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Government & Politics

As Primary Polls Tighten, Baker Presses His Case in Montgomery County

Some political professionals were puzzled when Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) endorsed white candidates from Montgomery County over black Prince Georgians in the 2014 Democratic primary for attorney general and the 2016 primary for U.S. Senate.

Puzzle no longer.

As Baker fights for an edge in the June 26 Democratic primary for governor, which is shaping up to be a two-man race between him and former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous, Montgomery County is looming ever larger in Baker’s calculus – and his endorsements of Brian E. Frosh for attorney general over Aisha N. Braveboy and Chris Van Hollen for Senate over Donna F. Edwards appear to be paying off.

Baker is running strong in neighboring Montgomery County in the latest public polls on the primary, and his support from Van Hollen, Frosh and other Montgomery political leaders, including County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), is a key component of his election strategy.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III at a Silver Spring news conference Monday, with (left to right) Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Montgomery County Councilman Hans Riemer, and Elizabeth M. Embry, Baker’s running mate. Photo by Josh Kurtz.

Baker appeared with Van Hollen and two Montgomery County council members Monday in front of the Silver Spring library, site of a future Purple Line light rail stop, to unveil his transportation plan for the state (coincidentally, the news conference took place one block from Jealous’ campaign headquarters). Van Hollen praised the proposal, saying it “mixes vision with practicality.”

Baker’s dependence on Montgomery County in the nine-way primary was reinforced in the latest poll on the gubernatorial election, made public early Tuesday. Statewide, Baker held a slight lead over Jealous, 25 percent to 23 percent. The survey of 505 likely Democratic voters, taken June 4-10 by Gonzales Research & Media Services, had a 4.5-point margin of error.

Baker had a distinct advantage over Jealous in Prince George’s County, 54 percent to 18 percent, with state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) a distant third at 3 percent. But Baker also led in Montgomery County – albeit by a slim margin. He had 23 percent in Montgomery, compared to 22 percent for native son Madaleno and 15 percent for Jealous.

Baker has consistently polled around 50 percent in his home county – dominant compared to his Democratic primary foes, but not as strong, perhaps, as it could be. Consequently, Baker’s ability to win statewide may depend on whether he can surge ahead in Montgomery County. By the same token, Baker, thanks in part to the high-caliber endorsements, may be preventing Madaleno from running up the robust total he needs in Montgomery to join the top rung of candidates.

Four years ago, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who like Baker is from Prince George’s County, finished first in Montgomery County in the three-way Democratic gubernatorial primary with 46.9 percent, topping two opponents from Montgomery. (Brown took 76.7 percent in Prince George’s in the 2014 primary; ex-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who was Prince George’s County executive when he was elected in 1994, took 83 percent of the vote in his home county during the Democratic primary that year.)

So while Baker is spending time and advertising dollars in the Baltimore media market – where his running mate, attorney Elizabeth M. Embry, is serving as his unofficial ambassador – he is trailing Jealous there, according to the Gonzales poll. In Baltimore City, Jealous had 32 percent, compared to 24 percent for Baker and 17 percent for James L. Shea, former managing director of the Venable law firm in Baltimore. In Baltimore County, Jealous had an even wider lead – 27 percent to 16 percent, compared to 7 percent for Madaleno.

Even with Embry’s role as Baker’s liaison to Baltimore, she is also part of his outreach to Montgomery County.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time here,” she told Maryland Matters on Monday, before the transportation news conference began.

The support Baker is racking up from elected officials in Montgomery County is being duplicated substantially across the state. He is, after all, the favorite of a significant portion of the Democratic establishment.

But in Montgomery County, Van Hollen, Frosh and Leggett represent the gold standard of politically potent Democratic endorsements (a fourth would be U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, who is supporting Madaleno). At Monday’s news conference, Baker frequently mentioned his partnership with Leggett and his reliance on Van Hollen for help deal with the federal government.

“He has always recognized the importance of partnerships,” Van Hollen said of Baker.

More numbers

Overall, the Gonzales poll didn’t deviate too dramatically from other recently-released surveys on the Democratic primary – except that it showed slightly fewer undecided voters, 22 percent. Three polls made public in the past week showed the undecided total nearing 40 percent.

In the Gonzales poll, Madaleno was in third place, with 9 percent, the “ticket of Kevin Kamenetz and Valerie Ervin” was at 7 percent, Shea was at 6 percent, former Obama administration official Krishanti Vignarjah had 5 percent, and tech entrepreneur Alec J. Ross was at 2 percent.

Combining Charles County with Prince George’s and Montgomery, Baker led Jealous in the Washington metro region, 38 percent to 16 percent, with 19 percent undecided, while Jealous was up over Baker in the Baltimore metro region (Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, and Howard counties, and Baltimore City), 28 percent to 17 percent, with 22 percent undecided.

In rural Maryland, Jealous led Baker 24 percent to 11 percent, with 30 percent undecided. The two leaders were tied among white Democrats, while Baker was ahead with African-American voters, 30 percent to 24 percent.

The Gonzales poll, like all others, shows Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) extremely popular and with significant leads over his potential Democratic challengers in hypothetical general election matchups. In this poll, Baker was the only Democrat who held Hogan below 50 percent; the governor took 48 percent to Baker’s 37 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

For the general election, the pollsters queried 800 likely voters. The results had a 3.5-point error margin.

In the matchup with Baker, Hogan was supported by roughly three-quarters of the voters in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore. The governor also led Baker by a comfortable 49 percent to 33 percent in the Baltimore suburbs.

In a surprising result, the two men were essentially tied in Baltimore City, where Baker rang up 43 percent compared to Hogan’s 42 percent. Baker had a big lead in the Washington metro area, 55 percent to 30 percent.

The attitudes of Democratic voters could affect the makeup of the November electorate and the outcome of the general election. Asked by Gonzales’ pollsters what issue would most motivate them as they head to the polls in the primary, 46.3 percent of Democrats said removing President Trump from office; 25.9 percent said education; 10.3 percent said the economy; 7.7 percent said public safety; and 2.6 percent said opioids.

Hogan is launching a TV ad Tuesday called “The Aisle” that amplifies the campaign’s theme that he has governed in a bipartisan fashion.

“We’re doing the best job we can, and if people appreciate it, well, that means a lot,” Hogan says in the ad.

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As Primary Polls Tighten, Baker Presses His Case in Montgomery County