Gov. Larry Hogan rallied with hundreds of voters in the Eastern Shore town of Grasonville Saturday, asking the crowd to make him just the second Republican to be re-elected governor in Maryland history.
Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Ben Jealous hit campaign events in multiple counties at a breakneck pace — aided by the star power of actress Rosario Dawson and comedian Dave Chappelle — in his quest to become Maryland’s first black governor.
In the state’s most important races, including a hotly contested campaign for Baltimore County executive, candidates were delivering their closing arguments to voters.
More than 660,000 Marylanders cast ballots during the state’s eight-day early voting period that ended Thursday. But elections officials expect twice that number to show up Tuesday on Election Day — so candidates are engaging in a final blitz to persuade undecided voters and rally their bases.
“The polls look really good, I’m sure you heard about them,” Hogan told about 500 people gathered at Patriot Fire, a company that makes fire trucks, in Grasonville. “But I don’t care about those polls. … It matters about who shows up [on Election Day]. So, I want to encourage you not to take anything for granted.”
Hogan began his day of campaigning at a tug-of-war competition in Annapolis, where he worked the crowd with an orange crush drink in his hand and sunglasses on his face.
Three days until the general election, there was little doubt Hogan’s multimillion-dollar television advertising blitz had reached an audience. As voters stopped him to pose for photos, they referenced his ads.
“Your commercial with the kid in the hospital, that was a phenomenal commercial,” Todd Wooden, 51, of Kent Island, said, referring to a spot in which Hogan talks about befriending a fellow cancer patient after being diagnosed in 2015 with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I didn’t want to use it,” Hogan said of the ad. “I told the story and I started to choke up and cry. I said, ‘I don’t want to put that on TV.’”
“No, it’s awesome,” Wooden’s wife, Kristin, 47, interjected. “I’m a Democrat, but I’m voting for you. … I like the one with the riots and then the guy says, ‘When you needed help, we were there for you.’” The ad talks about Hogan’s actions during unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 in police custody.
“That’s a good one,” the governor, who has spent nearly $9 million on TV adverting, responded. “They’re all pretty good.”
He then put his arms around the couple and smiled for the camera.
Hogan said he wasn’t worried that about 270,000 more Democrats than Republicans cast ballots during early voting. Polls, all taken before the Oct. 25 start of early voting, showed a double-digit lead for the Republican governor, with more than a third of Democrats indicating they would vote for Hogan.
Still, the turnout thus far has been heartening to Democrats, who are hoping to unseat Hogan, capture key county executive seats and turn back a Republican effort to break the Democrats’ supermajority in the state Senate.
“The enthusiasm is on the Democratic side,” said Kathleen Matthews, who chairs the Maryland Democratic Party.
Events for Jealous Saturday included visits to vote-rich Baltimore and Montgomery counties. His campaign has argued that if turnout surges to 2 million voters, a “blue wave” will sweep Hogan from office in a state where there are twice as many Democrats as Republicans.
Jealous, working to fire up volunteer canvassers, continued to express optimism that he can pull off an upset.
“We’ve always known Hogan has the polls,” he said. “We have the numbers.”
His volunteers were keeping the faith as well.
“I think we got it,” said Neyda Gonzales of Takoma Park, as she prepared to go canvassing in Montgomery County. “I feel it in my sha-na-na.”
The high-profile event of the Democrat’s morning was a rally for the Latino community at Los Chorros, a Salvadorean/Mexican restaurant in heavily Hispanic Wheaton, featuring Dawson and Chappelle. They were joined by a contingent of down-ballot Montgomery County Democratic candidates, as well as Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat seeking re-election.
Jealous spoke to the crowd of Hogan’s opposition to proposed legislation that would have restricted police departments’ cooperation with the federal government on immigration enforcement.
“This is Maryland. We don’t need to accept a Republican governor politely pulling us backwards,” he said. “When it comes to immigrants, he hasn’t been polite about it.”
Dawson, a political activist who has appeared in dozens of movies including Men in Black II, told the group that she can’t vote in Maryland, “but if I could, I would” for Jealous.
“This is a man who’s willing to stand up and fight for us,” said Dawson, who like Jealous was a prominent supporter off U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Dawson, a California resident who says she is considering a run for political office in that state, said she flew to Maryland from Georgia, where she campaigned for Stacy Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor. She said that on Sunday, she will be in Florida to stump for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
Dawson has spoken of her experiences with sexual assault, and said she was particularly motivated to support Jealous because of his support of ensuring that all rape kits are tested. She said she also likes Jealous’ support for the abolition of cash bail as the prime determinant of pretrial release.
After the Wheaton rally and an appearance at the campaign’s Silver Spring headquarters, Jealous, Dawson and Chapelle traveled to Woodlawn for a late afternoon parade down Gwynn Oak Avenue to Gwynn Oak Park.
A couple hundred Jealous supporters walked the short distance to the park chanting such slogans as “no need to tell us, we’re all voting Jealous” and “Ben, Ben, Ben can win, we know why ‘cause we’re women.”
Meanwhile, in Baltimore County, county executive candidates Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Al Redmer Jr. crisscrossed the county to reach voters.
Olszewski, a Democrat, and Redmer, a Republican, both professed confidence heading into the final days. They’re vying to succeed County Executive Don Mohler and lead the state’s third-largest county.
Both candidates are experienced, having served in the House of Delegates, and have run well-funded campaigns. There’s been no independent polling to give voters an idea of who might be ahead going into Election Day.
Redmer began his morning rolling into the Hunt Valley Towne Centre on an antique fire truck driven by a former county fire chief, Elwood “Woody” Banister. Redmer climbed down from the 1934 American LaFrance truck and made his way up and down rows of souped-up Mustangs and shiny Porsches, shaking hands with the owners and encouraging them to vote.
He was trailed by his son, Buddy Redmer, and three of his grandchildren: Carson Redmer, 8; Dylan Redmer, 4; and Payson Mullahey, 7. Two of the boys wore bright yellow shirts encouraging people to “Vote for Pop Pop Noodle Head,” their nickname for their grandfather.
Redmer had a full slate of campaign activities planned after the car show: encouraging volunteers at his Timonium campaign headquarters, visiting a chili cook-off in Fort Howard, attending a bull roast in Jacksonville.
At each stop, his plan was to stress his experience as a state delegate and two stints as state insurance commissioner, as well as his private-sector experience in the insurance business. He promised to bring financial acumen and strong leadership to county government.
“The message is: I think I’m the right guy for the job and it’s critical to get out and vote — not just for me, but for Larry Hogan,” Redmer said.
The Republican governor has been increasingly visible in Baltimore County, campaigning both for Redmer and for himself. Hogan won Baltimore County with 59 percent of the vote in 2014, propelling him to victory over Democrat Anthony Brown.
Olszewski, likewise, had a packed schedule that included knocking on doors, a meet-and-greet with voters and teaming up with state Sen. Delores Kelley’s volunteers on the west side of the county. For Sunday, he planned to attend two church services.
Early Saturday afternoon, Olszewski fired up more than 100 volunteers who gathered at the campaign’s Owings Mills office before heading out to knock on doors.
“Are you ready for a better Baltimore County?” Olszewski asked the cheering crowd. “I’ve got some good news for you: A better Baltimore County is here. It is right here. It is today. It is in this crowd. It’s in our leaders who showed up … It’s in every single one of you.”
Olszewski and his volunteers were planning to find voters who didn’t cast ballots during early voting and encourage them to vote Tuesday. His pitch was focused on his plans for improving public schools, and highlighting that he's supported by the county teachers' union.
“When you win an election by 17 votes, you don’t take anything for granted,” Olszewski said, referring to his margin of victory in the Democratic primary. “So, we’re pushing hard through the end here.”
The success or failure of get-out-the-vote efforts can make or break political campaigns.
Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland, said both Hogan and Jealous have to ensure supporters cast ballots.
“For Jealous, you don’t want your supporters to be dispirited and not come out” because of polling showing a Hogan lead, Eberly said. “For Hogan, you don’t want your supporters to think you're up in the polls and they don’t need to come out.”
Eberly said Jealous would be wise to focus turnout efforts in Prince George’s County and the city of Baltimore, where early voting was light.
“The math says it all depends on how many Democrats vote for Hogan,” Eberly said. “If any more than 25 percent of Democrats vote for Hogan, he wins. This is about whether Jealous can convince Democrats to vote for the Democrat. With Donald Trump’s actions, that’s got to be his message in the final three days.
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said Jealous needs to rally his progressive base and “rile up the resistance” to Republican President Donald Trump.
“He’s got to keep Hogan from getting 20 or 30 percent of the African-American vote, and remind those moderate Democrats to come home,” she said.
For Hogan, Kromer said, “it’s about staying the course and not committing any unfortunate gaffes in the final days.They’re well ahead in fundraising and they've been able to dominate on TV. He’s run a really disciplined campaign.”