Another Earthquake in Dem Race for Governor: Ervin to Withdraw, Back Baker

In another dramatic development in the unpredictable Democratic primary for governor, Valerie L. Ervin will abandon her bid on Wednesday and throw her support to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III at a morning event in Langley Park. Ervin, a former Montgomery County councilwoman who returned to politics when the late Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz tapped her to be his running mate in February, decided to run in his place after his sudden death, due to cardiac arrest, on May 10. She picked former Baltimore County school board member Marisol A. Johnson to be her running mate. Ervin participated in candidate forums but was unable to gain traction. Significantly, she was unable to force the Maryland State Board of Elections to update ballots for the June 26 primary and list her as a candidate for governor instead of Kamenetz. Elections officials argued in court that there wasn’t sufficient time to change ballots ahead of the primary, especially since absentee ballots had already been printed and military ballots had already been mailed.   

Valerie L. Ervin (center) and Marisol A. Johnson (left) are abandoning their bids to be governor and lieutenant governor, respectively,  and will endorse the ticket of Rushern L. Baker III and Elizabeth Embry on Wednesday morning. Photo by William F. Zorzi

They also argued that a shortage of special security paper stock made any updates to the ballot, with its more than 700 permutations around the state, impossible. Ervin’s court challenge generated publicity for the new ticket but not the desired result. As a result, Kamenetz’s name will appear on the Democratic primary ballot as a candidate for governor, and Ervin’s will appear as his selection for lieutenant governor. Until his death, Kamenetz, 60, consistently polled near the top of the pack in the nine-way Democratic primary, but polling since she joined the race suggested that Ervin was not catching on, prompting her decision to withdraw. Recent polls showed her racking up between 5 and 7 percent of the vote.  Most of the more than $2 million that Kamenetz raised for the race was in his campaign account, not the ticket’s, leaving Ervin with insufficient time or money to mount a credible challenge to rivals who’d been running – and fundraising – for many months. The Kamenetz campaign reported almost $1.4 million on hand as of mid-May. In an advisory sent out Tuesday night, the Ervin/Johnson team highlighted “the unmatched experience and passion of the Baker-Embry ticket,” adding, “they are the right team to fight for the people of Maryland.” Elizabeth Embry, a former assistant state attorney general who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Baltimore in 2016, is Baker’s running mate. Johnson, who runs an insurance business and briefly ran this election cycle for a seat on the Baltimore County Council, is expected to attend the endorsement announcement Wednesday morning. Ideologically, Ervin, a longtime labor organizer and the former top official at the Working Families Party, may be more in sync with former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous, like Baker a consistent frontrunner in the Democratic primary chase. Jealous and Ervin were both prominent supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid in 2016 – Jealous as part of Sanders’ national brain trust, Ervin as an elected Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention. But Maryland Working Families, an affiliate of the national organization Ervin worked for, was an early supporter of Jealous’ gubernatorial bid, and when Ervin joined Kamenetz’s ticket the organization issued a pointed statement wishing Ervin well but emphasizing that it would not waver in its support for Jealous. Whether personal animosity between Ervin and Jealous led to her decision to back Baker will no doubt be a subject of reporters’ questions on Wednesday. Ervin now joins most of the state’s Democratic establishment, which has aligned with Baker – and while Ervin was polling in the single digits, the endorsement could be helpful as Baker seeks to consolidate support in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, his base. Ervin, who also served on the Montgomery County Board of Education, was the first African-American woman on the Montgomery County Council. Wednesday’s announcement will take place at the Takoma Langley Transit Center, a future stop of the Purple Line light rail at the Prince George’s-Montgomery border. It’s a site that is frequently used by leaders of both counties as a backdrop when they want to discuss regional cooperation. The Takoma Park portion of the area was part of Ervin’s district when she served on the County Council. The Washington Post first reported Ervin’s decision to withdraw from the race on Tuesday night. Jealous, meanwhile, won the primary endorsement of The Baltimore Sun this morning, which said he would provide voters with the starkest choice against Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in November. “It’s not just that the former NAACP president and CEO has the stature or political skills to run a competitive campaign against the popular and extremely well funded Republican incumbent (though he does), it’s that he presents the strongest contrast to the governor in his vision for the state,” the editorial board wrote.  William F. Zorzi and Josh Kurtz contributed to this report. [email protected]

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