Jealous Campaign: Here’s How We Win

A poll commissioned by Benjamin T. Jealous (D) found him trailing incumbent Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) by 9 points heading into the fall campaign. But the campaign’s pollster sees a distinct path to victory for the challenger, based on the popularity of his platform, President Trump’s record high negatives, and the party’s commitment to reach the Democratic voters who stayed home four years ago. The survey, by the Washington, D.C., firm Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, found Hogan leading Jealous 49 percent to 40 percent in a trial heat, with 11 percent undecided. But when voters were informed of the candidates’ positives and negatives, the Hogan edge was reduced to 47 percent to 45 percent. The poll of 601 likely voters, taken July 10-14, had a 4-point margin of error. Even though Hogan remains personally popular, the fundamentals favor Democrats this election cycle, party strategists said, especially in Maryland. Because Democrats have 55 percent of registered voters in the state, compared to 26 percent who are registered Republicans, pollster Fred Yang sees plenty of room for optimism.  Democratic  pollster Fred Yang  “This is still a Democratic state,” Yang told reporters. “We can lose 20-25 percent of Democrats and still win this state.” The campaign’s media briefing took place on Wednesday before the firestorm hit over Jealous’ use of a profanity at a campaign rally [see related story].   Yang said the numbers tell part of the story. Democrats outnumbered Republicans at the polls by 20 points, 54 percent to 34 percent, the year Hogan defeated then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) in an upset. Of note to the challenger and his team: While several polls have shown a strong majority of voters believe the state is on the right track – a stark contrast from four years ago – two-thirds of those responding to the Democratic survey said that things in Maryland are the same or worse than four years ago, both for the state as a whole and for their own families. Democrats say that number gives them hope of prevailing over a well-funded, popular incumbent. Other key takeaways from the poll: — Four in 10 Maryland voters have yet to form an opinion about Jealous, giving him room to grow as the campaign heats up. Among voters who have an impression of him, 31 percent viewed him favorably, while 15 percent had a negative view.  — Hogan had almost universal support from Republicans and held a more than 2-1 edge with nonaffiliated voters, but Jealous had a 63-24 percent advantage among Democrats. Yang said that if Jealous was at 70 percent Democratic support, the poll would be tied. — When pollsters tested the candidates’ platforms without naming them, support for Jealous surged, with 54 percent backing the challenger’s support for “affordable” college and health care, paid for by raising taxes, while 41 percent backed the governor’s push to rein in state spending and hold the line on taxes.  — President Trump is deeply unpopular in Maryland. Just 29 percent of voters backed him, while 62 percent opposed him. Voters who are undecided in the gubernatorial election took an even dimmer view of the president (7 percent approving, 73 percent opposing). — Two-thirds of those surveyed said it is “very important” that Maryland’s governor “stand up” to Trump. Key to success for Democrats in November, party strategists said, will be identifying and motivating the estimated 120,000 Democrats who stayed home in 2014. Toward that end, and in the wake of Hogan’s win four years ago, Democrats in Maryland have adopted a “no off-years” strategy. Leaders said they are committed to communicating with voters in a more vigorous manner, beefing up their field operation, hiring a seasoned veteran from the O’Malley era to run the party’s “coordinated campaign,” and opening local offices around the state, even in counties they know they are likely to lose. Democrats plan to have 62 field organizers hired by September, up from 15 in 2014, to map door-to-door and phone outreach to targeted voters. And the Democratic National Committee has provided the state party with the cell phone numbers of 1 million voters. Yang, who worked for Virginia Gov. Ralph G. Northam in 2017, said the Democrat’s surprisingly large win that year was emblematic of the new energy sweeping the party since Trump defeated Hillary Clinton the year before. “Ralph won by 9 points. He did better than Hillary. He did better than [President] Obama. He did better than [Sen. Mark] Warner [in 2014]. He did better than [Sen. Tim] Kaine [in 2012]. Part of the increase in Ralph’s margin was… [that] one-third of the people who voted in that governor’s race had voted in the 2016 presidential but not the 2013 governor’s race.”   Maryland Democrats hope to replicate that strategy. “We’re talking to drop-off Democrats and voters who voted in 2010 but not 2014, first-time voters who voted in 2016, and new registrants,” said David Sloan, head of the coordinated campaign.   Democrats also insist that the 884,400 votes that Hogan got in 2014 represents the ceiling for any Republican in a gubernatorial election – especially given Trump’s unpopularity. Former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) was the highest gubernatorial vote-getter in history, taking just under 1,045,000 votes during his 2010 reelection bid. Democrats are projecting a turnout of 2.1 million voters this time. “Trump motivates Democrats to turn out,” said Jealous spokesman Kevin Harris. “Every Democrat who comes back in 2018 that wasn’t there in 2014 makes the math that much harder for Larry Hogan.”   In the month since the Democrats were in the field with their poll, Hogan and his allies at the Republican Governors Association have hammered Jealous, calling him a “socialist” whose policies would bankrupt the state. The Democrat has been slow to respond, and some big-name party leaders appear to be keeping their distance from him.   Jealous and his team acknowledge they would like to be on TV responding to the attacks right away but lack the funds to do so. But they vowed to be on the air at a critical time in the fall. Scott Sloofman, the Hogan campaign’s communications director, scoffed at the Democrats’ survey, calling it a “homecooked poll.” “Any way you slice the numbers, it is clear that Democrats and independents are fleeing Jealous because of his reckless and irresponsible plans to hike taxes on every single man, woman and child in Maryland,” he said. Republican strategists think it’s unlikely that Democrats will succeed in growing turnout in the manner they have outlined. Yang acknowledged Hogan’s long history of separating himself from the president. But he’s not sure it will be enough to save the incumbent in the current environment.   “There is a time when there’s just this wave, and it doesn’t matter how independent you are, you are going to be washed over by the wave.” [email protected]

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