2018 Election Cycle’s Ups and Downs

The 2018 political cycle has been one for the books. Through the ups and downs, the grass-roots left has built a roadmap for the future in Maryland, and we are poised for huge gains in our state.

This year, Maryland’s Democratic base was able to nominate Ben Jealous for governor over the Democratic machine. Through a wide variety of factors, from Gov. Larry Hogan’s popularity and a fundraising gap to the deliberate abandonment of the Democratic nominee by the Democratic establishment, Ben Jealous lost. But let’s contextualize that campaign.

At time of writing, the Jealous/Turnbull ticket had 943,476 votes. That’s more votes than any candidate for governor has received aside from Martin O’Malley in 2010 and Hogan this year. Almost 125,000 more votes than Anthony Brown got in 2014, in spite of a huge fundraising and polling gap and institutional advantages for the Brown campaign. Not too shabby! Especially since the Republican bench has been totally eliminated and now, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman or Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford are the leading candidates for the Republican nomination.

But there’s more!

Longtime (32 years) state Senate President Mike Miller and 16-year House Speaker Mike Busch are both nearing the ends of their service. Their successors (presumably Sen. Guy Guzzone of Howard County and Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore, respectively) are both far more progressive and will not stifle legislation in the same manner. Democrats also now control the local government in Prince George’s, Baltimore City, and Baltimore County, Howard, Anne Arundel and Frederick counties. Calvin Ball, Johnny Olszewski and Steuart Pittman all won their hard-fought campaigns. Angela Alsobrooks won in an uncontested election, and Jan Gardner was re-elected.

Richard DeShay Elliott

The Baltimore Senate delegation was almost completely turned over to younger, more progressive members. Antonio Hayes, Jill Carter, Mary Washington and Cory McCray are an excellent bunch.

Add in that Sens. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and Delores Kelly of Baltimore County are also (presumably) in their last terms plus Bobby Zirkin is vulnerable to a challenge and you can see that the state Senate will be a new arena for legislative battles soon. Even better, the Republican “Drive for 5” was largely unsuccessful and only two targeted Democrats lost (Robbie Leonard in District 42 and Jim Mathias in District 38) while we even picked up District 9.

Even in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, candidates outside the archetypical “socially liberal, financially conservative, supported by corporations and establishment backers” had strong showings and were even elected in Wicomico County. Rebuilding the Democratic Party in an independent, progressive direction will yield great dividends in the long term.

The Democratic advantage in the House of Delegates grew, and many new candidates now have the experience of a campaign plus the name recognition and fundraising ability to be competitive next go around. The ballot questions that passed statewide and in Baltimore also showed that Maryland’s electorate can be quite progressive. We should ease the process to put ballot questions up to fight for gains by any political means necessary.

The 2019 municipal elections and particularly the Baltimore City 2020 races will be primary areas of focus for Maryland’s progressive movement starting now, and the 2022 election isn’t far from thought either. Whether Ben Jealous runs again or we support a new voice, we can tell that the Democratic establishment and the tactics they used to undermine progressives this year are in their twilight, and we can build a state party that unapologetically supports economic, racial and environmental justice. We’ve got years to build and despite the naysaying and pessimism many have exhibited, we now know the tactics that many “Democrats” will use to keep us out of office so we can beat them at their own game.

For those who feel lost, look for local groups to get involved with. Be it Progressive Maryland, Our Revolution, Indivisible or the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus, were all building a better future for our state, and we only win when we unite.


The writer is a Ph. D candidate at Johns Hopkins University, an electoral fellow for Progressive Maryland, the former campaign manager for Allison Berkowitz (District 7) and director of digital strategy for Allison Galbraith (Maryland’s 1st congressional district). You can find him on Twitter at @RichElliottMD.


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