CRISFIELD, Md. — Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and his Democratic challenger, Ben Jealous, stood inside the iron gates of the marina in Somerset County, barely 50 feet from each other at the 42nd annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake, Maryland’s premier summer political event.
The candidates have never met. And they didn’t speak on Wednesday, focusing instead on trying to secure votes in what is expected to be a heated gubernatorial race.
“This is the best event that there is statewide, as far as politics and getting out and meeting people, not only people from the Lower Shore but thousands of people from around the state,” said Hogan, who has attended since he was a politician’s kid growing up in Prince George’s County. “It’s just a tradition, and it keeps getting better every year.”
The governor was swarmed by supporters inside a circuslike white tent hosted by lobbyist Bruce Bereano, one of dozens of Democrats who are backing Hogan over Jealous. A large “Hogan for Governor” banner was affixed at the entrance.
Just outside, Jealous — who was attending Tawes for the first time — introduced himself to some voters and thanked others who rushed him to offer their support.
As usual, the event attracted a plethora of candidates in November’s election, including Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), and scores of other elected officials.
But the spotlight was on Hogan — who has managed to stay hugely popular in a mostly Democratic state, in part by distancing himself from President Trump — and Jealous, one of a wave of nationally known progressives who have gained traction among Democrats this year.
Ivory Smith, a member of the Wicomico Democratic Central Committee, was one of the first to greet Jealous, a former president and chief executive of the NAACP. Smith, who once ran the NAACP branch in Worcester County, reported that he is working to register voters and get them to the polls in November.
“We’ve got to get out and educate voters,” Smith said, noting that turnout among Democrats have been dismal in some recent elections. Jealous encouraged him to “get it done,” and they parted with a fist bump.
“Hey, governor, good to see you,” Joan Smith, president of the Wicomico County Educators Association, told Jealous a moment later as she reached to hug him. “I’m rooting for you.”
Jay Layfield, a Democrat from Salisbury, spied Jealous shortly after complaining to her husband that the event seemed focused on Hogan. “I’m so glad to see you, especially with all of this,” Layfield said, pointing to Bereano’s tent.
Hogan arrived in a black SUV to cheers from a horde of volunteers. He was quickly stopped by Michelle Bradley, the head of the Greater Wicomico Republican Women group, who had campaign stickers for local and state Republican candidates affixed to her white crossbody handbag.
“Can I take a picture with you?” Bradley shouted.
The governor also posed with Miss Crustacean and signed a petition for Neal Simon, an independent who is planning a run against U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.). He thanked a black Democrat from Baltimore City who said she plans to vote for him — but refused to give her name to a reporter.
“They’ll call me a traitor,” the woman explained. “Ben Jealous certainly has a lot of things going for him. But I’ve seen the results from what Governor Hogan has done.”
Still, not everyone was happy with the governor. A group of women who said they have loved ones who work at Eastern Correctional Institution approached Hogan to ask about a staffing shortage at the prison and got into a heated exchange.
Hogan said he has taken numerous steps to recruit and offer incentives to hire more correctional officers. The women said some of those new hiring standards have made it nearly impossible to hire additional guards. After nearly five minutes of back and forth, a state trooper intervened, telling the women to take the business card of a staffer standing behind Hogan.
“He’s here now,” Kerry Carr, a Delaware resident, said of the governor. “This is critical.”
As she walked away, she lashed out at Hogan: “And if anything happens to our loved ones, it’s on you.”
Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the administration has been working diligently on dealing with the staffing issues at ECI. “No one is trying to say this isn’t a problem,” she said. “But the administration is working to provide all viable solutions.”
Jealous, who defeated five other Democrats in the hard-fought June 26 primary, spent parts of Wednesday in Prince George’s County, attending party unity events with Democratic elected officials.
He toured Dream Village, a minority-owned co-working space in Hyattsville, with his chief primary rival, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III in the morning. In the evening, he was joined by Baker, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Calvert), former gubernatorial candidate Valerie Ervin and other Democrats at an event in Forestville.
“We’ve been family in politics for a long time,” Jealous said of Baker, whom he sparred with during the primary over school oversight, governing experience and more. “Sometimes you fight like family. But at the end of it, you’re family.”
Baker, whose campaign had the support of most of Maryland’s Democratic establishment, repeated his pledge to do whatever he can to help Jealous defeat Hogan in November.
“Where they ask us to plug in, we’re going to do that,” he said.