Maryland Democrats face a host of problems in unseating Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, but disunity doesn't appear to be one of them.
At a forum Saturday at Baltimore’s War Memorial, seven contenders for the Democratic nomination for governor pledged their unwavering support for the winner of the June 26 primary. None hesitated, wavered or hedged their bets.
“Any one of these individuals is going to make a terrific governor,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, the front-runner in early polls of the fragmented race. His rivals on the dais were no less complimentary toward each other.
The lack of infighting at this point in the primary contest is one of a relatively few bright spots for Democrats as they look toward a Nov. 6 election against Hogan, whose lofty approval ratings have shown little sign of eroding during his three-plus years in office. The eventual nominee also must contend with a robust regional economy and the likelihood of being substantially outspent by the well-heeled incumbent.
Party unity and President Donald J. Trump may be the two best things Democrats have going for them.
There are, of course, four more months of campaigning in which divisions could emerge to blunt the post-primary Democratic effort. But so far there are few public signs of the personal and political disdain that emerged in past Democratic contests.
Four years ago, after a bruising three-way Democratic primary race, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown received no more than tepid support from defeated rivals Doug Gansler and Heather Mizeur. Meanwhile, Hogan’s defeated primary rivals coalesced around the GOP ticket. Brown lost to Hogan in an upset as Democratic turnout tanked.
Saturday’s forum revealed no similar divisions among this year’s Democratic contenders.
“Yes of course I’ll support the nominee. They’re a good bunch of folks,” said former NAACP national president Ben Jealous..
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Baltimore lawyer Jim Shea, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., entrepreneur Alec Ross and former White House aide Krish Vignarajah also vowed to support the primary winner.
The several hundred people who attended the forum witnessed no pointed criticisms of rival candidates. It was an uncharacteristically polite event for the typically fractious party — with candidates not only respecting each other but remarkably also the time limits for answers.
For the most part, they concentrated their fire on Hogan, with occasional swipes at Trump, whose unpopularity in Maryland they are counting on to drag down the Republican ticket.
“Four more years of Larry Hogan will leave us where New Jersey is now,” said Shea, recalling Hogan’s friendship with former Gov. Chris Christie, who recently left office with dismal approval numbers and was replaced by a Democrat.
Kamenetz offered a vehement denunciation of Trump, calling him a racist, sexist and “a bully whose tweets will lead us into nuclear war.”
Some policy differences did emerge during the forum.
In response to a question about legalizing recreational use of marijuana, Vignarajah and Shea both expressed support for an idea that is increasingly popular among Democrats. When it came his turn, Baker praised Maryland’s recent move to decriminalize possession of the drug and called for easier expungement of old marijuana convictions, but avoided any mention of legalization.
When Baker, Vignarajah and Jealous were all asked about health insurance, only Jealous staked out a Bernie Sanders-like position in favor of a single-payer system. While many experts have questioned whether such a system is practical for a single state to operate, Jealous insisted it could be done.
“The most expensive option is to maintain the status quo,” Jealous said. With single payer, he said, “you can cut your overhead by more than half on day one.”
Baker said he would support an expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Vignarajah, who said she found while working in the Obama White House that single payer wasn’t achievable, advocated adding a “public option” to compete with for-profit insurance companies in Maryland’s insurance exchange.
Candidates Shea, Ross and Vignarajah — none of whom have held elected office or nationally prominent positions — touted the fresh perspective they would bring to the job as outsiders. Ross said that if some Democratic voters like the “Annapolis machine,” he is not their candidate.
It was left to Madaleno, who has represented Montgomery County in the General Assembly since 2002, to tout the benefits of Maryland government experience.
“When you’re told to go see a cardiologist,” he said, “I don’t think anyone around here says I don’t want to go to a career cardiologist.”