Martin O'Malley endorses Rushern Baker in Democratic race for Maryland governor

Former Gov. Martin O’Malley endorsed Rushern L. Baker III for the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor Thursday at a news conference outside the State House in Annapolis.

And in a bizarre twist of political happenstance, guess who happened to be in the background during O’Malley’s appearance with Baker? Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican whom O’Malley ousted in 2006.

The Democratic former governor urged his fellow party members to choose the Prince George’s County executive to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in November. The former Baltimore mayor praised Baker as being “a leader in tough times” for taking over the the state’s second largest county after a recession.

“He’s going to be a governor for all of us,” O’Malley said.

Since leaving office in 2015, O’Malley had limited his involvement in Maryland politics and had previously remained neutral.

Baker’s tenure as county executive overlapped with O’Malley’s second term as governor from 2011 to 2015. During this year’s campaign, Baker has praised the former governor as an ally in his efforts to improve Prince George’s County and faulted Hogan for failing to measure up to O’Malley’s support.

O’Malley’s support could be a double-edged sword for Baker. While O’Malley still has supporters among Maryland Democrats, he has detractors as well — including among progressives who object to his crime policies as mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007.

If Baker wins the June 26 primary, the endorsement will also make it easier for Hogan to tie the Democrat to O’Malley’s record of raising taxes in Maryland.

At a campaign rally last week, the Republican governor made it clear that his 2018 campaign will sound many of the anti-O’Malley themes that carried him to victory over then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown in 2014.

O’Malley is the second former Democratic governor to support Baker. Parris N. Glendening, who held the office from 1995 to 2003 and also served as Prince George’s County executive, previously endorsed him.

In choosing Baker, O’Malley passed on some other candidates with whom he was closely associated during his time as governor.

Former NAACP Ben Jealous was an ally in O’Malley’s successful effort to repeal the death penalty in 2013. Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. was an outspoken advocate for many of O’Malley’s initiatives. Jim Shea, the former managing partner of the Venable law firm, was an O’Malley appointee to the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland.

The O’Malley endorsement came as the Baker campaign announced that three Baltimore County officials who had endorsed the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz had switched to supporting his campaign.

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.

Baker also unveiled a 10-point plan for improving public education in Maryland. It will include many of the same themes supported by his rivals: expanded pre-K programs and technical education, help for low-performing schools, better pay for teachers and increased mental health services.

The proposal that may stand out the most is Baker’s proposal to supplement low-performing schools with community centers to offer family therapy and mental and other health services.

After the news conference, O’Malley said he hadn’t noticed Ehrlich taking part in a photo shoot with fellow Republicans.

Ehrlich clearly spotted O’Malley and was laughing in the background as the Democrat spoke. He said his simultaneous presence was a coincidence.

After O’Malley left, Ehrlich and Baker greeted each other and engaged in a cordial chat outside the State House.

“God has a sense of humor,” said House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, who had joined Ehrlich for the photo shoot.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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