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Josh Kurtz: Woke Up, It Was a Towson Morning

Talk about stepping all over your message.

On a day when Benjamin T. Jealous’ advisers outlined to reporters a plausible path to victory over Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in the Maryland gubernatorial election, the Democratic nominee instead found himself generating international headlines for dropping the F-bomb at a campaign event in Towson Wednesday morning.

Asked by Erin Cox of The Washington Post about the drumbeat of Republican attacks describing him and his policy prescriptions as socialist – and whether he self-identified as such – Jealous tartly replied, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Is that a fine enough point?” he continued, laughing.

Since winning the Democratic primary six weeks ago, Jealous has tried to shrug off attempts to red-bait him, calling himself “an avowed venture capitalist” – a reference to his professional work outside his well-known political activism. But if anything, the Republican attack lines have intensified – and perhaps they have even begun to stick.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Benjamin T. Jealous at the Crisfield crab feast last month. File photo.

Now this, and all the predictable hysteria and mock horror it has generated.

The Republican Governors Association in a tweet called Jealous “UNHINGED,” adding that his comments show “he doesn’t have the temperament to be governor.”

The Maryland Republican Party chimed in: “Perhaps Jealous should take a look at his expensive platform and use better language.”

By mid-afternoon, Jealous had issued an apology.

“I want to apologize to @ErinatThePost for my inappropriate language in response to her question earlier today,” he wrote on Twitter. “As a former journalist, I know how important it is for a free society to respect reporters and answer their questions honestly.”

Later still, Jealous told a Baltimore TV reporter that he objects to being called a socialist because conservatives resort to name-calling to diminish African-American leaders.

But by then, the damage was done.

Not long-lasting damage, necessarily. In this era of eight-minute media cycles and the barrage of invective emanating daily from the tweeter-in-chief, Jealous’ intemperance may not resonate too deeply with the electorate. No doubt Hogan and GOP campaign committees will do their best to remind voters about it – and now they have something else to call him besides a socialist.

But this incident does serve as a reminder that a well-funded Republican assault on Jealous is already well under way on the airwaves, while the Democratic response has been … bupkis.

Since the primary, there have been no TV or radio ads from the Jealous campaign. Nothing from the Democratic Governors Association or the unions and progressive groups backing his candidacy.

Maybe it’s too early to expect most voters to be paying attention to the November election. But it’s not too early to build a narrative – and sow seeds of doubt in persuadable voters’ minds, and that is what Hogan and the Republicans are doing. So in that respect, the Jealous campaign is lagging – something his advisers copped to in their briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

Naturally, the intent of Jealous’ appearance in Towson Wednesday morning was also lost in the silliness. And he was there why? Oh yeah, to pick up endorsements from Baltimore County Democratic leaders: County Executive Don Mohler, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, state Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, Del. Clarence K. Lam, Del. Eric Ebersole, Del. Patrick G. Young Jr., Del. Charles E. Sydnor III, and County Councilwoman Vicki L. Almond. Not all of the elected officials were there in person.

“Ben Jealous is the forward-looking leader Baltimore County families need as governor at this moment in time,” Mohler said in a statement. “With skyrocketing health care premiums and underfunded schools, Ben is the entrepreneurial leader and innovative thinker who can reclaim the promise of Maryland.”

What unites the Democrats on this list? Most don’t have to sweat reelection. Almond just lost a Democratic primary bid for county executive, so her political career is likely over, and Mohler was appointed to the job on an interim basis and isn’t running for anything.

Baltimore County Democrats who find themselves in tough races are keeping their powder dry when it comes to endorsing a candidate for governor – or hiding, depending on your viewpoint. Hogan is expected to do extremely well in the county, even with its Democratic majority, especially in the eastern part of the county.

In 2014, Hogan defeated Democratic nominee Anthony G. Brown, 59 percent to 39 percent in Baltimore County. As of mid-June, the county had 306,969 registered Democrats, 142,029 Republicans, 50,974 unaffiliated voters, and 5,090 voters registered with minor parties.

An ongoing question is what the posture of former Del. John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr., the Democratic nominee for county executive, will be on the gubernatorial race. Olszewski was by far the most liberal of the three candidates in the Democratic primary for executive, and he’ll need the enthusiastic support of progressive groups and minority voters to prevail in November. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he wants to be too closely associated with Jealous.

It was inevitable that Republicans would soon start calling Olszewski out about Jealous – but of course, that happened on Wednesday, following the F bomb. The GOP nominee for county executive, state Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer (R) Jr., urged Olszewski to “clarify…beyond a shadow of a doubt,” whether he’s supporting Jealous.

“When you’re in public office, you get asked a lot of questions, some you may like and others you don’t,” Redmer said in a statement. “Often times, you get asked the same question on multiple occasions – that’s never an excuse to lash out at the reporter for doing her job. This behavior is reprehensible and unacceptable. The bottom line is, true leaders do not act like this, no matter the circumstance.”

‘Best governor I served with’

Meanwhile, the Jealous eruption may have also eclipsed the second event that took place in Towson Wednesday, just a few minutes after the Democratic rally: state Sen. James Brochin – who finished just 17 votes behind Olszewski in the Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive, endorsed Hogan.

“This is the best governor I served with,” said Brochin, who was elected to the Senate in 2002. “He reaches across the aisle constantly.”

Hogan’s campaign has already rolled out more than 50 endorsements from prominent Democrats – most of them long removed from their political careers. And even though Brochin has always been a thorn in the side of Democratic leaders and his endorsement of Hogan is hardly a surprise, it does carry extra pop because he is the first sitting Democratic legislator to side with the governor.

With his primary defeat, Brochin’s political career is over for now, and it will be interesting to see if he winds up with a plum state position if the governor is reelected.

Hogan said he was “proud” to win Brochin’s support.

“I can tell you that neither one of us cares much about party,” the governor said. “It’s not really about Republicans versus Democrats for either one of us, it’s always been about Maryland’s future and trying to bring people together.”

Uncharacteristically, the Jealous campaign issued a list of talking points seeking to diminish the importance of Brochin’s endorsement, noting that he wears his renegade status within the Democratic Party as a badge of honor, has been sharply critical of Obamacare, and has been supported in the past by the NRA, among other alleged sins.

But the Jealous camp left out one other interesting thing: During his campaign for county executive, Brochin blasted away at real estate developers and accused them of being part of a “pay-to-play” culture in Towson. In backing Hogan, Brochin has sided with…a real estate developer.

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Josh Kurtz: Woke Up, It Was a Towson Morning