With echoes of the past, the crowd at a rally for Benjamin T. Jealous in Bethesda on Tuesday night held out hope that late ignition of the state’s Democratic base could turn out enough votes for the party’s gubernatorial nominee to defy expectations set by polls that show him trailing popular Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) by double digits.
The event was headlined by Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — who has appeared with Jealous on the campaign trail at least a half-dozen times — but also included state party leaders and a surprise visit from former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D).
It was a welcoming crowd in the heart of the state’s Democratic base.
Montgomery County voters propelled County Councilman Marc B. Elrich to victory in the Democratic primary for county executive over competitors who said he was too far to the left. The county is partly represented by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D), an enthusiastic voice against President Trump in Washington, D.C. Both were on hand to support Jealous on Tuesday night.
Jealous’ campaign was also touted by Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), a county resident who represented the Bethesda area in the General Assembly for nearly three decades.
The speakers urged voters to hearken back to disappointments in 2014 after Hogan’s surprise victory and in 2016 after Trump took the White House.
Sanders read a headline from four years ago from the Baltimore Business Journal: “Low Democratic Turnout Propelled Larry Hogan to Victory in Maryland Governor’s Race.”
“That’s about it. Nothing more complicated than that. Let us be honest and clear, if there is a low voter turnout this election in Maryland, Larry Hogan will be re-elected,” Sanders said. “Our job is not to have a low voter turnout. Our job is to have the highest voter turnout in a midterm election in the history of Maryland.”
Sanders sang Jealous’ praises to chants from the crowd of “Ben! Ben! Ben!” for 15 minutes before calling the candidate to the podium.
Jealous asked people to think back to the morning after the 2016 election and how they felt. He said he’d taken up the habit of saying the Serenity Prayer in the election’s aftermath. The fundamental truth of the prayer is to focus on things you have the power to change, Jealous said.
“In Maryland, where Democrats and like-minded Independents outnumber Republicans and conservatives two-to-one, we can control who runs our state. We can change who runs our state,” Jealous said, before the crowd burst out in an Obama-era “Yes we can!” chant and Jealous reminded them that he has been endorsed by the former president.
In another throwback to Obama’s campaign, O’Malley asked the crowd if they were “fired up and ready to go.”
The Jealous campaign has pinned its hopes on record turnout this election among Democrats, necessary to overcome those Democrats who say they’ll support Hogan.
“It’s a big change election for us,” Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews said, later telling the crowd that the “intensity among Democrats is palpable.”
“What we’ve seen during the first few days of early voting is double the numbers of people each day going to the polls compared to the last gubernatorial election. We’ve got to keep it up. … and then we’ve got to have the surge on Nov. 6,” Matthews said, urging the crowd to take people who have not yet registered to early voting sites, where they’ll be eligible for same-day registration.
At the end of day six of early voting in Maryland, an unofficial total of 462,954 people have voted, according to State Board of Elections data. So far, 295,737 of the ballots cast have been from Democrats, compared to 112,450 from Republicans, but there’s no telling how many voters are crossing party lines to support Hogan.
Dan Segal, a 61-year-old registered Democrat from Montgomery County said he came out to see Sanders for the fourth time, but he also strongly supported Jealous and Elrich.
“Ben has a fantastic history and will be a wonderful fighter for human rights,” Segal said. He conceded that there’s a gap between progressive Democrats and the party establishment but said, “Hopefully we’re going to grow in the same direction.”
On polls that showed Jealous trailing Hogan by double digits in the waning months of the campaign, Segal said all that was left was to hope and pray the numbers would be proven wrong.
“Nobody knows what the electorate is going to do this time around,” he said. “I know [Jealous] is going to do well in Montgomery County.”
Frosh, who found himself at the tail-end of the line snaking around the theater, said he hadn’t seen a rally in the county quite so large in a long time. “This turnout is impressive,” Frosh said in an interview with Maryland Matters, as he moved toward the theater’s front doors.
Asked whether he sensed a divide between progressive Democrats and moderates in the party, Frosh demurred.
“I just want Democrats to win,” he said. “We’re at an unprecedented time in our history at this point and I think there need to be more checks on [the president].”
There was some divergence from the state focus during the evening. When Sanders first took the stage, someone from the crowd shouted, “Run for president,” eliciting a sustained round of applause.
“…As I was saying,” Sanders said once the fervor died down. “Thank you all for coming out in what, in my view, is the most important midterm election in the history of the United States of America.”
Hogan in Montgomery: ‘I’m superstitious’
Hogan, meanwhile, returned to the annual awards ceremony at the Montgomery County Business Hall of Fame Tuesday – another in his increasingly frequent trips to the state’s biggest jurisdiction.
Exactly four years ago, as a private citizen and the GOP nominee for governor, Hogan planted himself near the rear of the ballroom at the Universities of Maryland at Shady Grove, greeting attendees at the Hall of Fame lunch. As Ken Ulman, then the Howard County executive and Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor stood nearby, chatting with a reporter about what the next Democratic administration might look like, Hogan was visibly ebullient, confidently predicting victory.
On Tuesday, Hogan was every bit as chipper and no less confident as he worked the room – this time moving slowly among well-wishers, under the watchful eye of his security detail.
Hogan also got a prime speaking slot – a courtesy he was not offered four years ago – and a hero’s welcome. He used the occasion to reprise his standard stump speech about making Maryland more business-friendly, though he leavened his remarks with references to projects and funding initiatives in Montgomery County and flowery praise for outgoing County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
“I can say honestly and truly, one of the great highlights I’ve had as governor is the partnership with your county executive,” Hogan said. (Leggett did not attend the Democratic rally in Bethesda.)
Hogan said he was eager to come back to the Hall of Fame induction just before the election because “I’m superstitious.” This was listed as an official appearance, rather than a campaign event.
Hogan, a cancer survivor, also told the crowd about meeting one of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees, Bruce Lee, president of the Lee Development Group, and Lee’s son, Andrew, who has a rare form of kidney cancer.
Later, when it was time to pick up his award, Lee recounted a recent conversation with his son, in which Andrew Lee predicted that Hogan would carry Montgomery County next week. No Republican statewide candidate has topped 40 percent in Montgomery County since Ellen R. Sauerbrey took 41 percent during the 1994 gubernatorial election.
“You heard it here first,” Bruce Lee said, to enthusiastic applause.
Hogan by then had been whisked away – but the good karma probably reached him as he headed to his next event, a get-out-the-vote rally in White Marsh.