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Josh Kurtz: Too Many Seismic Political Events Looming to Worry About 2022


With the passing of the first J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake of the 2022 election cycle – one of the great political gossip-fests of the summer – the temptation to speculate about the gubernatorial race is irresistible.

But I’d urge caution: It’s way too early to say anything with certitude about 2022.

And so much of major political significance has to happen before the 2022 gubernatorial election truly takes shape: the White House election; the 2020 city elections in Baltimore; next year’s congressional elections, which don’t seem very interesting at this point in Maryland, though that could change; congressional and legislative redistricting following the 2020 U.S. Census; and, quite possibly, a battle to replace the longest-serving state Senate president in U.S. history.

What’s most interesting about the 2022 gubernatorial election at this early stage is how difficult it is to even anticipate, on the Democratic side, who the candidates will be.

At the equivalent point of the 2018 election, back in 2015, it was pretty obvious that two term-limited county executives, Rushern L. Baker III of Prince George’s County and Kevin B. Kamenetz of Baltimore County, were going to run.

But did anyone at that stage anticipate the candidacy of Benjamin T. Jealous, the former NAACP president who wound up being the Democratic nominee? Had anyone even heard of Krishanti Vignarajah? Did anyone outside of Maryland legal circles know who James L. Shea was? Did anyone anticipate that then-state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. would risk a promising career in the legislature for a statewide run?

Looking ahead to 2022, it is abundantly clear that state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot is putting himself in the position to run and would be a strong contender if he decided to do so. He’s got money in the bank, broad approval ratings, and decent name recognition thanks to his 12 ½ years in statewide office and frequent travels across the state.

But Franchot has a toxic relationship with the Democratic establishment, which could come into play in any party primary, and while his savvy political team keeps the lines of communication open with progressive leaders across the state, Franchot’s chameleon-like qualities and bromance with Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. could also impact his status in the Democratic primary.

Perhaps most significant, what’s also unclear is whether Franchot, who will be 75 in 2022, will want to sacrifice the pleasures of his garden and his Cape Cod vacations for what is sure to be a brutal campaign for governor, followed by the miseries of the job should he win.

In 2022, there will be no termed-out Democratic county executive ready to try for the next step on the political ladder, like Kamenetz and Baker. The three county executives thought to harbor ambitions for higher office – Angela D. Alsobrooks of Prince George’s County, Calvin Ball of Howard County and John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. of Baltimore County, will be completing their first terms in 2022.

All – especially Alsobrooks – will be urged by certain party leaders and activists to take a close look at a statewide run. But do any of these newbies want to turn their attention to constant statewide appearances and amped-up fundraising midway through their first terms, when they’ll just be getting comfortable in their day jobs?

Here are other questions about the Democratic gubernatorial race: Do any members of the congressional delegation decide to run (see Brown, Anthony)? How about members of the state legislature?

Will anyone try to persuade Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, a highly respected figure in the party who will be 76 in 2022, to go for the top job? He’s resisted all such talk in the past.

Does Ken Ulman, the former Howard County executive and 2014 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, try to get back in the political game? How about Vignarajah, now CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, who showed lots of promise in 2018 but also made many rookie mistakes?

And what about former attorney general Douglas F. Gansler or former state Del. Heather Mizeur, also-rans in the 2014 Democratic primary who remain on the edges of the Maryland political scene?

Does reality smack John Delaney in the face and does he come to realize that he loves Carroll County, Md., as much as he’s loved Carroll County, Iowa? Does Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez take a look at running for governor if he doesn’t wind up as attorney general under a Democratic president in 2021 or if President Trump is reelected?

Remember, too, that Maryland is home to many rich and accomplished people – people who have great influence on the national stage and could logically (or illogically) decide to take a stab at running for governor.

Let’s just say that the 2022 Democratic field for governor will remain unsettled for a while longer – far more unsettled than we’ve seen in recent election cycles.

On the Republican side, the 2022 race seems far more clear-cut at this stage, with Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford, state Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman mentioned most often as potential contenders.

The idea of a government technocrat like Rutherford, a genial Hymie the Robot-type, running for governor seemed improbable even a couple of years ago. But Rutherford has upped his official and political appearances perceptibly in recent months, is raising money, and has hired a savvy media strategist in Hannah Marr.

Which is not to say that Rutherford is running for sure. But it’s looking increasingly likely.

Rutherford may not fire up the GOP base, but depending on the political environment in 2022 – and depending on who the Democrats nominate – Republicans could do worse than Rutherford as their standard-bearer. Who knows, with a moderate like Rutherford as the GOP nominee, Maryland could become a state like Massachusetts that routinely elects Republican governors, even with Democratic supermajorities in the legislature (already the GOP has won three of the last five gubernatorial elections).

And wouldn’t it be ironic if Republicans, who elected the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor in 2002, also elected its first African-American governor – especially after the Democrats have nominated African-American candidates for governor in the past two election cycles?

Several political strategists have long touted Schulz as a potentially formidable candidate for Congress or statewide office, and she has plenty of political skills and a polished resume after stints in the legislature and in two Cabinet posts under Hogan. But Schulz hasn’t done anything to fuel the speculation herself. Might she be the ideal candidate for lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by Rutherford?

Glassman, a popular and veteran public servant, also deserves consideration if he chooses to make running for governor his next political step. But he’s in a funny place – a political insider who isn’t in with the Hogan crowd, but also probably isn’t conservative enough for activists who might be looking for someone to take on the party establishment in 2022.

Glassman – like Schulz – might wait to see what the state’s congressional boundaries look like before deciding if he wants to pursue higher office. He’s currently the president of the Maryland Association of Counties – which means he’ll have major exposure at the summer convention in Ocean City in two weeks and throughout the rest of the year.

What signs should we be looking for to see how the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial fields take shape? I’d look to next year’s national political conventions for some early clues.

On the Democratic side, who is visible at the national convention in Milwaukee, which takes place July 13-16 (coincidentally, the same week as the Tawes crab feast)? Who is sponsoring the Maryland delegation’s daily breakfasts, daytime excursions and after-hours receptions?

To a lesser extent, the same goes for the Republicans at the GOP convention in Charlotte, N.C., in late August. But with Trump loyalists dominating the Maryland GOP rank-and-file – and presumably, the state’s convention delegation – it will be interesting to see how the Hoganistas try to navigate the political dynamic.

And of course, as we look ahead to the 2022 gubernatorial election in Maryland, we haven’t begun to speculate on what the national political terrain will look like then – and the very real possibility that Donald Trump could still be our president.

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Josh Kurtz: Too Many Seismic Political Events Looming to Worry About 2022