Ben Jealous, a former NAACP president embraced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, decisively defeated Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III for the Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nomination Tuesday in a major victory for the party’s progressive wing.
In a victory speech at an African American museum in Baltimore, Jealous, 45, lashed out at Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who he called a "gimmick governor," and said he is not daunted by the incumbent's record-high approval ratings.
"We will beat Larry Hogan the same way we won the primary," Jealous said in an interview Wednesday morning. "Talking to everyone, in every corner of this state, about kitchen-table issues."
Jealous received strong backing and outside money from wealthy liberals, unions and progressive groups. He offered bold proposals — including state-based universal health care and debt-free college — that he believes will energize voters, many of whom seemed inclined Tuesday to cast ballots for Hogan in the fall.
Hogan, who ran unopposed in the GOP primary, has governed as a moderate and repeatedly distanced himself from President Trump, who is widely disliked in Maryland. He appeared before reporters Wednesday to say he welcomed the chance to face Jealous in the general election.
“If you like [former Democratic governor] Martin O’Malley, you’re gonna love this guy,” Hogan said. “He’s talking about tens of billions of dollars in tax increases that will cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs and devastate the great economy that we’ve made so much progress on.”
Jealous won strong pluralities in the Baltimore area and did well enough in the populous Washington suburbs to win by a large margin over Baker and the others.
Both Hogan and Jealous were slated to hold news conferences at midday Wednesday, Jealous in Baltimore and Hogan at the state house.
Baker, a longtime politician, had the endorsement of almost all of the state’s top Democratic elected officials in the primary race. But he raised less money than Jealous, who was backed by teachers unions and other labor groups who supported Baker in his previous campaigns.
Establishment-backed candidates did well in some other Maryland races, including in Prince George’s County, where State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks easily won the Democratic nomination to succeed Baker as county executive.
In the closely watched 6th Congressional District, businessman David Trone defeated state Del. Aruna Miller in a contest for the Democratic nomination. Trone will face GOP nominee Amie Hoeber in the race to succeed Rep. John Delaney (D), who resigned to run for president.
In Montgomery, businessman David Blair and progressive County Council member Marc Elrich (At-Large) were locked in a close race for the Democratic nomination for county executive.
But challengers ousted incumbents in a number of Democratic statehouse races, a notable victory for progressive groups that backed many of the challengers, and a defeat for the entrenched Democratic establishment.
Del. Cory McCray, 35, beat Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, 71; Del. Mary Washington, 56, appeared to have beaten Sen. Joan Carter Conway, 67, who chairs the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee; and Del. Antonio Hayes, 40, defeated Sen. Barbara A. Robinson, 80.
State Dels. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's), a longtime lawmaker who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, and Jimmy Tarlau (D-Prince George's) also were ousted by challengers from within their party, along with state Sen. Mac Middleton (D-Charles), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, was as well.
In the gubernatorial race, as pre-election polls anticipated, Jealous and Baker did far better than the rest of the field, which included state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery); Alec Ross, a tech entrepreneur; James L. Shea, former chairman of the Venable law firm; and Krishanti Vignarajah, a former policy director for Michelle Obama.
In a brief concession speech in College Park, Baker pledged to help Jealous win in November. “Our work is not done,” he said. “The main thing is we need to get a Democrat back in Annapolis. . . . It is about the work we have to do tomorrow.”
Republicans, meanwhile, wasted no time seeking to paint Jealous as too far to the left. The Republican Governors Association said the Democrat’s “radical views make him unfit to serve as governor.” The statement said Jealous wants to raise “taxes to never-before-seen levels in order to fund his radical pie-in-the-sky spending plans.”
Jealous, echoing positions that Sanders took in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, ran on an uncompromising liberal platform. He wants to pay for health care, tuition and other programs by raising taxes on cigarettes and the wealthiest 1 percent of Marylanders, closing corporate tax loopholes, freeing resources by shrinking prisons, and legalizing and taxing marijuana.
Many top state Democratic officials are concerned those positions will be too far to the left to win in the general election. But Jealous and his supporters say only an uncompromising message will draw sufficient numbers of Democrats to the polls.
Jealous’s victory is an unusual triumph for an outsider over the party establishment in a gubernatorial primary. Such insurgents came up short in Virginia last year and Iowa earlier this month.
His uncompromising approach appealed to Baltimore County voter Lori Edmonds, who said she would “love to see” Jealous challenge Hogan. “Because Hogan is so popular, he really needs someone with as clear a vision as Ben Jealous to go against, and really give the electorate something to chew on.”
Montgomery resident Ann Vermillion picked Jealous over Baker because he “has more energy” and “a fresher outlook.” But, like many Democrats, she said she doesn’t know whetherthat will be enough for her to support Jealous in November.
“I think Hogan’s doing a great job,” she said.
Jealous, who has family roots in Baltimore and headed the Baltimore-based NAACP, performed better in that part of the state, whereas Baker’s strength was in his home base in Prince George’s.
But Jealous also beat Baker in liberal and populous Montgomery, where Baker had hoped to do well because he was well-known there and had the endorsement of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, a close friend and mentor.
To assemble his coalition, Jealous began with a base of liberal voters who supported Sanders in his unsuccessful presidential run two years ago against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
He added financial and organizational support from major unions, including the state teachers union and Service Employees International Union, and the Latino advocacy group Casa de Maryland. He received endorsements from well-known African American Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), as well as comedian Dave Chappelle.
Cosette Burns, 70, a retired social worker in Baltimore, said she backed Jealous because of his background in civil rights, saying: “He’s got a nice track record. He’s been an advocate for education and nondiscrimination.”
Several voters said they found it difficult to research the large number of candidates running in state and local contests. Many waited until the last minute to decide whom to support, or skipped down-ballot races.
Lori Steel of Kensington, a librarian at a private school, said the mounds of literature, phone calls and knocks on her door backfired. “It overwhelmed me and shut me down a bit,” she said after voting at the Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church.
An administrative error by the state Department of Motor Vehicles meant that as many as 80,000 voters were not registered at the proper polling places or with the correct party affiliations and would have to cast provisional ballots. Those ballots won’t be counted until July 5.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidates had comparatively few differences over policy. All supported more spending on education and mass transit, and increasing the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. They also conducted a generally civil campaign, preferring to focus their attacks on Hogan and Trump rather than on one another.
Prominent Democrats such as former U.S. labor secretary Tom Perez and former state attorney general Doug Gansler chose not to run.
Baker and Jealous were near the top in early polls, along with Kevin Kamenetz, the Baltimore county executive whose death in early May after a heart attack scrambled the race.
Baker campaigned primarily on his record in Prince George’s, where he has overseen a burst of economic development that included the opening of the MGM National Harbor casino. He also restored a level of integrity to the county executive’s office after his predecessor, Jack B. Johnson, was convicted on federal corruption charges.
But he was embarrassed by school scandals that led to the announcement last month that his handpicked schools chief executive would resign.
Jealous railed against Baker’s record on schools during the campaign. But in his victory speech, he pay tribute to Baker and the other Democratic candidates, and called for a united front in facing Hogan in the general election.
“This campaign is about seizing a moment to build a movement to make sure that everyone in Maryland moves forward, no matter what happens in Donald Trump’s Washington,” he said. “Larry Hogan has no idea what’s about to hit him.”
Teo Armus, Jennifer Barrios, Rachel Chason, Scott Clement, Brianna Crummy, Justine Coleman, Miela Fetaw, Jenna Portnoy, Fenit Nirappil, Casey Smith, Paul Schwartzman, Reis Thebault, Steve Thompson, Rachel Weiner and Amy Zahn contributed to coverage of the Maryland primary.