Former NAACP chief Ben Jealous announced Wednesday that he has selected longtime Democratic Party insider Susan W. Turnbull as his running mate in the crowded primary contest for governor.
Turnbull, like Jealous, has never run for public office before. But unlike her new running mate, Turnbull has been active in Maryland and national Democratic politics for decades.
Analysts said she brings to the ticket deep ties to the party establishment here — and relationships to its network of donors.
Turnbull said she was inspired to run for elective office when attending the Women’s March in Washington after President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration. Unlike other rallies in her years of politics, she said, enthusiasm among activists didn’t wane when the event ended.
“This a very special moment, and people cannot sit on the sidelines,” Turnbull said. “For me, there was no sitting back, because I think there is wind in our sails right now.”
After what was supposed to have been a meeting to give Jealous advice two months ago, both Jealous and Turnbull left thinking they might be good political partners, they said this week in a joint interview.
“Right away, there was really great chemistry,” Jealous said.
Jealous credited Turnbull for high Democratic turnout in 2010 when Martin O’Malley won re-election as governor and Democrats fared well across the state at a time when the rising Tea Party movement and Republicans made big gains nationwide.
Turnbull, who uses the name Susie, was chair of the Maryland Democratic Party at the time. She had recently finished four years as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, where she served for two decades.
Jealous also praised her for being able to build consensus, one of two key attributes he sought in a running mate — someone “who could pull people together, and ... get people out to the vote.”
“We share a vision of getting the state getting back to moving forward,” Jealous said. “We share our values.”
The pair don’t perfectly align politically. While Jealous was a prominent surrogate for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential primary, Turnbull supported Hillary Clinton. Clinton beat Sanders in Maryland by 29 percentage points.
Sanders will stump for Jealous next week at a rally in Baltimore, and Jealous has embraced several of the progressive policies pushed by Sanders, including free community college, universal health care coverage and a $15 minimum wage.
Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College, said Turnbull represents a “pretty establishment pick” that will open doors to donors.
“This will perhaps put establishment folks at ease,” she said. “You can’t alienate the Clinton part of the Democratic Party in Maryland.”
Jealous is the first of the eight Democrats seeking the nomination to announce a running mate. Each hopes to unseat the popular incumbent Republican, Gov. Larry Hogan, next November.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland political science professor Todd Eberly said Turnbull, with her Maryland connections and roots in vote-rich Montgomery County, could help Jealous’ campaign make the case that he’s focused on the state.
“There’s a very generic, Democratic message that he has,” Eberly said. “He’s bolstering a clear weak spot in his campaign, and that was a deficit of connection to Maryland and Maryland politics.”
Jealous, who lives in Pasadena, started working in Maryland in as CEO of the NAACP, which he led until 2013. While at the organization, he was a lead advocate for ending Maryland’s death penalty, among other policy changes. His mother grew up in West Baltimore.
Though he has ties to the state, Eberly said, Jealous has never held elective office and doesn’t have an existing base of supporters. Turnbull “gives him an in, a connection.”
Turnbull grew up in Ohio and moved to Maryland after college. She lives in Bethesda with her husband, Bruce Turnbull, an attorney. They have two adult sons and two grandsons. Turnbull runs an interior design firm that focuses on commercial projects.