Assessing the Jealous-Turnbull Marriage

By Josh Kurtz

Finally, a shidduch in the Democratic gubernatorial primary!

Former NAACP President Ben Jealous on Wednesday became the first Democratic candidate for governor to choose a running mate, selecting Susan Turnbull, longtime civic activist and Democratic Party stalwart, to be his lieutenant governor.

In media accounts, Jealous and Turnbull have talked about their shared goals and instant personal chemistry. He praised her experience and political skills in a Facebook video released Wednesday morning.

But a gubernatorial ticket in Maryland is also a marriage of convenience, political calculations and shared ambitions.

Susie Turnbull and the last Maryland Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley.

Jealous and Turnbull are first-time candidates, but they are hardly political novices.

This is Jealous’ first run for political office, though he pondered at least two other races. And, of course, he was a top lieutenant on Bernie Sanders’ presidential run, and had plenty to do politically as leader of the NAACP.

This is officially Turnbull’s first run for office, too. But people forget that she was gearing up to run for the House of Representatives had then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) run for Senate in 2006; she was also involved in a pitched battle to become secretary of the Democratic National Committee a decade and a half ago. And she has 40 years of experience as a party leader, becoming vice chair of the DNC and state chair in Maryland.

So here’s some random analysis and a few fun facts about the Jealous-Turnbull marriage:

  • It unites the Hillary and Bernie wings of the Democratic Party. The dissension between the two wings hasn’t been as pronounced in Maryland as it has been elsewhere, but unity is unity, and never a bad thing from a campaign’s point of view.
  • It unites the Establishment and Insurgent wings of the Democratic Party. See above. Will Jealous’ more left-wing backers feel queasy about Turnbull? Most likely not — she’s pretty progressive herself. And it makes Jealous a little less scary to establishment figures who might have been worried about being shut out of a Jealous campaign and administration, should there be one.
  • It could yield an endorsement from Attorney General Brian Frosh (D). Frosh, one of the most respected and beloved figures in Maryland Democratic politics, who single-handedly unites the establishment and insurgent wings with most everything he does, is very close, personally and politically, to Turnbull, who was a major force on his 2014 campaign.
  • It helps Jealous at least marginally in Montgomery County, especially on the fundraising front. Turnbull has a very, very impressive Rolodex.
  • It may help Jealous bring in some “Jewish” money, whatever that is. See above, and Turnbull’s Rolodex. She is super plugged-in with national and local Jewish organizations.
  • The unions. Jealous has been endorsed by the Service Employees International Union and other progressive labor groups. Turnbull was the target of a major hit by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters when she was running for DNC secretary — but her father was a Teamster and she has had good relations with unions for most of her political career.
  • The Travis Tazelaar connection. Turnbull hired Tazelaar, who is Jealous’ campaign manager, to be executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party when she was state party chair.
  • The odds. Turnbull is a canny political operator and at age 65, she does not have many more bites at the political apple. She would not have joined Jealous’ ticket if she did not believe he could win.


Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.


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