The post-2016 trench warfare between the liberal and establishment wings of the Democratic Party flares up again in Maryland on Tuesday, when voters pick the party’s standard-bearer to take on popular Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.
Former NAACP leader Ben Jealous, one of the front-runners in recent polls, is campaigning on a Bernard Sanders-style platform of universal health care, free college tuition and marijuana legalization, saying the Democratic base in one of the nation’s most liberal states is ready to embrace “bold ideas” to propel him into the governor’s mansion.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, is touting his longtime experience in local and state government and warning Democratic primary voters that “pretty-sounding words” won’t amount to much if a candidate doesn’t follow through with action.
Mr. Jealous and Mr. Baker have separated themselves in polling from the other six candidates vying for the nomination to take on Mr. Hogan, though there are also a good number of voters who were still undecided heading into Tuesday.
More than 220,000 ballots were cast in early voting from June 14 to June 21. And in a potentially major snag to Tuesday’s proceedings, the state announced Monday that some 80,000 voters may have to cast provisional ballots because some address and party changes weren’t properly recorded — about four times what state officials had originally estimated over the weekend.
As for the election itself, the Maryland intraparty battle is one playing out across the country this midterm year, as progressive challengers try to push the party further to the left in a year when Democrats dream of making big gains in Washington and in the states to counter President Trump.
Mr. Jealous chalked up Mr. Hogan’s shocking upset win in 2014 to poor turnout among Democrats and said the party base is ready for aggressively liberal ideas such as ending “mass incarceration” and using the savings to make college in the state tuition-free.
“There’s only one way to defeat Larry Hogan: [You’ve] got to be able to bring the progressive wing and the establishment wing together with a set of bold ideas that gets us all excited,” he said. “We’re just not willing to nibble around the edges. … [We’re] not willing to just give people half-solutions for whole problems.”
Mr. Jealous has won endorsements from union groups such as the Maryland State Education Association, as well as from national liberal figures and potential 2020 White House contenders such as Mr. Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California.
But he says it’s his platform that has voters excited this year.
“I see a path for Maryland to embrace some bold ideas,” he said.
Policy focus for Baker
Mr. Baker, meanwhile, has released multipronged policy plans in areas such as transportation and education.
He said progressive pet causes such as single-payer health care and free college tuition don’t mean much without someone who can implement them.
“There [are] some really good people that are running, and they’ve got some nice, pretty-sounding words, and I’m sure they mean them,” Mr. Baker said at a campaign event. “But if you can’t actually deliver, then they’re just words.
“What this campaign has been about from the very beginning is we’re going to tell you the truth, because nothing hurts worse than telling people something you know you can’t deliver” on, he said.
Mr. Baker has countered Mr. Jealous’ high-profile national endorsements — which also included eleventh-hour support from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio — with dozens of endorsements from big-name Maryland Democrats such as House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, former Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
Mr. Van Hollen said that given the backgrounds of the two candidates — Mr. Jealous was a key backer of Mr. Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign — the split in support is only natural. He said Mr. Baker has run Prince George’s County with “great effectiveness.”
“[Jealous] has those national contacts,” he said. “Baker’s somebody who’s lived and worked in Maryland.”
Other contenders hoping for a primary-day surprise are state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno, Baltimore lawyer Jim Shea, tech entrepreneur and former Obama administration official Alec Ross, former Michelle Obama policy director Krish Vignarajah, teacher Ralph Jaffe and businessman James Jones.
The Democratic primary campaign took a tragic turn last month when Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, another leading contender, died of cardiac arrest.
His running mate, Valerie Ervin, ultimately withdrew from the race and endorsed Mr. Baker. Mr. Kamenetz’s name will still appear on the ballot, technically giving voters nine candidates to choose from.
But much of the attention has been focused on the Jealous-Baker rivalry, which analysts have billed as something of a proxy battle between the liberal and establishment wings of the party.
Mr. Jealous is going the “Bernie Sanders route” by bringing in his celebrity friends — which also included comedian and area native Dave Chappelle — to try to motivate his voters, said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
“Baker is doubling down on the establishment endorsements — hoping that the establishment can use its connections to turn out voters, so they’re each sort of going to what their strength is right now,” he said.
But unlike Mr. Sanders in 2016, Mr. Jealous has been able to get significant help from outside political advocacy groups, which are spending $1 million to boost his campaign, said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College in Baltimore.
“It sets it up with two different groups of folks or institutions that know how to win elections: the party and the unions,” she said. “And these are both groups that know how to push it over the goal line in the home stretch.”
But all candidates now face the prospect of tens of thousands of voters having to go through the provisional balloting process because of improperly recorded address and party changes - up from an estimated 18,000 the state announced over the weekend.
“In our sense of urgency to inform the public, given the close proximity of the primary election, the numbers that were initially reported did not accurately reflect the total scope of the people impacted,” said Christine Nizer, the state transportation department’s Motor Vehicle Administrator.
Mr. Hogan’s office said the administration is “incredibly disappointed” by the new development but that every eligible voter will be able to vote and the governor has directed the auditor for the department of transportation to conduct a comprehensive review of the situation.
The 222,000 early votes already recorded, according to the State Board of Elections, is up 56 percent from four years ago.
Mr. Jealous’ more natural base is Baltimore, where the NAACP’s headquarters are located, and Mr. Baker is seen as likelier to do better in the voter-rich D.C. suburbs.
About 26 percent of the early vote totals have come from Baltimore city and Baltimore County, and close to 35 percent have come from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
“It’s a question of where the vote comes from. Geography’s going to play a role in the primary,” said John T. Willis, a former Maryland secretary of state who now teaches government courses at the University of Baltimore. “I suspect that the order of finish in the Washington media market will be different than the order of finish in the Baltimore area.”
Waiting for the winner is Mr. Hogan, a former businessman and moderate Republican who has amassed a campaign war chest of close to $10 million and boasts one of the highest job approval ratings of any governor in the country, Republican or Democrat.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.