Republican Gov. Larry Hogan wasted little time kicking off his re-election effort Wednesday, declaring his newly minted Democratic rival, Ben Jealous, “too risky” and “too extreme” for Maryland.
At precisely the same time in Baltimore, Jealous was railing against Hogan — painting him as an ineffective governor who partners with the Trump administration on far-right policies.
“Bring it on, Larry Hogan,” Jealous said the day after winning the Democratic primary.
Foreshadowing what is likely to be a heated general election for governor in November, Jealous, 45, and Hogan, 62, held dueling news conferences at noon to make the case the other is deeply flawed.
Hogan, in Annapolis, said voters will see “a very clear difference” between the candidates set to face off Nov. 6 — the same difference that helped him upset Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown four years ago to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley.
“I think it’s going to come come down to whether people are happy with the direction the state is heading,” said Hogan, who was unopposed in the GOP primary Tuesday. “I think they want to keep moving forward.”
“If you liked Martin O’Malley,” he added, “you’re going to love this guy.”
The one thing Ben [Jealous] and I have in common is that neither one of us endorsed, supported or voted for Donald Trump.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan
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In a video released Wednesday, his campaign called Jealous a “risky blend of ideological extremism and recklessness.”
The video showed the former NAACP president’s Democratic primary rivals criticizing his proposals for free college tuition and universal health care as too expensive and “pie in the sky.”
The video’s conclusion: Jealous is “too risky” and “too extreme.”
Jealous, speaking at the SEIU union office in Baltimore, compared his victory over Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and several other Democrats to climbing the second-highest mountain in the world.
Now, he said, it’s time to conquer the highest peak.
“We won last night when nobody thought we would,” Jealous said. “You tell us beating Hogan is like climbing Everest. Well, we just climbed K2. If you climb K2, you can climb Everest.”
Jealous campaigned on a progressive agenda, pledging to make college free, legalize marijuana and raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
He was bolstered by support in the Baltimore region, spending from outside groups and an aggressive union-backed turnout machine. His victory over Baker, who was backed by the state’s political establishment, demonstrated the growing influence of the progressive wing of the Maryland Democratic Party.
“The one thing Ben and I have in common is that neither one of us endorsed, supported or voted for Donald Trump,” Hogan said.
A Hogan campaign spokesman accused Jealous of misrepresenting the governor’s record.
“Ben Jealous must want to be governor in the worst way — and he’s going about it in the worst way possible, in a series of embarrassing, fact-free and incoherent statements,” the spokesman, Doug Mayer, said. “Here’s to hoping he finds his footing or the truth, either one would be an improvement.”
Jealous said he knows Republicans will try to cast him as too far to the left for Maryland voters.
Those are fear tactics, he said. His ambitious proposals, he said, will be funded with hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts from the prison system once he ends “mass incarceration.”
The Hogan administration says the number of incarcerated offenders has declined during the governor’s tenure.
“We look forward to taking on Hogan on any issue,” Jealous said. “Why are you wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a bloated criminal justice system? … Larry Hogan’s only hope is that he can scare people by pushing nonsense.”
Polling during the primaries showed Hogan ahead of his potential Democratic rivals. But analysts note that could change in deep-blue Maryland during the general election.
University of Maryland law professor Larry Gibson — a longtime Democratic political strategist — said Hogan won a close election in 2014 by “riding a Republican tidal wave.”
“The energy is the exact reverse now,” said Gibson, who supported Baker for governor.
Jealous is unlikely to convince voters that Hogan is the same as Trump, Gibson said. But he could argue that the governor has not done enough to beat back Trump policies that are unpopular in Maryland.
“Hogan has sidelined this very liberal state from the resistance against Donald Trump,” Gibson said. “It’s not that he is Trump, it’s that he’s a Trump enabler. I think that’s the path to success.”
Jealous has proved his ability to harness progressives’ anti-Trump energy. He also has proved his ability to raise money from across the nation. That could help offset Hogan’s huge money advantage.
Jealous last month reported raising $1 million since January, and had $660,000 on hand. Hogan raised more than $1 million in roughly a month, and reported more than $9 million on hand.
“This race is going to get national attention,” Gibson said. “We’re in for a fascinating and expensive race.”
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Diarra O. Robertson, the chairman of Bowie State University’s department of history and government, said Jealous’ understanding of how to work with labor organizations to mount an aggressive get-out-the-vote ground game will serve him well in November.
“All those things are positive indicators for Jealous,” Robertson said. “The biggest question is how is the Democratic Party of Maryland is going to respond to this.”
The state’s Democratic Party establishment has been traditionally moderate, he said, and “less than enthusiastic to get behind an African-American candidate running for statewide office.”
He questioned how well Jealous could perform in the general election in the more conservative Democratic regions in the state where Hogan performed well in 2014.
“Hogan is in a strong position as an incumbent,” Robertson said. “It’s still going to be a challenge for Jealous — especially in the Baltimore County and Eastern Shore electorate.”