2018 Questions: Governor

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I’m a firm believer that it’s never too early to start gossiping about future election campaigns (I’ve already started plotting the 2024 presidential primary process, but even I acknowledge that’s a bit, um, premature). But 2018 – that’s like, what, five minutes away? Let’s have some fun. Here’s some questions you should be thinking about around the state. If I’ve missed any, let me know and we’ll do this again soon. In this post, we’ll talk gubernatorial candidates, leaving a possible Senate race and other statewide matters of import for future posts.

So, Governor: who wants to take on a popular incumbent with unprecedentedly high approval ratings? Plus, Larry Hogan has the cancer card (I get to say this even if you don’t). My advice to any prospective Democrat thinking about running: don’t. Wait for 2022. But some leading lights will ignore my sage advice and run anyway. Names I’ve heard mentioned a whole lot include:

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker

Congressman John Delaney (CD6)

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Attorney General Brian Frosh

Former Attorney General Doug Gansler

Former Delegate and progressive icon Heather Mizeur

Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez

Wine mogul and CD8 runner-up David Trone (also mentioned as a county executive candidate in MoCo)

My sense is that Mizeur will not run, as she’s only 43. For entirely different reasons, I don’t think Franchot runs – given his contrarian Democratic positions re Larry Hogan, (a) how does he win a Democratic primary, and (b) even if he somehow wins, how does he make an effective argument against Hogan after four years of effusive praise and strategic alliance? Perez is constantly mentioned as a candidate for one or anther office, but nobody has ever explained to me where his natural constituency is. He’s held office for four years – 2002-06 as a Montgomery County Councilmember – and has been out of Maryland since. He might run, but I don’t see him making much of a dent. Similarly for Doug Gansler, if Delaney and  Kamenetz both run in the moderate lane, I’m not sure how much oxygen is left for a guy who ran so poorly in 2014. Ditto for David Trone, who might find his match in free-spending campaigns in John Delaney. I don’t think Trone runs for governor – yet.

Everyone wants Brian Frosh to run, in the belief that because he ran so well in 2014 that he can take out Hogan. As much as I like and admire Frosh, I think this is a bad idea. He got 56% of the vote against a GOP candidate with no money who was also facing a libertarian candidate from the right. Hogan will have more money than God (if not John Delaney). Plus, Frosh seems very comfortable as Attorney General, a job that suits him perfectly. He should stay put.

The three likely heavy hitters in this race right now are Delaney, Kamenetz, and Baker. Each has strengths and each has weaknesses. 

Larry Hogan clearly fears Kamenetz – he’s been ripping him for over a year, obsessing over portable air conditioning in public schools and going to the limits of his powers (and beyond, some would argue) to trash Kamenetz, a popular moderate from a key county that Hogan needs badly in his efforts to retain his seat. On the downside, Kamenetz isn’t well known outside his home county and will do little to excite the progressive base of voters most likely to turn out in a gubernatorial election year. I’ve heard that he’s prickly and difficult, although I’ve personally found him very likeable – I suspect it helps a lot that he loves my blog. ?

Delaney strengths: money. Gobs and gobs of it. Weaknesses: has done little to distinguish himself in Congress, and his votes on virtually every issue are at odds with Democratic orthodoxy. While that might be enough to hold his House seat for the indefinite future, it does little to suggest he can win a statewide primary dominated by progressive voters. Rumor has it he pulled back from a Senate run in 2016 because his statewide polling was terrible.

Rushern Baker is an interesting case. He’d be the only candidate in the “left lane.” He’s likeable and has extensive experience in Annapolis prior to becoming county executive. He’s African-American, in a Democratic electorate that in 2016 saw more than black than white voters according to exit polls. Even if you discount those polls, as I do, there’s no denying the huge impact of minority primary voting statewide. Weaknesses: Baker has a reputation for being undisciplined, going public with his tax increase plans in 2015 without any real planning or preparation.  He has a difficult personal situation at home – a potential strength, too, but a difficult situation nonetheless. He’s African-American: in the 2014 general election, Anthony Brown’s performance with large swaths of Democratic voters in places like Carroll, St. Mary’s, Cecil, and Washington counties was so bad that race clearly played a role, in my opinion. Baker may have the highest upside, but he also has the potential to crash and burn as well.

Kamenetz’s base in Baltimore County versus Baker’s Fortress PG. Baker should do well in Baltimore City, but Kamenetz is right next door. Delaney won’t own Montgomery because of his politics, but he should do well in the Baltimore suburbs, Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore. The looming specter of race, as always. I’d give Baker and Kamenetz an early edge but nothing that can’t be overcome by Delaney or some other candidate I haven’t even thought of yet.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss what might happen if Ben Cardin decides not to run for reelection in 2018. Won’t that be fun?

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