Democrats running for Maryland governor crisscross state in final push for votes

Democrat Krish Vignarajah visited the Baltimore Farmers’ Market and Bazaar on Sunday morning, seizing the opportunity to meet a relatively new addition to Maryland’s political landscape: voters who have finally tuned in to the primary election just two days away.

“There is so much more momentum and so much more energy,” she said.

A few yards away stood rival Jim Shea, remarking that the indifference he felt from voters just a week ago seems to have evaporated.

“I’m trying to shake as many hands as possible,” he said.

Vignarajah, Shea and the four other Democrats who are competing for their party’s nomination for governor crisscrossed the state this weekend in a final push to connect — and persuade — the legion of undecided Democratic voters who have only recently started paying attention.

From churches to pride parades to rallies and appearances with celebrities, the Democrats, who until recently had failed to attract much attention, pushed all their resources in these final days into asking voters for their support in Tuesday’s primary.

Martha McKenna, a Democratic campaign consultant, said campaigns can be won and lost in the final days — sometimes on Election Day itself.

“A lot of these decisions are made in the last 48 hours,” she said. “Candidates should keep introducing themselves and talk about their values and priorities up until the polls close.”

On Saturday, Democrat Alec Ross and his running mate, Julie Verratti, roamed Frederick Pride — one of Maryland’s largest and most colorful celebrations of the LGBT community, and a hotbed of Democratic politics. The festival was crawling with candidates for everything from party central committees to governor to Congress.

Ross said his experience with last week’s early voting convinced him people are making their decisions unusually late.

“People would literally be walking in and know who they’re going to vote for for county executive. They know who they’re going to vote for for state’s attorney. But they don’t know who they’re going to vote for for governor,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

A Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll two weeks ago showed 44 percent of Democratic voters remained undecided. A whopping 57 percent said they had paid “only a little” attention to the gubernatorial primary race.

Of voters who had settled on a candidate, more than half said they might change their minds.

And with so many candidates on the ballot, political analysts say, the race could be won with as little as 25 percent of the vote.

That volatility has encouraged lower-polling candidates such as Vignarajah, a former policy aid to Michelle Obama, to believe “it’s a wide-open race still.”

She didn’t begin airing television ads until last week, betting that a last-minute media blitz could convert last-minute deciders into supporters. During the final weekend, she attended markets, festivals and get-out-the-vote rallies across the state to try to make as many personal connections as possible.

Shea, a Baltimore lawyer, visited several of Baltimore’s markets and attended rallies in Southern Maryland with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer.

“I had a chance to speak in front of a crowd,” Shea said.

The two front-runners in the race had dramatically different strategies for the final days of the campaign.

Ben Jealous, former president of the NAACP and a favorite of the party’s progressive wing, emphasized his high-profile surrogates across the state. On Sunday, he visited four different churches, including a few with actor Lamman Rucker.

The day before, he kicked off his final weekend with the help of another Ben — Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s fame — at events in Silver Spring and Baltimore to encourage Jealous supporters to launch get-out-the-vote efforts.

“We may not have Ben & Jerry but we have Ben & Ben,” Jealous said. He rallied volunteers — many wearing purple T-shirts from the SEIU labor union — to head to the field.

“We are organizers. We don’t give up our power,” he said. As he scooped ice cream, Jealous quipped that “there are moments when sugar comes in handy.”

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, the other front-runner, spent the weekend rallying his supporters in his home county and neighboring Montgomery County.

Hoyer, who along with much of the state’s political establishment has endorsed Baker, hosted a get-out-the-vote rally in Prince George’s. Baker attended three back-to-back church services Sunday morning and gave supporters a final pep talk in Clinton Sunday evening.

By the time he got to the VFW hall there, he’d hugged so many supporters during the day his shoulder was smudged with a few different shades of makeup.

“This is it. You are the boots on the ground,” he said. “You are the people who get this done.”

Baker said he was surprised how many people have remained undecided until the very end, including people he met outside early voting centers a few days ago.

“They were making their minds up as they were walking into the polls,” he said. “I went to every polling place I could.”

On Monday, Baker will greet voters at the Silver Spring Metro station with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who has also endorsed him.

Incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, meanwhile, spent his weekend rallying for his choice for Baltimore County executive: Al Redmer.

Democrat state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. spent Saturday among the throng of politicians at the Frederick Pride parade, where many fairgoers approached him and said they had his support. Madaleno is the first openly gay person elected to the Maryland Senate, and has worked on many LGBT causes.

“LGBT communities are starting to get worried about backsliding on the progress we’ve made in the state and the country,” he said.

A strong turnout in that community could give Madaleno a boost. That would help, because two weeks ago, he was one of the four candidates polling in the single digits. That was before his “Take That Trump” campaign video featuring him kissing his husband went viral.

Madaleno said that “besides prayer,” he planned to spend the weekend phone banking and to knock on doors in his Montgomery County base.

On Monday, he planned to spend much of the day on the phone dialing for dollars in a last-minute fundraising push, as his spokeswoman put it, gearing up for the general election.

ecox@baltsun.com

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