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Potential governor hopefuls vie in Western Maryland Democratic straw poll

Democrats will get a first read on their field of potential 2018 gubernatorial candidates Saturday as the party's Western Maryland faithful hold a straw poll at Rocky Gap.

Eight prospective contenders will be on the ballot at the Western Maryland Democratic Summit at the resort-casino in Flintstone.

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Robin Summerfield, treasurer of the Western Maryland Democratic Political Action Committee, said all eight asked that their names be listed on the ballot. He said seven of the potential candidates were expected at the two-day event, which began Friday night.

Only Alec Ross, the high-tech entrepreneur and author who this week became the first Democrat to officially announce an effort to unseat Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, is not expected to attend. Summerfield said Ross had a scheduling conflict.

While the results are far from scientific, Democratic insiders from across the state typically pay attention.

"It's actually been an excellent predictor," Summerfield said. He noted that four years ago, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown came in first — as he did in the primary a year later. Del. Heather Mizeur scored a surprising second place, beating out Douglas F. Gansler. She would come in third in the primary, but right on the heels of the batter-known and better-funded attorney general.

Gansler is expected back Saturday as the only repeat candidate in the straw poll.

Others looking to drum up votes include U.S. Rep. John Delaney — who represents heavily Republican Western Maryland because a number of Montgomery County Democrats are also in his district — Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Prince George's County Executive Rusher L. Baker III.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. of Montgomery County is the sole General Assembly member on the ballot. Rounding out the field are former NAACP President Ben Jealous and Jim Shea, the former chairman of the Venable law firm.

All of those who jump into the race would compete in the June 26, 2018, primary. The winner will face the daunting task of trying to overtake the highly popular Hogan, who so far has drawn no Republican challengers. Candidates have until Feb. 27 to file, and new contenders could emerge.

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The Democratic rivals Saturday are showing varying degrees of certainty about making their candidacies official.

Shea, while he hasn't formally announced, has taken out an ad in the summit's program identifying himself as "Democrat for Governor." Kamenetz, Delaney and Baker also have ads, but without mentioning the office they're seeking.

Summerfield said organizers of the summit typically plan for 150 attendees but are expecting 200 this year. He attributed some of that interest to Democrats energized by opposition to Republican President Donald J. Trump.

"We have a lot of new faces," Summerfield said.

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