Vexed by low poll numbers and a lack of financial support, Democrat Rushern L. Baker III suspended his campaign for governor on Friday.
In an interview with Maryland Matters in his College Park office, Baker, a former Prince George’s county executive, said he was proud of his 14-month bid for his party’s nomination. But his campaign is low on funds, leaving him unable to compete during the final stretch. The primary is July 19.
“We were hitting our stride. I think if we had a million dollars, we could win this,” he said. “It feels good when you’re on the ground [campaigning]. But the reality is, unless you can match that on the air … we can get close, but we won’t get there. So I think we have to be realistic.”
The Baker camp recently reported having less than $100,000 on hand, a minuscule sum compared to the millions amassed by several of his rivals — and not nearly enough to to buy ads in the state’s two media markets during the six-week homestretch. Days after the fundraising report, campaign manager Andrew Mallinoff stepped down, citing a desire to devote more time to his music career.
Baker launched his gubernatorial bid 14 months ago. Polls funded by rival campaigns as well as his own survey initially put him in the top tier of Democratic primary candidates, a group that also included Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, author and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore and former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez.
On Sunday, however, a Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore poll, the first independent survey of the campaign, showed Baker a distant fourth, with just 7% support, well behind Franchot, Moore and Perez. They had 20%, 15% and 12% respectively.
A participant in the state’s public financing system, Baker is suspending — rather than ending — his candidacy. He said he would consider a return to the campaign trail in the unlikely event that donations increased dramatically.
The Sun/UB survey found that three Democratic voters in ten remain undecided. That finding mirrors what the campaigns are seeing in their internal polls. Baker said the poll is proof that the big-spending campaigns have yet to sway the electorate.
Public safety was a top priority for the Baker campaign. In March, he called on Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to declare a state of emergency in Baltimore, pledging that he would do so on his first day in office. Baker generated headlines when he suggested that state leaders were lackadaisical in their response to the homicide rate in Baltimore because most victims are Black.
In an interview, Baker said Hogan, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D), the NAACP and his Democratic rivals have all begun to focus more on the city’s crime problem because he drew a spotlight to it.
“It’s no doubt. Nobody was talking about this as an emergency,” he said. “Peter [Franchot] is actually talking about it, which is something he’s never talked about before — ever.”
“I think that’s a proud moment for us and our campaign,” he added. “And it’s one we don’t intend to let go.”
If Baker does not resume his campaign, he is likely to endorse one of the nine remaining candidates. He expects to throw his support behind a candidate who has the financial resources to be competitive in November. “We’ll sit back and analyze what makes sense. But I can’t see a scenario where I don’t [endorse]. People want to know what you think.”
(He volunteered that personal considerations would not be part of the equation. “I’m not looking for a job,” he said. Baker currently works with local officials from around the country through the College Park-based Baker Strategy Group.)
Baker name-checked several of the Democrats in the gubernatorial campaign during an hour-long conversation — including former Attorney General Doug Gansler, Perez, and former U.S. Education Secretary John King. He offered the most lavish praise of King.
“John King is really impressive. I sat down with him [on Wednesday]. He’s extremely impressive,” Baker said. “If you had a ‘most improved player’ in this group, he would be it.”
A two-term county executive who served during the administrations of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Hogan, Baker believes top state leaders must collaborate with the legislature and local officials. “I know what it’s like to work with a governor that helps you and a governor that just ignores you,” he said.
He gave no indication as to when he would endorse. Baker is universally well-liked, and given his standing in vote-rich Prince George’s, rivals would undoubtedly welcome his support.
Baker is the third candidate to withdraw from the Democratic primary. Former Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman ended her run in April, after about 12 weeks on the campaign trail. She then endorsed Franchot. Tech executive Michael Rosenbaum quit the contest in November.