'Nobody kill anybody': Murder-free weekend urged in Baltimore

Maryland Democrats organize a year early for 2018 election

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The next election is more than a year away, but Maryland's Democrats are trying to convert current discontent about the Trump administration into an organization that can reverse Democratic party losses next year.

State party leaders launched what it called "The Summer of Resistance and Renewal" Saturday with a small rally in Annapolis, shifting ahead by a full year the traditional timeline to organize volunteers for the 2018 election.

Maryland Democrats hold a supermajority in both chambers of the State House, all but one spot in the state's 10-member congressional delegation and a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage.

But despite their dominance in statewide politics, Maryland's Democrats say they lack the infrastructure and organization to prevent another round of big losses like those in 2014, when Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's upset win put him in the governor's mansion and GOP politicians made gains in local offices across the state.

Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews said the early organizing effort "comes from a place of humility."

"The Democrats have learned their lesson from 2014," she said. "The Democratic Party was taking its registration advantage for granted and, to be honest, allowed its party apparatus to atrophy."

The party is banking on outrage against President Donald Trump to help Democrats refocus and rebuild.

Trump's first few months in office have sparked increased civic engagement among many in Maryland, which Hillary Clinton won in November by 26 percentage points. Democratic party leaders say the type of energy that prompted the Women's March in Washington and spontaneous protests at airports after Trump's travel ban won't translate into political victories unless they organize now.

"We can't take for granted that the so-called Donald Trump effect is going to bring people out," Democrat Rep. John P. Sarbanes told a crowd of about 200 people gathered in front of the State House. "We have to make it happen."

Maryland Republican Party Chairman Dirk Haire said the state's minority party suffered decades of losses when it relied on angry conservatives. Haire welcomed what he described as Democrats trying the same failed approach.

"As we've learned on the Republican side of aisle, anger is not a strategy," Haire said. "It's never worked for Republicans. I don't see why it would work for Democrats."

Although Democrats far outnumber the state's Republicans, unaffiliated voters make up the fastest-growing group of voters in the state. Haire said Republicans intend to rely on data and focusing on specific races, and he said early Democratic efforts won't affect those plans.

"We're going about our business in a smart and strategic way," Haire said. "We'll leave the screaming to the Democrats."

The GOP wants to make Hogan Maryland's first two-term Republican governor in a half-century, as well as end the Democrats' supermajority in the legislature. The next governor will oversee how congressional and state legislative districts are redrawn after the 2020 census, so the person at the helm of state goverment could be able to tip the balance of political power for a decade.

Maryland Democrats are also dealing with the same schism that divided the party nationally after the prolonged primary between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, activists said. Matthews said the party was also in store for a vigorous primary contest up and down the ballot. At least eight Democrats have expressed interest in challenging Hogan, for example.

"The important thing is to stay true to who our real enemy is," Matthews told the crowd. "We need to bring progressives into our pary, and have their voices be part of the exuberance."

Already, Matthews has held summits with progressive groups from across the state, urging their leaders to join forces.

On Saturday, Sheila Ruth with Progressive Democrats of Baltimore County joined the rally. She warned the crowd that the if the party did not come together to address the social and economic concerns that prompted people to vote for the president, "then Trump will be followed by another Trump."

Joseph Kitchen, president of the Young Democrats of Maryland, said that even though Maryland is widely considered a blue state, rank-and-file Democrats need to realize that they're losing local races in areas that were once Democratic strongholds. He pointed to the mayoral races in Annapolis and Frederick, and to the county executive race in Howard County — all jurisdictions rich with Democrats but led by a Republican.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer downplayed the significance of a Democratic rally held right outside the governor's home.

"We don't pay a lot of attention to partisan politics and politicians," he said. "The governor will remain focused on doing what's best for Maryland,"

Rep. John Delaney, a Potomac Democrat weighing a bid against Hogan, told the crowd the must do more, and the must do more in local races.

"We're not going to take back the country and advance the policies we care about by complaining about Trump," he said.

ecox@baltsun.com

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