Analysis: How an Ervin Candidacy Would Transform the Democratic Primary

Will she or won’t she?

Will Valerie Ervin, the late Kevin Kamenetz’s erstwhile running mate, take his place in the Democratic primary for governor?

We’ll know what the former Montgomery County councilwoman wants to do in a matter of hours. She has until 5 p.m. Thursday – just a week after the Baltimore County executive’s sudden death from a heart attack – to decide whether to enter the race.

We don’t know at this point what an Ervin candidacy would look like. Would she have the full power of the Kamenetz campaign apparatus behind her – and a sizable chunk of his campaign cash? Or would hers be more of a guerrilla-style campaign?

Valerie Ervin

There is great peril in trying to run a five-week campaign, especially when your Democratic primary opponents have been laying the groundwork for the June 26 primary for months – and, in some cases, for years. But there would be a certain exhilaration as well – fueled by nothing to lose and the excitement an African-American woman running for governor could generate on the campaign trail in a race that hasn’t really captured voters’ attention, even at this late stage.

For all we know, Ervin could be the second coming of Freddy Picker (see “Primary Colors”).

Is Ervin up to the task? Can she take advantage of the moment, if she chooses to run? Would she be a top-tier competitor, the way Kamenetz was, or somewhere farther down in the pack?

These are hard questions to answer. It’s easier, though, to speculate about what kind of impact an Ervin candidacy would have on the rest of the Democratic field. And the quick answer is, she could be a big problem for many of them.

If Ervin runs:

She dilutes the African-American vote, which seems mostly lined up behind Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous right now. She also cuts into the geographical advantage Baker enjoys in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. He’s running way ahead in his home territory and is also showing strength in Montgomery County.

Ervin has a long history in the labor movement and working progressive causes. Labor has mostly lined up behind Jealous, as have liberal groups like Maryland Working Families, with whom Ervin was once affiliated. The leaders of these groups are certain to remain committed to Jealous, but there’s a possibility that Ervin could siphon off some of those votes.

State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. needs a big showing in Montgomery County, his home turf, to have any prayer of winning. Ervin could certainly cut into his local support.

And while Krishanti Vignarajah’s campaign is wobbling, the fact that she’s the only woman in the primary suggests there’s still some room for a breakthrough. That goes out the window if Ervin enters the race.

That leaves two Baltimore-based white guys in the field who are political novices, tech entrepreneur Alec J. Ross and attorney James L. Shea. It has felt for a while that Shea might be ready for a bump. He raised a good chunk of money last year, and if he’s kept up the fundraising momentum, he’ll be up on the air with a steady media buy very soon.

With Kamenetz out of the race, there’s probably some room for Shea’s serious, no-nonsense, Baltimore focus. Enough to elevate him in the polls?

We’ll know this, and the answer to so many other questions, soon enough. For now, all eyes are on Valerie Ervin.

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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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