The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nine Democrats will compete for face time in Md. gubernatorial debates

The seven major Democratic candidates for Maryland governor, clockwise from top left: Valerie Ervin, Ben Jealous, Alec Ross, Krishanti Vignarajah, Richard S. Madaleno Jr., James L. Shea and Rushern L. Baker III. (Staff and handout photos)

Nine candidates vying to be Maryland’s Democratic nominee for governor will have a few minutes each to distinguish themselves in four upcoming televised debates, with the first one airing Monday night.

If you hope to track who thinks what, you may want to keep a spreadsheet handy.

Trying to be inclusive and show unity, the candidates agreed the entire field should be invited, party leaders say. That includes several candidates who have money in the bank and full-fledged campaign operations but are polling in the low single digits and two who have raised almost no money and have lottery-like odds of winning.

“This is a dynamic and accomplished field of candidates, and we are proud that Maryland’s energized voters will have an opportunity to hear from all of them,” Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews said in a statement Thursday that accompanied the debate schedule.

Hearing from all the candidates in the allotted hour — 90 minutes in one case — will give the cameras little time to linger on any one face. The 60-second opening statements will take a good chunk of the program, followed by rounds of questioning. Moderators will be tasked with promoting discussion rather than monologues, while keeping candidates to their times.

“Candidates will be debating the issues, and they will be going back and forth,” party spokesman Fabion Seaton said. “We’ve built time into all of these debates for rebuttals and all that.”

Even campaigns that would have gained from limiting debate participation say they support the inclusivity. That includes Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who has led in early polling and is considered a top contender to challenge popular incumbent governor Larry Hogan (R).

“Mr. Baker has consistently said that every single one of the Democratic candidates is a better option then Larry Hogan,” said his spokeswoman, Madeleine Russak. “So we feel strongly that it’s important for everyone’s voice to be heard.”

Ralph Jaffe, a teacher and frequent office seeker, says limiting participation based on campaign resources would be wrong. He runs as much to advance “a movement I started 15 years ago” and fight political corruption, he says, as to win office.

“The criteria should be a person’s character and ideas, not how much money they’ve raised,” Jaffe said. “I don’t take campaign contributions because they’re bribes.”

Organizers of Monday’s debate let Jaffe, an Orthodox Jew, record a statement to be aired during the program because it conflicts with the holiday of Shavuot.

The agreement to include everyone came up during a back-and-forth last week between two better-funded candidates, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery) and former NAACP president Ben Jealous.

Madaleno, who is competing with Jealous for progressive votes, challenged him to a one-on-one debate about education policy. Jealous declined, citing the agreement.

That prompted a Twitter jab from Madaleno, who said the pact applied only to media debates: “If a candidate doesn’t have the courage to have a conversation with a fellow Democrat about the specifics of MD’s education system, how are they going to beat @Larry­Hogan?”

Monday’s debate will air from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Maryland Public Television and Baltimore NBC affiliate WBAL (Channel 11).

Washington’s ABC affiliate, WJLA-TV (Channel 7), and Fox 45 in Baltimore will air a second debate May 30 at a time yet to be decided.

On June 13, Baltimore’s ABC affiliate, WMAR-TV (Channel 2), will air a third debate, from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

On June 17, NBC Washington (Channel 4) will air a fourth debate, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The primary is June 26, and early voting begins June 14.