Whatever suspense existed in the Maryland gubernatorial race may have evaporated in the wake of this week’s poll by the politics team at Goucher College.
The survey, which showed Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) with a commanding 22-point lead over challenger Benjamin T. Jealous (D), is not the last word, of course. Maryland voters will decide this race, and they won’t do so for another seven weeks. Still, the numbers are something of a jolt for Maryland Democrats, who hoped to prevent Hogan from becoming the first Republican governor in more than 60 years to win a second term. They’ve known for some time that knocking off a popular, well-funded governor — one who has studiously attempted to operate in the middle lane of state politics — would be tough. But few Democratic activists thought they could end up getting blown out at the top of the ticket, which now seems possible. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.
All of a sudden, when Democrats talk about the Jealous campaign, they sometimes use the past tense, as if the thing is over.
“I think that poll confirms everything we’ve heard on the campaign trail all summer,” said a senior strategist for a Democratic candidate running in a Democratic subdivision. “People are just not connecting with Jealous.”
“It’s an opportunity wasted,” said former two-term Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D). “A real aggressive, issue-oriented campaign, organized around… this growing inequality where people are having to work two jobs but are unable to get ahead… would have produced a very, very competitive race.”
“He just doesn’t seem to have the fire,” Glendening added. “He doesn’t seem to have the focused campaign.”
Even if the Goucher poll is off a bit (and the Jealous camp says it is), the drumbeat of news accounts will make fundraising much more difficult, both for the campaign itself and for the outside groups planning to run independent expenditure efforts on the Democrat’s behalf.
“You can change your image pretty quickly, it just costs money,” said Jim Burton, a GOP pollster and former executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. “They haven’t been able to recoup [financially] from the primary. This survey is going to make it even harder for them to collect cash.”
As one observer who asked not to be identified pointed out, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the surprise winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Florida, raised $1 million the day after he won the primary. That’s more than Jealous has raised since the June 26 primary.
A boon for GOP Senate candidates?
With the gubernatorial race at risk of being over, the suspense now shifts to whether Republicans can pick up enough seats in the state Senate to block Democrats from overriding Hogan vetoes, something lawmakers have done with relative ease. They need to capture a handful of seats now held by Democrats — an effort the state GOP calls the “Drive for Five.”
“I think he starts to eye that as much as his own race,” said David Harrington (D), a former state senator who now runs the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce.
“Now what you want to do is make the Senate override-proof. [Because then] you’re good to go.”
Added Burton: “I’m sure [Hogan is] up double digits in many of these districts. … Now they can go around to allies — the [Republican National Committee], the Republican State Legislative Campaign Committee — and say, ‘We may be able to make a significant change in how Annapolis operates. This is within our grasp.’”
If there is good news for Democrats in the Goucher survey, it’s that incumbent Democratic senators in tight races are now free to distance themselves from Jealous if they’re so inclined (and many of them are). Party loyalty is a thing, but no one can reasonably expect an incumbent facing a strong challenger to take on more trouble needlessly.
Goucher has Jealous trailing in the Democratic strongholds of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, two jurisdictions he must win big to have any chance of an upset. (One GOP operative finds these numbers too good to be true.) And while the Democrat leads among younger voters (52 percent to 33 percent), African-Americans (49-35) and other racial minority groups (41-37), none of those advantages is nearly enough to offset the wipeout losses he’s poised to get among men (Hogan up 64-22) and older voters (Hogan 59, Jealous 25).
How is it that the former head of the NAACP, who would be Maryland’s first African-American governor (and only the third nationally since Reconstruction), isn’t doing better with black voters?
Hogan, who grew up in Prince George’s and worked for the government when his father was county executive, “has been in the communities,” Harrington said. “He’s been seen. He has touched base with the black mayors in Prince George’s County. He’s given them money. He knows some of the pastors.” And there’s his personal history. “The best story he has is, ‘I had cancer, I took chemo, but I still came to work. I came to work every day.’ That’s a compelling message,” Harrington said.
Add to that the criticism Jealous has faced for months, from Democratic primary rivals and now, that he doesn’t have a solid plan to pay for his ambitious policy proposals. “Jealous looks like a guy who is going to raise everybody’s taxes and people don’t want that,” said the Democratic strategist.
The Jealous campaign takes issue with the Goucher survey, saying it undercounts “new voter turnout” (just as pollsters missed the voters who stayed home in 2014).
“Voter file data shows that 30% of the electorate in the 2018 Democratic primary in Maryland voted in 2016 but did not vote in 2014,” the campaign said in a statement. Jealous’ strategists note that 12 percent of likely voters told Goucher they are undecided, and that another chunk report they could still change their minds before Election Day.
“Taken together, 35% of Goucher’s sample has not yet been settled, leaving plenty of room for growth for the Ben Jealous campaign at a stage of the race when voters are just beginning to tune in,” the campaign said. Lastly, the Jealous team points to the support the Goucher survey found for the core tenets of his candidacy — raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, and enacting Medicare-for-All, positions that all poll way better than he does. In a related development, the Jealous campaign on Wednesday announced that it was deploying 18 different constituency groups to help turn out the vote for the candidate. The Hogan campaign rejects all this, calling it “fuzzy math.”
“None of it adds up,” said campaign manager Jim Barnett, who asserted that the Jealous camp is relying on potential turnout numbers that defy all recent trends. Hogan and Jealous will hold their only debate on Monday. This is the public’s one chance to see the two men side by side, and both camps shoulder a portion of the blame for that. The governor enters the Maryland Public Television studio with less reason to worry that a gaffe could imperil his chances at a second four-year term. If there is to be a turnaround for Jealous, it must begin with his one chance to share a stage with his opponent.