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COVID-19 in Maryland Government & Politics

Md. Dems Plan Celebrity-Studded Virtual Rally, Week of Action Ahead of Primary

Former vice president Joe Biden with Benjamin T. Jealous, the Democratic nominee for governor, at a Democratic reception in Baltimore in 2018. File photo.

With the Maryland primary quickly approaching and Democratic leaders casting about for ways to engage voters in the months leading up to the November election, the Maryland Democratic Party and former vice president Joe Biden’s White House campaign have a series of events scheduled for this week that are designed to be building blocks for the general election push.

The main event is a “Dems@Distance” rally next Sunday at 3 p.m., sponsored by the Maryland Democratic Party. A cavalcade of Democratic stars are providing videos for the virtual rally, including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the state’s two U.S. senators, Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, Democratic National Committee Chairman (and Marylander) Tom Perez, and a half dozen former presidential contenders: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang.

“This is big time,” said Yvette Lewis, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party.

As of Monday morning, almost 1,000 people had signed up to attend the rally, and other state parties, she said, are looking to replicate the Maryland event — or borrow the video messages.

Maryland Democratic Chairwoman Yvette Lewis. File photo

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the Maryland presidential primary was supposed to have been held on April 28 — the same day as Pennsylvania’s and Delaware’s. That had party leaders in all three states planning a “Dems Drive 95” campaign — a reference to Interstate 95 — to gin up interest in all three states.

Now, eight states and the District of Columbia are holding primaries and June 2, and Democratic leaders in all those states are urging voters to the polls, even if the nomination of Biden is a foregone conclusion.

“There’s so many states on the same day, so in Maryland we could really be part of that number that puts Joe Biden over the top,” Lewis said.

In presidential election years, Maryland Democrats send volunteers to surrounding states that are more competitive in the general election — a move that can occasionally be controversial, because some party activists fret that doing so depletes the state party and its core supporters from staying focused on activities at home. Lewis concedes that once again, “Maryland is going to be an export state in 2020,” dispatching one set of party activists to Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia while others will be part of a “SWAT team” to deploy wherever the Biden campaign needs them.

But Lewis said she has extracted promises from her counterparts in the surrounding states that they’ll send volunteers to Maryland in 2022, a nonpresidential year. While Democrats have carried every presidential election in Maryland since 1992, they’ve lost three of the last five gubernatorial elections, which is clearly where they need the most help.

“Our goal is to make a change so we can get ourselves out of the situation we somehow find ourselves in,” Lewis said.

Meanwhile, the group Maryland Women for Biden, an offshoot of the national Women for Biden organization, which is affiliated with the national campaign, is conducting what it’s calling “a week of action” — 15 online house parties.

Barbara Goldberg-Goldman, a party stalwart who is co-chair of Maryland Women for Biden along with Baltimore City Del. Brooke E. Lierman and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy, said the parties this week include an event Tuesday evening sponsored by Frederick Del. Karen Lewis Young, a party featuring Maryland Congressman Jamie B. Raskin on Wednesday evening, an Eastern Shore event co-hosted by House Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes, a Thursday evening party headlined by Congressman John Sarbanes, a Saturday morning event hosted by Prince George’s Del. Nicole A. Williams and featuring Braveboy, and a Saturday evening event featuring Van Hollen.

This is the second go-round as party leader for Lewis, who took over last December and also served from 2011 to 2015. She said that during her first term, with President Obama in the White House and Martin O’Malley as governor, Democrats had become complacent.

“I think I’ve enjoyed it more this time,” Lewis said. “There’s an energy out there that simply wasn’t there before.”

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Md. Dems Plan Celebrity-Studded Virtual Rally, Week of Action Ahead of Primary