Josh Kurtz: Not Just Another Day

Since the Democratic primary, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s campaign has trotted out the names of dozens of Democrats who have decided to cross party lines and endorse the Republican’s reelection bid. Most of the names have been unremarkable and unsurprising – has-beens, wannabes and irrelevancies. But collectively, they still add up to something. Every defection brings on a football spike by the Hogan team, as does every news story about a Democrat prevaricating when asked about endorsing the party’s nominee for governor. They enable the Hogan camp to press the narrative that former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous is an untested and dangerous radical. But Jake Day is different. Salisbury Mayor Jacob R. Day   The Salisbury mayor, who offered his endorsement in a statement released by the Hogan campaign on Tuesday, is a genuine Democratic rising star. At age 36, he’s got all the tools: Smart, strategic, hardworking, photogenic. Day is a military veteran with an adorable young family who, after just three years as mayor, is already transforming his hardscrabble, pedestrian city into a vital, vibrant and diverse economic powerhouse. For Salisbury, he’s been part visionary, part planner, part salesman and part cheerleader. So Day’s decision to climb aboard the Hogan train, however tentatively – notably, the statement the campaign released never quoted Day directly saying he endorsed the governor; it only offered praise and looked ahead to the next four years – is quite significant. He means something, and it means something. Day’s endorsement is a very good get for Hogan. “I am honored to receive the support of Mayor Jake Day,” Hogan said in the campaign news release. “Revitalizing downtown Salisbury has been a top priority of my administration and Mayor Day has been a tremendous ally in that effort. I look forward to working with the mayor as we continue to move Salisbury, and all of Maryland, forward in my second term.” Day’s decision is probably very good for his city, assuming Hogan wins a second term. Josh Kurtz   What this means for the mayor’s political career is a little less clear. Day represents a very conservative part of the state. Candidates for municipal office in Salisbury run in nonpartisan elections, so Day has never appeared on a ballot with a D after his name. There are a limited number of positions for which ambitious Eastern Shore Democrats can aspire. Day’s path to higher office – Congress? Wicomico County executive? A statewide position? – will be complicated no matter what. “The fact that he is in a conservative area blunts the downside of an endorsement like that,” observed Adam Hoffman, chairman of the Salisbury University political science department. “If he’s an aspiring Democratic star, it’s going to be in this area, and he clearly has to get a lot of Republicans to vote for him.” Hoffman did suggest that, “Some Democrats are not going to be pleased, especially if they are supporting the Jealous campaign.” As of midday Wednesday, Day said he had not heard any complaints about his decision – only some chatter “from people in Annapolis circles.” Day conceded that there could be some personal political risk for siding with Hogan, but said the payoff for his city could be considerable. Day added that his priorities for the city – and expectations of state support – will not change regardless of the outcome of the gubernatorial election. “Should Mr. Jealous get elected, I’m going to expect and fight for the same things from the Jealous administration that I’d get from the Hogan administration,” he said. One political strategist, who has worked for Maryland Democrats on Capitol Hill, said Day’s endorsement of Hogan is a mixed bag politically. “I think a mistake for Jake if he has any statewide aspirations,” the strategist said. “But I think he is laser-focused on county executive and Congress. So this would be helpful there to moderate him.” Day said he isn’t thinking at all about his political future beyond planning to run for a second term as mayor in the November 2019 election. America, we are often being told, has become more tribal, and voters are increasingly seeing political opposites as not just opponents, but enemies. Certainly siding with the Republican governor over the party’s nominee could come back to bite Day if he is ever running in a competitive Democratic primary. On the other hand, Hogan has thrived by touting his bipartisanship. That may not be a model for a lot of young Maryland politicians – Hogan’s self-styled brand of politics seems unique and hard to duplicate – but it could work for Jake Day, whose performance at city hall is worth watching. “My dad always said to me, ‘Take care of your job and you’ll take care of your career,’” Day said. [email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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