Susan Turnbull has put 16,000 miles on her Prius since she was recruited by Democrat Ben Jealous to help him unseat Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford attended seven events — in a row — on a recent Friday and hits the campaign trail every weekend.
Turnbull, 65, and Rutherford, 61, do not have the same name recognition as Jealous and Hogan, but they are their top surrogates in a contest that features starkly different visions for Maryland’s future.
Turnbull is an energetic campaigner who has helped form connections between Jealous and the Democratic establishment, while Rutherford is a low-key policy wonk and steady advocate for Hogan’s policies.
A former vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and former chair of the state Democratic Party, Turnbull has deep and long-standing ties to party leaders, many of whom are wary of Jealous, a California native who has never run for office and trails Hogan by double digits in recent polls.
Rutherford, a lawyer who first worked with Hogan in the Cabinet of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), has led the administration’s effort to combat heroin and opioid addiction and headed commissions on procurement restructuring — work he continues in addition to shaking as many hands as he can.
Turnbull, who has lived in Bethesda for 35 years, said she recognizes that she is “viewed as establishment in many ways.” She backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 over Bernie Sanders — a prominent Jealous supporter — and only began supporting universal health care after meeting Jealous last year.
But Turnbull says Jealous convinced her that Clinton and Sanders “were more alike than different.” She now talks enthusiastically on the campaign trail about the benefits of the progressive policies that Jealous has included in his platform.
Turnbull has raised $735,395 since she joined the campaign — about one-fourth of the $2.75 million Jealous has taken in — tapping into a network of supporters centered in Montgomery County’s Jewish community, which Hogan also has heavily courted. She has held leadership positions with Jewish Women International and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and co-founded Emerge Maryland, which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office.
“In politics, it’s all about relationships, and she has a lot of terrific relationships,” said former lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), who has known Turnbull for 30 years. “Ben Jealous was smart to choose her.”
Turnbull says she recruited state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), a longtime friend, to become an important Jealous ally, even though Frosh endorsed Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III in the hard-fought Democratic primary.
“Brian knew Ben, but he didn’t know him well . . . When I started to talk about Ben’s proposals, Brian looked at this race and said, ‘I can see this,’ ” Turnbull said.
She is undeterred by polls showing the campaign down by double digits, convinced she and Jealous can win by turning out as many Democratic voters as possible across the state.
In 2010, when Turnbull chaired the Maryland Democratic Party, 55 percent of Democrats turned out to propel then-Gov. Martin O’Malley to reelection. Four years later, after she had left, Democratic turnout dropped to 47 percent, and Hogan and Rutherford won their upset victory.
“We have the people power to win this election,” Turnbull said after participating in a forum last month in Linthicum Heights, Md., a precinct in Anne Arundel County where President Trump won 67 percent of the vote.
At the forum, Turnbull was asked whether she would support “American citizens over illegal immigrants.” Her response captured many of the traits mentioned by those who know her, including her passion and her unwillingness to back down.
“I don’t think I can answer that as a yes or no,” Turnbull said, rising from her chair. “Let me give you my background.”
Turnbull explained that she grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, the daughter of a Polish immigrant whose two older sisters were not allowed to come to the United States because of immigration quotas. They were among 190 members of Turnbull’s extended familykilled during the Holocaust.
“His family couldn’t come because they didn’t fit what was supposedly American,” she said, speaking emotionally as many in the crowd stared blank-faced, and comparing her family’s situation to that of undocumented immigrants brought across the border as children. “We are all people . . . Innocent children who have been here since they couldn’t make decisions, yes, they belong here.”
Four years after Rutherford and Hogan won their surprise victory over then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and his running mate, Ken Ulman, the old friends have their campaign trail routine down.
At the Hogan campaign office opening in Hyattsville one Saturday last month, Rutherford told cheering volunteers that he was “not going to take a whole bunch of time pontificating . . . but I am going to turn it over to the best governor in the country.”
Hogan immediately returned the favor. “He really is the best lieutenant governor in America,” the governor said, grinning at Rutherford, who had moved from the middle of the room to stand by the wall. The he added: “He’s shy.”
Rutherford, who grew up in the Michigan Park neighborhood in the District, was secretary of the Department of General Services under Ehrlich and assistant U.S. secretary of agriculture under President George W. Bush. Before becoming lieutenant governor, he worked as counsel to a law firm in Columbia, Md.
When Hogan was being treated for advanced non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015, Rutherford often filled in for the governor, attending ribbon-cuttings and other events. But he clearly prefers the nuts and bolts of governing to the more ceremonial parts of politics. In an interview, he was more animated talking about a commission he leads on how to break the cycle of multigenerational poverty than he was when talking about the campaign trail.
The governor’s office has highlighted Rutherford’s more technocratic work — like regulatory restructuring — in a video series called “Mundane (But Meaningful).”
“Oh,” Rutherford says, putting on his glasses at the beginning of a recent video on how Maryland’s government is structured. “Welcome back to ‘Mundane (But Meaningful).’ I am your professor — I mean host — Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.”
Rutherford has raised just over $1.6 million for the ticket in the past four years, compared to nearly $12 million raised by Hogan. He says that in 2014, he and Hogan often went to events in predominantly Democratic areas — especially in Baltimore and parts of Prince George’s — where people didn’t know who they were. Once they found out, they would ask, “Republicans? What are you doing here?”
“Now people know who we are, and, like the governor said, people generally feel like we’re in a good place,” Rutherford said.
Lieutenant governors are often seen as governors-in-waiting — Brown, for example, was considered a gubernatorial front-runner through much of his time as O’Malley’s deputy.
But Rutherford — who declined to discuss his potential plans — is not widely understood to have higher political aspirations.
“It’s not like he’s being primed to succeed Larry Hogan,” said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He said Rutherford “doesn’t appear to have any ambitions beyond being lieutenant governor.”
Asked about possible successors to Hogan, should the governor win a second term, GOP consultant Paul Ellington said Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman seemed like more likely contenders than Rutherford.
“The decision is up to Boyd,” added Ellington, a former executive director of the state Republican Party. “But he has never been one to seek the personal limelight.”
At the same time, Ellington said Hogan “never” would have opted for a different running mate for his second campaign.
“He values both Boyd’s friendship and his counsel,” Ellington said.