Four Takeaways from the Labor Day Parades

Hogan campaign bus
The Hogan campaign bus zips through Old Town Gaithersburg on Labor Day. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

The extreme heat and humidity made campaigning a chore, and it probably suppressed turnout, but Labor Day parades went off as scheduled on Monday. With heat-index values near 100 degrees, residents who turned out, many with children in tow, sought out any shade they could find. Parades are a command performance for office-seekers in an election year, and dozens of candidates for local, state and federal office dutifully turned out. They and their supporters marched alongside marching bands, volunteer groups, Miss College Park, the Eleanor Roosevelt High School dance squad, the Sheet Metal Workers union, the requisite fire trucks and more.

As they walked with their T-shirt-clad and sign-waving volunteers, candidates pressed the flesh and passed out election literature, trying not to complain (too much) about the heat.  Here are some random observations from the Labor Day parades in Greenbelt and Gaithersburg.

Being in public has its risks

The moment he stepped into the Gaithersburg parade that began along East Diamond Avenue, across from the MARC station and City Hall, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) was accosted by a man holding a cell phone in an odd manner. The man and the governor immediately entered an animated conversation about Hogan’s plan to add four lanes to Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway. The man later identified himself as Pete Altman, owner of a home near I-270 and founder of dontwiden270.org, an organization formed in the wake of the administration’s proposal. Within moments, shaky-cam video of their encounter was posted to the site.  Altman: “Governor, lots of people are concerned their houses are going to be taken down because of your highway proposal.  Hogan: “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.” Altman: “How is that not gonna happen?” Hogan: “Not a single house is ever gonna be taken down. That’s just a lie being spread by anti-traffic [inaudible].  Altman: “Why won’t the state share the maps of the [inaudible]?” Hogan: “We don’t have any yet. They don’t have any yet. They won’t be ready for a couple years.” The exchange, during which each man put his hand on the other’s shoulder, is a reminder that Hogan is no shrinking violet when challenged. His feistiness will likely resurface during debates with Democratic Benjamin T. Jealous.  His caught-on-tape pledge — “not a single house is ever going to be taken down” — may prove useful to homeowners near the two highways. It could also become an engineering challenge to road-planners if Hogan wins a second term, particularly in the Silver Spring, Kensington and northern Prince George’s sections of I-495, where space is extremely tight.

When you’re trailing, everyone has advice

Prince George’s and Montgomery counties are the state’s largest Democratic strongholds, and Jealous was warmly received during his parade appearances. He was stopped countless times for photos, including by one woman who wanted a photo of Jealous and her young daughter. (“I’m a big fan,” the mom said. “We’re ready for change.”)  But the challenger is trailing Hogan in the polls and in fundraising, and voters who are even half paying attention know it. At multiple times on Monday, well-meaning backers came up to him offering unsolicited advice on how to narrow the gaps.  One person, in Greenbelt, expressed concern that the Jealous campaign is not responding to hard-hitting television ads being run by Hogan and the Republican Governors Association.   “I know,” he said, reassuringly. “We’ll start running ads in late September.”  [A bit of a news nugget there. Reporters have been eager to get word of the campaign’s plans to counter-punch on TV.] Another supporter, in Gaithersburg, told the candidate that he didn’t see a single “Jealous for Governor” sign on his recent drive back from Ocean City, while he saw numerous signs touting the incumbent. “We’ve ordered 80,000 signs,” Jealous said.  “We’re spending our dollars wisely.” 

When it comes to Jealous, Democrats are divided

Alsobrooks greets a parade-goer
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks greets a parade-goer at the Greenbelt Labor Day parade on Monday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt 

Conversations with two dozen parade-goers on Labor Day reinforced the perception that many Democrats still don’t know much about Jealous — while others have lingering doubts about whether he can prevail in November. A man who marched with Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) sought out Jealous for a handshake after the parade. The man, an African-American in his late 50s, one of dozens wearing green “Alsobrooks for County Executive” shirts, was then asked by a reporter if Jealous can win. “No,” he said firmly. Hogan is too popular? “Too popular. Too much success. Too much money. Jealous just doesn’t have the traction.” Alex Ayi, taking in the parade in Gaithersburg from a shady patch of sidewalk, described himself as a Democrat who is loyal to his party.   Asked for his impressions of Jealous, who had just passed by with running mate Susan W. Turnbull, Ayi said, “Really, I don’t know much about him.”  He said Hogan has done “a great job… and he may be elected again.” Jeff and Debbie Moss, watching from under an awning in Old Town Gaithersburg, described themselves as Democrats who lean toward Hogan. Said Jeff: “I don’t like Ben Jealous at all.  If [Prince George’s Executive Rushern L.] Baker had won, then I would have to consider him. … The progressives are like the Democratic version of the tea party.” Debbie Moss described herself as a bit more undecided. “I’m a Democrat, but when they handed me this,” she said, referring to a paper fan with the Hogan campaign logo, “I didn’t turn it down.”  In contrast, there were also plenty of people who offered enthusiastic support for the challenger and who had real familiarity with his platform. “I’m for Jealous because of what he stands for,” said Joyce Harvest, as she watched the marchers file past in Greenbelt. “For education, for health-care-for-all, a fairer criminal justice system. All those things he’s for.” “So, Hogan, nice guy, conquered cancer. But if you look at his programs and you look at Jealous’ programs, I have to go [with the Democrat], OK?” Said Jealous supporter Kelly Hutchison: “After what happened with our presidential election, people are being even more careful now.”  “Clearly Jealous can win,” said Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), whose supporters marched behind the gubernatorial hopeful in Greenbelt. “The polls all show that Hogan’s re-elect number is way below his personal popularity number. People like people, but they don’t necessarily vote for them, particularly in a year like this.” 

Not a Trump Republican, a “Hogan-Republican”

House candidate Obike marches in the parade
Winnie Obike, a GOP candidate for House of Delegates in Prince George’s County’s District 22, calls herself a “Hogan Republican,” so she won’t be too closely associated with President Trump. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Winnie Obike, a Republican running for the House of Delegates in Prince George’s County, is all-too accustomed to hearing complaints, even venom, about President Trump. On Monday she was drawn into a discussion with a man who had apparently spotted her campaign banner, which says, “Immigrants Make Maryland Great!”

If you’re a Republican, you support the positions Trump and Hogan have taken on Syrian refugees, the man asserted. She stopped and the two discussed immigration for a bit. “That’s a common play I get,” she told a reporter afterward. “People immediately want to lump me with the president and I knew that would happen. So I branded — I said I am a ‘Hogan-Republican.’ I was a Republican before Trump was a Republican. I don’t allow them to get away with it and I fight back. “I find that when I break through in that way, then they’re willing to have a conversation.” Amie Hoeber, the GOP candidate in Maryland’s 6th congressional district, was also quick to invoke the governor’s name when asked about the president’s flip-flop on pay raises for federal workers. She campaigned with her husband and a dozen or so volunteers, not far from backers of Democrat David J. Trone, who were greater in number, though the candidate was forced to take the day off to deal with a recently-disclosed health challenge.

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