Seven Democrats have theories for why they'll win the gubernatorial primary. Whose math adds up?

The Democratic gubernatorial primary is so competitive this year, The Sun’s Erin Cox reports, that campaigns and strategists think they may need the support of no more than a quarter of the electorate to win — maybe as few as 125,000 votes. To put that in context, two of the leading candidates, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, cleared more than that number in their 2014 re-election bids; it’s not remotely an insurmountable number state-wide. Consequently, the campaigns are focusing most of their efforts on appealing to certain segments of the electorate, and they all have theories for how they can win. Here’s a run-down of the best-case scenario for each of them — and how things could go wrong.

Rushern Baker

His path to victory: A strong base in Prince George’s County, spillover recognition in neighboring Montgomery County, appeal among African-American voters generally and particularly in Baltimore City, plus enough establishment cred to do well elsewhere.

How it adds up: Prince George’s is the second biggest prize in a Democratic primary, just behind its larger neighbor, Montgomery. And the county showed some love for a native son in the last gubernatorial race, giving then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown a massive, 55,000 vote edge over then-Attorney General Doug Gansler. Mr. Brown also won in Montgomery County, the home turf of both of his chief rivals, Mr. Gansler and then-Del. Heather Mizeur, though not as handily. Baltimore City was another bright spot for Mr. Brown, who, like Mr. Baker, is African-American. Finally, like Mr. Brown, Mr. Baker has some impressive endorsements from the party establishment, which should help him elsewhere.

How it could fall short: Unlike in 2014, there are two major African-American candidates in the race, so that pivotal segment of the electorate will likely be more divided than it was last time. Mr. Baker also lacks the level of organized labor endorsements Mr. Brown enjoyed, so it may be harder for him to expand beyond his natural base.

Ben Jealous

His path to victory: Support from progressives and African-Americans, plus a big boost from unions and other groups with the ability to get out the vote.

How it adds up: Mr. Jealous was a prominent surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries, and the Vermonter has endorsed the former NAACP head in his gubernatorial bid and campaigned for him. Mr. Sanders got nearly 310,000 votes in Maryland in his race against Hillary Clinton, and Maryland’s Democratic electorate has clearly moved to the left in recent years. Progressive anger at President Donald Trump could really help Mr. Jealous. So could his slate of labor endorsements, most recently — and perhaps most crucially — from the state teachers union, a major force in Democratic politics.

How it could fall short: Mr. Jealous is by no means the only progressive in this race, and a Sanders endorsement isn’t necessarily a ticket to success — notably, the senator’s preferred candidate lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia last year. A first-time candidate, Mr. Jealous doesn’t come with a built-in turnout operation or a geographic base.

Kevin Kamenetz

His path to victory: Hold on to his base in Baltimore County and bank on name recognition throughout the region, plus pick up a strong share of voters in smaller counties.

How it adds up: Baltimore County has a big Democratic primary electorate, just behind Montgomery and Prince George’s. And the Baltimore region had more Democratic primary votes in 2014 (234,003) than the Washington region (207,531) — even if you include Charles and Frederick counties in the latter tally.

How it could fall short: The track record is not good for Baltimore County executives seeking higher office. In the six decades the position has been in existence, just two have ever been elected to anything afterward — Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Spiro Agnew. Mr. Kamenetz has been bruised by plenty of issues in his home county during the past eight years, so it’s no sure thing that he can run up the score there.

Richard Madaleno

His path to victory: Do well in his native Montgomery County and appeal to progressives elsewhere based on his track record in the legislature (and particularly his experience butting heads with Gov. Larry Hogan).

How it adds up: The state senator has a lot of support from fellow Montgomery politicians, including Rep. Jamie Raskin and a bevvy of legislators and municipal officials. He has performed well in straw polls of party activists and has relationships with progressive interest groups based on his work related to LGBT issues, the environment, economic justice, health care, gun control and other concerns.

How it could fall short: Mr. Madaleno has never run beyond the 18th Legislative District, so the most votes he’s ever gotten in a primary was just over 13,000. It’s a long way to go from there to a state-wide campaign — something Ms. Mizeur discovered four years ago in a race in which the progressive vote was much less fractured than it is this time.

Alec Ross

His path to victory: Find voters where other people aren’t through a tech- and social media-savvy campaign.

How it adds up: There is reason to believe that a Democratic wave election could bring out large numbers of voters who don’t have a historical attachment to any of the more established candidates. Democratic turnout in Virginia’s gubernatorial primary was up 70 percent over the last such contested election, in 2009, even though the number of registered voters has only grown by 9 percent in that time. A campaign that can identify and engage new voters could have an edge.

How it could fall short: A political newcomer, Mr. Ross’ ability to attract and turn out voters is unknown, and getting new or non-habitual voters to the polls is generally harder and less reliable than building support networks of reliable party activists.

Jim Shea

His path to victory: Mr. Shea, an attorney, is running a particularly Baltimore focused campaign while seeking additional pockets of votes throughout the state.

How it adds up: Baltimore City may be shrinking, but its overwhelmingly Democratic electorate still makes it a big prize in the primaries, producing about 70,000 votes four years ago. Mr. Shea doubled down on his efforts in the city by selecting City Councilman Brandon Scott as his running mate. Mr. Scott’s youth could be an asset as well — a recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll found a 14-point jump in the percentage of eligible voters under 30 who say they will definitely cast ballots this year.

How it could fall short: Even a dominant performance in Baltimore City would leave Mr. Shea short of the votes he’ll likely need, and other candidates are likely to have an edge in the remaining big jurisdictions. Picking up enough votes to make the difference in the state’s smaller counties is a labor-intensive task.

Krish Vignarajah

Her path to victory: Women, immigrants and other minorities.

How it adds up: Being the only woman in a seven-person field could be a big advantage. Polling consistently shows that women not only object to President Trump in larger numbers than men but that they do so more viscerally, so it’s a good bet that they will make up an unusually large part of the Democratic primary electorate this year.

How it could fall short: Ms. Vignarajah is also a first-time candidate and has, so far, raised less money than her rivals, which will make it difficult for her to introduce herself to voters. And although Ms. Vignarajah has put her gender at the forefront of her campaign, there’s no assurance that women will support her because of it — for example, young female voters broke heavily for Mr. Sanders over Ms. Clinton, and President Trump actually won the white women’s vote two years ago.

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