Only one candidate for governor has ever received more than 1 million votes in the state of Maryland: Martin O’Malley in 2010.
Ben Jealous thinks he will be the second man to do it.
On Wednesday, Jealous’ campaign met with reporters in Annapolis and laid out a detailed strategy for how it plans to turn out voters in central Maryland’s solidly Democratic jurisdictions, hone his message, and cut into the GOP advantage in the rural parts of the state.
It was a rare glimpse into a campaign’s strategy and inner workings that most candidates play close to the chest.
Undergirding the effort is this: a belief that angst over the presidency of Donald Trump will motivate Democrats to go to the polls in November in a wave that incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan can’t stop.
“If two million turnout, someone needs to get 1 million votes to win,” said Travis Tazelaar, Jealous’ campaign manager. "No Republican has ever come close.”
The Jealous campaign also released the results of an internal poll conducted from July 10 to July 14 of 601 likely general election voters.
The poll shows Hogan leading Jealous in the race 49 percent to 40 percent with 11 percent undecided.
But Democratic pollster Fred Yang said that margin represents a tightening of the race from polls done prior to the primary election. And Jealous spokesman Kevin Harris said the race becomes a “statistical tie” once pollsters read information about each candidates’ platform to voters.
“We’re not going to be ahead until Election Day,” Yang said. “Larry Hogan was never ahead until Election Day. That’s the way it’s going to be. The only thing Ben Jealous and Larry Hogan have in common is we’re both underdogs in our respective races."
Yang’s poll showed the most successful line of attack against Hogan is arguing that he “fails to stand up to Donald Trump and the Republican Party.” Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they found that most convincing, more so than other criticisms.
It also shows voters generally like aspects of the Jealous campaign. His pledges of free college and Medicare-for-all were viewed positively by 69 percent of respondents, while Jealous’ background as a venture capitalist working with small businesses was viewed favorably by 68 percent, the Jealous campaign’s pollster said.
Scott Sloofman, a spokesman for the Hogan campaign, said Jealous’ poll only shows Hogan’s continued strength in the state.
“If the best-case scenario Ben Jealous can paint in his homecooked poll is that he is losing by nine points in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by two to one, then he should be cursing his campaign strategists, not reporters,” Sloofman said in an email.
(Jealous, asked at a press conference Wednesday if he was a socialist, responded: “Are you f---- kidding me?”)
“Any way you slice the numbers, it is clear that Democrats and independents are fleeing Jealous because of his reckless and irresponsible plans to hike taxes on every single man, woman and child in Maryland,” Sloofman said.
No Republican running for governor has ever reached more than 885,000 votes.
Hogan got 884,400 votes to win in 2014, and Robert Ehrlich got 879,592 in his successful race for governor in 2002.
O’Malley, a Democrat, got the most votes on record with 1,044,961 in 2010.
The Jealous campaign is projecting total turnout in 2018 will reach as high as 2.1 million voters, which would be a 20 percent increase over the lackluster turnout of 2014 and a 12 percent increase over 2010.
Yang’s poll indicates that voters who sat out the 2014 race are more likely to vote for Jealous in 2018 than Hogan.
“This is a time when it’s just a wave,” Yang said. “It doesn’t matter how independent you are, you are going to be washed over by a wave.”
If it materializes, a 20 percent increase in turnout would break a trend of lower rates of voting in mid-term elections in Maryland. Through each of the last four election cycles, turnout in mid-terms has been lower than the previous cycle.
Jealous campaign officials say they aren’t taking the wave for granted. They plan to chip away at Republican strongholds in the state, such as the Eastern Shore and western Maryland.
The Democratic party already has hired 23 field organizers to lead outreach drives — and plans to hire 62. Four years ago, they had just 15. Those field organizers will lead 4,200 volunteers in door-knocking and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Tazelaar said 2014 Democratic nominee Anthony Brown lost 120,000 votes that O’Malley had won across the state.
As he surveyed the state, Tazelaar said, he sees “pockets” all over where Democrats can surge. If 70 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of independents vote for Jealous, he wins, Tazelaar said.
“These 120,000 Democrats are everywhere,” he said. “This is why we’re putting organizers in western Maryland. If we’re going to lose a county, that’s fine, but we’re going to get out and get it back to 2010 levels.”
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The Jealous campaign also said it did not believe the former NAACP president will be significantly hurt by the Republican Governors Association attack ads that brand him as “tax-and-spend Ben Jealous.”
Yang’s poll shows voters are less worried about high taxes than they were four years ago. In June of 2014, 65 percent of Marylanders thought taxes were too high. Now, 55 percent do, according to the poll.
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said the briefing on Jealous’ plans is a way to drum up enthusiasm from supporters and potential donors.
With Hogan showing high approval ratings and Jealous under attack from TV ads, the campaign wants to give supporters a path to victory to believe in, she said.
“It’s establishing viability for the everyday voter and it’s establishing viability for the donors,” Kromer said.
“They’re really trying to push back very hard against the idea that Democrats are voting for Larry Hogan,” Kromer said. “They’re saying, ‘This race is competitive. This is a Democrat with a distinct vision and a progressive agenda that voters are excited to get behind.’ It’s a good strategy for them to try to turn out as many people as they can.”