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Government & Politics

Candidates Ply Weary Supporters With Words of Inspiration — and Pizza

Rushern L. Baker III and Benjamin T. Jealous, the Democratic frontrunners in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary, spent the weekend pumping up campaign volunteers for the final push to election day.

Knowing that get-out-the-vote efforts can be critical to a campaign’s outcome but cognizant of how weary many volunteers are after a long primary, the candidates hope that inspirational words from high-profile allies — and lots of pizza — will be helpful in the stretch drive.

What follows are snapshots from the weekend’s GOTV rallies at Jealous headquarters in Silver Spring and Baker headquarters in Greenbelt.

Big Guns Rally to Baker’s Side on Election Eve

U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (right) was among the current and former officeholders rallying for gubernatorial candidate Rushern L. Baker III this weekend. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) and U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer headlined a get-out-the-vote rally for Baker this weekend, urging volunteers to contact as many voters as possible between now and 8 p.m. on Tuesday, when the polls close.

The two-term Prince George’s County Executive, who sat on the influential Appropriations Committee during his stint in the House of Delegates, Baker has won the backing of much of the state’s Democratic establishment and The Washington Post editorial board.

Although no one at Saturday’s rally mentioned former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous, his presence as Baker’s chief rival can be felt nonetheless.

“There are some really good people that are running, and they’ve got some nice, pretty-sounding words, and I’m sure they mean ‘em,” Baker said. “But if you can’t actually deliver, then they’re just words.”

He mocked the notion of “free college” or health insurance that “no one has to pay for.

“Sounds great, right? [But] there’s nothing worse than telling people something you know you can’t deliver on, and you don’t know how to deliver on,” a clear reference to Jealous’ lack of experience in elective office and his proposal to expand the state’s health care program.

“There’s nothing more progressive than having a job and having a leader that knows how to get things done,” he said to cheers.

O’Malley, Maryland’s governor from 2007-20015, offered a full-throated endorsement, calling Baker “a modern, collaborative leader who doesn’t run from problems, he runs toward them.”

“I worked with a lot of county executives during my time as governor,” the denim-clad O’Malley said. “I never worked with one that was able to bring people together like Rushern Baker did around some tough issues.”

Hoyer, the dean of Maryland’s congressional delegation, said: “There’s a reason so many elected officials who have worked with him have endorsed Rushern Baker. That doesn’t just come about because Rushern has zillions of dollars. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t raised the most money. It didn’t come about because he’s some superstar on TV. It came about because people got to work with him and learn the content of his character.”

Hoyer’s remark about money left the crowd momentarily silent. Baker allies have said privately in recent days they’re disappointed he has continued to under-perform as a fundraiser.

Baker’s campaign is being run out of a second floor office of a modern low-rise building in Greenbelt, just off the Capital Beltway and within easy reach of his geographic base, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

On the walls are maps of Maryland counties broken down by precinct, “go” bags for field workers with campaign lit, water and snacks, and instructions for people making calls on the candidate’s behalf. In bold type is the admonition: “Don’t argue with people.”

Also on hand for the rally were Baker’s running mate, former assistant state attorney general Elizabeth Embry, House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis, Sen. James C. Rosapepe, and state’s attorney candidate Aisha Braveboy, a former state delegate.

Yvette Lewis, the former head of the state Democratic Party, drew cheers with a thinly-veiled swipe at Jealous, whose campaign has relied heavily on out-of-state endorsements and dough.

“We got a lot of glitz and glamour going on in the state right now, all this outside money and all these outside folks that don’t know us,” she said. “I don’t know Dave Chappelle. I don’t know all these people that are coming in my state. I do know him.”

She was pointing to Baker, who stood alongside his two daughters, beaming.

Ben and Ben & Jerry

Jealous told a crowd of phone-banking volunteers on Saturday that victory is within their grasp, and that a strong finish will get them the nomination and the right to take on Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in November.

“We’re three days out and we can win this,” he said. “We started in fourth place. We were told we were too idealistic. And steadily this movement has grown because we have been consistent in talking to people about education, making sure that we pass Medicare-for-all and making sure that we stand up to Donald Trump,” he said to applause.

Ben Cohen of ice cream fame joins gubernatorial candidate Benjamin T. Jealous at the latter’s campaign headquarters Saturday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Jealous has out-raised Baker, and some political professionals and analysts think he’s got the late momentum, too.

“We’re neck-and-neck with the other leading candidate in this race and we know that we’re going to win this through turnout.”

Aware that The Washington Post has just done a story on the Jealous team’s large haul from out-of-state donors, the candidate is quick to tell a reporter, “We have a lower average donation than anybody else and we have more individual donors than all the other campaigns put together. It’s one of the earliest ways voters vote.”

In remarks to volunteers, he assured them that there are numerous foot-soldiers working on his behalf throughout the state — from “Progressive Maryland, Our Revolution, CASA de Maryland, Unite Here, postal workers, CWA, Friends of the Earth and others.”

“I want to thank all of you for being the tip of the spear.”

Ben Cohen, cofounder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, told volunteers: “I remember when Bernie [Sanders] was first running for mayor of Burlington, it was the same thing — a guy who supports people and cares for the people’s individual needs, as opposed to taking care of the corporations and the businesses that are funding the campaign.”

As he and Jealous spoke, Jealous’ running mate, former state party chairwoman Susan W. Turnbull, and Jaime Contreras, vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, entered the campaign office with a large group of field personnel, and soon space was at a premium.

A stack of pizza boxes and large cartons of ice cream were near the door. Maps of Maryland counties took up every inch of wall space in the living room. The dining room is for the phone bank operation. The campaign manager and his team have set up shop in what might have once been the porch.

One college-age volunteer, likely unaware that reporters have been invited to the get-out-the-vote rally, tells Jealous: “I got a lot of people who want to vote for Rushern, ‘cause I’m from P.G. County. I’m telling ‘em you gotta vote for Ben Jealous.”

“Good, good,” the candidate says politely.

The volunteer plows ahead.  “I think you can beat Hogan. I don’t think Rushern can. If he does [win the primary], I’ll be knocking on doors for him too. I think you can beat him.”

Postscript: Baker is supposed to start the day Monday with O’Malley, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, shaking hands at the Silver Spring Metro station and then greeting voters at the Tastee Diner, just up the block. Jealous is expected to roll out another endorsement from a prominent out-of-state political figure.

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Candidates Ply Weary Supporters With Words of Inspiration — and Pizza