Kamenetz has uphill climb in Democratic primary, let alone if he goes up against popular Hogan

If Kevin Kamenetz hopes to become the first Baltimore County Executive to win the governorship since Spiro Agnew 52 years ago, he’s got to come from behind.

The Pikesville resident is one of the top Democratic contenders in the June 26 primary. Yet, in the first poll of 2018, Kamenetz finished 10 percentage points behind Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and was nearly tied with former NAACP national president Ben Jealous.

Baker also did better than his Democratic rivals when matched against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, according to the Gonzales Maryland Poll. Hogan, though, remains highly popular, solidly funded and in a strong position at this early stage of the campaign.

For Kamenetz, the first step is winning the Democratic primary, which could prove uphill.

He does have one distinct advantage — three times more money in the bank than either Baker or Jealous.

In his year-end report, Kamenetz said he has more than $2 million in hand, versus just under $700,000 for Baker and $640,000 for Jealous. That’s a significant plus, but Kamenetz will have to continue raising funds at a fast pace to get his name and record known by Democratic voters.

Television advertising isn’t cheap — $700,000 for just one ad that blankets Maryland. TV rates are especially steep in the voter-rich Washington suburbs. Yet, that’s where Kamenetz has to start catching up to Baker, who is in a dominant position with voters in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Name recognition remains a problem. Kamenetz isn’t a boisterous, charismatic self-promoter. He’s more of a workhorse than a show horse, who proved to be a good manager of county government with a moderately progressive agenda.

He needs to become the Baltimore-area candidate in the primary. Yet, so far he is not making overwhelming headway in areas outside of Baltimore County.

Support from elected officials is important. So, too, are union and newspaper endorsements. The June 26 primary date falls earlier than usual and could attract only hard-core Democrats. So endorsements might influence those voters.

Kamenetz has spent a good deal of time touring the state, meeting with Democratic clubs outside Maryland’s core metro areas. Winning over the bulk of these small-town voters could add substantially to Kamenetz’s statewide total.

An important factor could be the candidates’ choice of running mates. They have until Feb. 27 to choose lieutenant governor partners.

Some of the lesser-known gubernatorial candidates may wind up in that second spot on the joint ballot. Speculation swirls around state Sen. Rich Madaleno, who would bring support from Montgomery County voters and the gay community, and lawyer Jim Shea, who has strong Baltimore business and legal backing as well as $1.3 million in unspent funds.

Kamenetz will need a big turnout in his home county, especially on the western side — in Owings Mills, Pikesville, Randallstown and Woodlawn as well as pockets of support from inside the city, especially in communities bordering the county.

Should Kamenetz win the primary, he will face a daunting challenge. Hogan is an adroit politician who has maintained his popularity as governor while not achieving major advances in Annapolis.

The Democrats’ biggest hope lies in a “wave” election in which voters overwhelmingly show up to voice disapproval of President Trump and Republican leadership of Congress. If that happens, Hogan’s popularity may not matter; he could be swept out to sea with other Republicans.

For now, though, Kamenetz must focus on winning the Democratic primary. He’s well-positioned financially to make a strong charge, but he has yet to become a household word throughout Maryland.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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