With less than 48 hours to go until the polls close on Maryland’s 2018 primary election, there are still a heck of a lot of undecided Democratic voters out there in search of a gubernatorial candidate.
The way Jim Shea sees it, that’s a good sign, one that could still make him the upset victor Tuesday in a crowded race of six major candidates and become the party nominee to face Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. in the fall.
And Shea has turned his attention back to his home turf – Baltimore City and Baltimore County – after having criss-crossed the state campaigning for months, in an effort to squeeze out a few more votes in his favor and increase his vote margins in those outlying areas.
After all, to capture the Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday, it will only take maybe 30 percent, 35 percent of the vote, he thinks aloud over a quick lunch at a market in North Baltimore. Every vote really does count, and in that case, there’s no place like home.
“That’s our base. If we don’t nail down the sizeable vote in Baltimore City, we can forget winning the state,” Shea said. “We’ve got to get out the vote.”
Which is not to say Shea is taking anything for granted outside of the Baltimore area, even in the closing hours of the campaign.
He spent Sunday evening knocking on doors in Bethesda, Montgomery County, the vote-rich land in the suburbs of Washington where other campaigns have focused much of their final energies – but only after having spent most of the day working the crowds wherever they could be found in Baltimore City.
“With that base, we’re in the running,” Shea said.
James L. Shea is a first-time candidate, an out-of-the-ordinary contender to run the state of Maryland. He’s an accomplished trial lawyer, a guy from Owings Mills who retired after a successful career building and managing the largest law firm in the state.
He turned 66 just last week, and his running mate, his would-be lieutenant governor, is almost half his age, a 34-year-old up-and-comer from Baltimore City — Brandon M. Scott, a savvy and energetic 2nd District councilman with a keen eye for the political whom he’s counting on to get out the vote Tuesday.
Shea has raised a prodigious amount of cash for his first time out – $2.6 million, much it from the legal community — money that will serve his candidacy well in final-days advertising on television across the state.
While Shea might be a newcomer to the scene, he is no political neophyte. He was chairman of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland, a position that requires a heaping portion of political finesse to negotiate. He also has chaired the Empower Baltimore Management Corp., the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, among other entities.
At one point early in the campaign, Shea decided to assess the efficiency of the state’s mass transportation system and its capability in bringing together the city’s unemployed work force with potential jobs.
He attempted to take Maryland Transit Administration buses from West Baltimore to the Amazon distribution center on Broening Highway, a much-touted source of jobs in Southeast Baltimore, but after multiple transfers and more than two hours, he gave up, pronouncing the bus system inadequate to meet the needs of the city workforce and calling for improvements.
Two little-known facts about him: His maternal grandfather, James J. Lindsay Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, was president of the Maryland Senate from 1944 to 1946 and was later appointed judge on the Baltimore County circuit bench. And his great-grandfather, James J. Lindsay Sr., also a lawyer, was a member of both the House of Delegates and Senate in the latter part of the 19th Century, again representing Baltimore County.
But despite that pedigree, Shea is remarkably unassuming, polite, almost an anti-candidate on the campaign trail.
On Sunday, his second campaign stop in a long day was a lunchtime visit to the Belvedere Square shopping area in North Baltimore. He shook a few hands, but was hardly aggressive in greeting voters there.
“Well, I really didn’t want to bother anybody while they’re eating,” he said.
Shea had spent the morning in downtown Baltimore, working the busy farmers market in the parking lots beneath the Jones Falls Expressway, meeting voters, answering questions. Then, after a short break for lunch with two campaign aides at Belvedere Square, he was off again to Patterson Park in East Baltimore, where LatinoFest was in its second day, to walk among the crowd. Meeting more voters, answering more questions.
That was followed by door-knocking in neighborhoods around the park, before, finally, the trip down to Bethesda.
‘I think you should be at home’
Meanwhile, in Northwest Baltimore, Scott, Shea’s running mate, was leading a small patrol of young campaign workers through Ashburton, for a third day of door-knocking in the neighborhoods on the north side of Liberty Heights Avenue all the way out to the city-county line.
Scott, who grew up nearby on W. Cold Spring Lane, seemed well known by many of the residents he encountered, quickly recognized from television – both in ads with Shea and on the TV news from his day job as the prominent chairman of the Baltimore City Council’s Public Safety Committee.
One woman sitting on the porch of her Copley Road home knew Scott immediately as he climbed her front steps with a handful of campaign literature. She wanted him to know, though, that he appears to be much taller on television.
A little further up the street, he ran into former City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, 82, who was in the neighborhood to pick up campaign materials for Tuesday. They kibbitzed like old friends about politics, the state of the city and the unfortunate goings-on in the police department.
Time and again, Scott was summoned up to a porch, where folks were spending their Sunday on a hot summer afternoon. On one porch, two women sat out eating crabs, each with a single glass of Heineken, and after a brief chat, they insisted on giving Scott and his crew bottles of water.
He came across a couple of houses with two-foot high grass that needed a visit from the housing inspectors; another one that needed boarding up and maybe even a visit from the police. On his ever-present smartphone he sent notes to the appropriate agencies, with copies to the councilwoman for the district.
Scott, who represents Northeast Baltimore’s 2nd District, believes Shea and he have the only campaign for governor that is focusing so much energy on Baltimore City.
“If I, as a representative on the City Council, can’t get people to vote for me, then I don’t deserve to be in this race,” Scott said. “I spent a good amount of my time in other parts of the state throughout this race … but now, in the home stretch I think you should be at home, talking to the folks that know you, people that will vote for you, that have always voted for you.”
Scott is able to call on a citywide network of down-ticket candidates to help get out the vote on election day, including a loose confederation of members of the BEST Democratic Club. What they will be able to do with voter turnout in the city Tuesday will be a test of organization’s strength, both in this and future elections.
For now, however, Scott is only concerned with this election day.
“Right now, I think I should be lieutenant governor, but on Tuesday, I’m gonna find out whether the people in Maryland think that’s true or not,” Scott said.
The Shea-Scott team is generally viewed as a long shot.
It’s tough to get noticed as a candidate for governor when all the media focus of late has been on two frontrunners, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and Benjamin T. Jealous, former president of the NAACP.
If you get past them, you still have to elbow your way to the front of the remainder of the pack, which includes state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. of Montgomery County, vice chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, Krishanti O’Mara “Krish” Vignarajah, a lawyer and former policy director for Michelle Obama living in Montgomery County, and Alec J. Ross, of Baltimore, a former city teacher, technology policy expert and adviser to Hillary Clinton.
And they’re just the major candidates.
Nevertheless, Shea is banking on the Baltimore vote to propel him to the front and across the finish line Tuesday night.