How much cash on hand did the candidates for governor have the last time campaign committees had to file finance reports, in mid-January?
Gov. Larry Hogan (R): $4.1 million
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (D): $1.6 million
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D): $250,000
State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D): $73,000
Former NAACP President Ben Jealous: $0
Tech entrepreneur Alec Ross: $0
Attorney Jim Shea: $0
Former Obama administration official Krishanti Vignarajah: $0
OK, that’s a bit of a trick question, because the latter four hadn’t begun fundraising at that point. But zero is still zero.
We won’t see the next round of finance reports until next January – one of the many flaws in Maryland’s campaign finance system. But here’s a prediction: Hogan will have more funds on hand than all the Democrats combined – maybe a significant amount more.
Why is this important? Because after the primary in late June, the treasury of the eventual Democratic nominee will be depleted – while Hogan will still be sitting on a huge pile of cash.
The next campaign finance deadline is correctly being called the first primary of the Democratic gubernatorial contest. The numbers revealed then will say a lot about the state of the race. They could re-order our perception of who’s up and who’s down. They could even force a couple of candidates to drop out.
Regardless of how the Democratic field shakes out, Hogan’s financial advantage in the general election will be impenetrable. But for a few reasons, this does not bother certain Democratic strategists all that much. They figure the Democratic Governors Association, eager to oust a sharp-elbowed Republican governor in a blue state, will make up a substantial amount of the deficit.
That may be fantasy.
Sure, national Democrats would love to get rid of Hogan. But let’s face it: When it comes to setting Democratic priorities for 2018 – and by turn, for 2020 – Maryland is once again pretty low on the totem pole.
Here’s why: Regardless of whether Hogan is re-elected, regardless of whether the 2018 gubernatorial election here is a squeaker or a blowout, we can confidently predict that the Democratic presidential nominee will win Maryland by a fairly comfortable margin in 2020.
Will there be long-lasting and negative consequences for Democrats if Hogan is re-elected next year, particularly if he’s able to muscle through his preferred congressional and legislative redistricting plans after the 2020 Census? Of course.
But whatever that fallout is, it won’t be as debilitating for the party nationally as a further weakening in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida would be.
Those are states that Democrats desperately need to win if they are to have a prayer of getting the White House back in 2020. Those are states that have been heavily gerrymandered to favor Republicans in Congress and the state legislatures. So the 2018 gubernatorial contests in those states – and probably several others – will be far more important for national Democrats than little old Maryland.
National party committees make protecting incumbents their top priority. So re-electing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) becomes Job No. 1 for the DGA.
Meanwhile, there are open races for Republican gubernatorial seats in Ohio, Michigan and Florida that all seem pretty competitive. The Cook Political Report rates these as lean Republican, tossup and tossup, respectively.
And Democrats would dearly love to deny Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) a third term. But thanks in part to the gerrymandering in the Dairy State, the Democratic bench is weak, and the party is scrambling to find a strong challenger to Walker. Still, Cook rates that race as lean Republican (for the record, the Maryland race is rated as likely Republican, which seems a little generous toward Hogan at the moment).
So for these and other reasons, Democrats need to continue making those money calls – with an eye toward the general election, not just toward limping through and surviving the June primary. The DGA is not going to save them. Tom Perez at the Democratic National Committee, for all his ties to Maryland, is not going to bail them out. John Delaney, the rare Democrat who would have been able to match Hogan dollar for dollar, has his sights set on Iowa and New Hampshire.
Larry Hogan, a deft and relentless fundraiser, is going to have $15 million or more at his disposal for the general election. And he will use that money brutally and effectively to beat back his Democratic challenger.
There will be no cavalry for the Democrats. They need to face up to that reality now.