By Hamil R. Harris, Special to the AFRO
Despite an unpopular President and being in a state with a majority of Democratic voters, political veterans say Ben Jealous is facing an uphill battle in his bid to defeat Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan.
While the Democratic nominee is mounting an enthusiastic campaign fueled by millennials and national icons, Maryland has never elected an African American to a statewide office, excluding Lieutenant Governors Michael Steel, Boyd Rutherford and Anthony Brown. A number of veteran Democrats are supporting him or are remaining neutral in a state where Hogan has been able to define himself in terms of accomplishments and distancing himself from Donald Trump, as opposed to political labels.
“The reality is that the current Governor is approachable from both sides of the aisle and people want someone who can reach across the lines in this Democratic state,” said Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant, who wouldn’t say who he planned to support in the race. “I will announce my endorsement in the future.”
But one person who has made his intentions known is former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney and retired federal Judge Alexander Williams. Williams endorsement is significant because he was the county’s first African American elected to his post and is highly respected.
“We need more bipartisanship, cooperation and compromise and not less,” said Williams in a campaign ad sponsored by group called Democrats for Hogan in which Hogan said, “I am honored to have the endorsement of retired federal Judge Alex Williams.”
In an interview with the AFRO, Williams said “I am not bashing Ben Jealous, I am just supporting Hogan because of what Hogan has done as Governor. “He is middle of the road, bipartisan and I have known him from a long time.”
Veteran political analyst Alvin Thornton said that a number of dynamics are working against Jealous in a general election but there is still time.
“Maryland is more conservative than many people realize and because of low voter turnout this has aided conservatives like Hogan or former Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich,” said Thornton adding that progressives have not done well in recent years in elections. “Look at what is happening in Montgomery County where a progressive won the Democratic primary and is now being challenged by an independent.”
Thornton points out that the only three African Americans elected statewide have been as Lt. Governors: Michael Steele, Boyd Rutherford and Anthony Brown, who now is a member of Congress.
“Anthony Brown didn’t win and he was a strong Democrat,” Grant said.
While Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker campaigned with numbers of Democratic veterans and Jealous had high profile surrogates that included Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA.) But to expand an electoral base in Maryland Thornton says he will need community leaders.
On July 18 Jealous held a unity rally with prominent Democrats Rushern Baker, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. Anthony Brown, State Senate President Mike Miller and Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews at the Prince George’s County Educators Association in Forrestville, Maryland.
James Dula, President of the South County Democratic Club, said “I am very concerned with the upcoming election when it comes to the opportunity to go head to head with Hogan but we as Democrats will not have a possibility of a chance unless we come together across the state. We have been fragmented, we are not meeting together and we are not working together.”
Dula, who retired as an Air Force Major, said “As a former commander, we have to have a flag to rally around and we don’t have a flag. We voted for the nominee but that vote is a hope and a prayer. We need a message.”
In terms of strategy, Jealous is trying to connect Hogan to President Donald Trump. Last Sunday he released a statement in response to the recent decision by the Supreme Court upholding the Trump Administration’s “Muslim Ban.”
“As our Muslim friends and neighbors continue to be vilified by the Trump administration, we need a governor with the courage to stand up for all of us,” Jealous said in a statement. “Larry Hogan has continuously failed to give the Attorney General’s office the needed resources to uphold Maryland’s values and has continuously failed to stand up to the leader of his own party. As governor, I’ll ensure that office has the resources to hold the Trump administration accountable and I’ll stand up for Marylanders regardless of religious identity.”
Despite strong endorsements for Hogan even from Democrats, Jealous has had backing from powerful Democratic leaders. Former Vice President Joe Biden recently endorsed Jealous and in a statement Biden said, “As a civil rights leader, community organizer, and businessman, Ben knows how to build an inclusive economy that works for everyone. Ben has the courage and heart to move Maryland forward.”
In addition to Biden, Jealous has been endorsed by a number of groups: The Maryland State Education Association, Baltimore Teacher’s Union, Maryland Working Families, Maryland Postal Workers Union, CWA, CASA in Action, SEIU, Progressive Maryland, UNITE HERE! Local 7, Our Revolution – Maryland, UFCW 27, UFCW 400, UFCW 1994, ATU 1300 and African American Coalition of Howard County.
Following Biden’s announcement, Jealous said in a statement, “This campaign is about offering people real solutions to real problems in real time on education, healthcare, and the economy. Together we are building a movement across Maryland to ensure Democrats win up and down the ballot in November, ensuring that Maryland gets back to doing big things again.”