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Maryland Democrats predict 'blue wave' at pre-session rally

Senator Ben Cardin speaks to Maryland Democrats gathered in Annapolis the day before the General Assembly session opens. (Michael Dresser, Baltimore Sun video)

An exuberant contingent of Maryland Democrats gathered Tuesday in Annapolis to excoriate President Donald J. Trump and Gov. Larry Hogan and to share their dream of a “blue wave” sweeping Republicans from office in November.

On the day before the General Assembly session was to open, Democrats from around the state put aside almost all their internal differences and basked in partisan rhetoric at their annual luncheon.

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“Ten days from now, we’re faced with another federal government shutdown,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said. “That’s outrageous. The Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House, and they can’t pass a budget.”

Cardin also lit into what he called the “scandalous” tax bill recently passed by the Republican-controlled Congress with Trump’s support, predicting it would have a detrimental effect on middle-income Marylanders.

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Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Cardin’s fellow Democrat, connected the tax bill to Hogan, his party’s No. 1 target this year.

“I did not hear a peep from Governor Hogan — not a peep during that whole debate,” he said.

One leading Republican dismissed the political rhetoric at the Democratic event.

“My focus and their focus for the next 90 days should be on doing the job in Annapolis during the General Assembly session and not focusing on campaigning in the fall,” said state Sen. J. B. Jennings, the Republican leader in the Maryland Senate, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties.

In the past, the Democrat’s pre-session event has drawn groans from even the most partisan participants as speaker after speaker droned on. This year, party chair Kathleen Matthews tried to keep the program running smoothly, setting a two-minute limit for the General Assembly members tapped to speak.

According to a tab kept by one senator, Matthews managed to rein in her speakers effectively. Most kept their remarks to less than four minutes — ensuring the event could adjourn in under two hours.

The exception was Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who delivered more than nine minutes of political oratory. Miller promised to undo what Congress did with the tax bill.

“We’re going to have a Maryland solution to this [expletive] stuff that happened on Capitol Hill,” Miller said. “Our people are not going to pay a tax on a tax on a tax on a tax. Even comptrollers can understand that.”

As Miller spoke, longtime intraparty nemesis Comptroller Peter Franchot watched from the corner of the room.

Franchot later professed to be unconcerned.

“The Democratic Party is strong, and I’m delighted with the lunch,” he said.

At least five of the seven contenders for the Democratic nomination for governor attended the event. Several expressed optimism that the party would come together quickly once a winner emerges from the June 26 primary.

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“I just want us to come out stronger than ever before because we’re going to need it,” said Krish Vignarajah, a former White House aide who is one of the contenders. “That’s going to require solidarity.”

One of her rivals, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, said that so far, the Democratic contest has been a cordial affair — one that should not leave deep wounds as in previous election years.

“Everybody gets the chance to get their say,” he said. “They all feel heard, and we can all come together June 27.”

The other major contenders are Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, state Sen. Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County, former NAACP national president Ben Jealous, entrepreneur Alec Ross and lawyer Jim Shea.

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