video taken by journalist William Ford, which captured the end of the incident, the Jealous guard can be seen grabbing the Hogan staffer by the arm, apparently to restrain him from getting closer to Jealous, who was greeting officials as he entered the hotel. The Hogan campaign demanded an apology.

“The fact that the Hogan campaign issued a press release before alerting authorities tells you even they don’t actually believe this was an assault,” Jealous adviser Kevin Harris said. “The Hogan campaign should apologize for again wasting everyone’s time with utter foolishness.”

Jabs from both sides have grown increasingly pointed in the final weeks of the race. Jealous, who trailed Hogan by 20 points in a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, accused Hogan this week of “bullying” him with the release of a campaign video that mocks him for several verbal gaffes, which he said are due to his stutter.

Struggling not to stutter: Ben Jealous talks about speech disorder

In his speech Friday, Jealous criticized Hogan as a “governor who does not have a plan,” saying the Republican lacks concrete proposals to fully fund public schools, stop rising health care premiums or improve job growth.

Jealous, whose platform includes a single-payer health care system, debt-free college and reducing the prison population, accused the governor of taking credit for actions pushed by Maryland’s Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

Hogan countered that he has made a “great deal of progress” in his first term — touting his administration’s bipartisanship and the “historic investments in transportation infrastructure.”

He appeared to rebuke Jealous, without naming him, and to paint himself as the only non-extreme choice voters will have in November.

“I warned against wedge politics and petty rhetoric used to belittle our adversaries,” Hogan said, recalling his remarks when he took office four years ago. “I said to those who would take us to the extremes of either party, let me remind you that Maryland has always been a state of middle temperament.”

Hogan said most Marylanders are happy with the direction in which the state is headed, which was not true when he and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford ran for office in 2014. He said he and Rutherford have done “exactly what we said we were going to do” during their underdog campaign, including working across the aisle to control spending, bring new businesses to Maryland and stop tax increases.

During a brief news conference ahead of the forum, Jealous dismissed the recent polls, noting that surveys also failed to predict his victory in the June Democratic primary.

“Polls don’t vote,” chanted a group of educators who traveled to the event with Jealous on a yellow school bus.

Jealous referenced President Barack Obama, who endorsed him this month, several times, using his motto when he declared that Maryland can once again be a “yes we can” state. The Democratic nominee, who has bristled at criticism that his liberal policies are socialist, said that Obama, too, had to deal with people who tried to label him a socialist. He compared himself to billionaire entrepreneurs Warren Buffett and Jeffrey P. Bezos (the founder and chief executive owns The Washington Post) saying that he, too, wants to “leverage our buying power to get a better deal” when it comes to modernizing school infrastructure.

Jealous told reporters that he wished Hogan had agreed to more than one televised debate, which was held in September after a seven-week standoff between the campaigns. The debate itself was a feisty back-and-forth on whether Maryland needs a new direction.

Hogan had offered to attend two televised debates, while Jealous sought to have five. In the end, only one was scheduled.