Ben Jealous is the latest in a long line of national political figures with little to no experience running for office who try to parachute into Maryland politics and find the landing rocky.
Republicans often tried this strategy in the past due to the dearth of local talent. Barbara Mikulski easily dispatched Linda Chavez to win her Senate seat in 1986. Paul Sarbanes defeated Alan Keyes with little trouble in 1988 and Mikulski trounced him in 1992.
More recently, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost to Bob Ehrlich. While Townsend had developed Maryland roots, her strong links to the Kennedys undermined perception of her as a local. Moreover, her only successful previous run for office was as lieutenant governor on Parris Glendenning’s ticket.
Though many Marylanders hail from elsewhere, especially in the DC area, Maryland identity remains strong. Candidates perceived as having stronger national than local ties don’t do well.
The relatively unknown Jealous smartly likes to tout his Maryland roots. His bio page on the campaign web page states he “has lived in Maryland throughout his career as a civil rights leader and businessman.”
Unfortunately, it’s a four Pinocchio. Jealous only began voting here in 2012. He was touted as a candidate for mayor of Oakland (California not Maryland) in 2008, and voted in California in 2006 and 2008. Even when Jealous headed the Baltimore-based NAACP, he lived in DC, where he voted from 2000 to 2004, and in 2010 to 2011.
His running mate, Susie Turnbull, has been active in Maryland much longer, including as head of the Maryland Democratic Party. Like Jealous, she has not run previously for local office. Instead, she was Vice Chair of the DNC and worked for Members of Congress.
It didn’t help when Jealous began his campaign by talking about removing Larry Hogan from “the White House” and Turnbull spoke about when she moved to “Washington” and meant Maryland.
Jealous’s primary campaign had far more backing from national than local Democratic officials. He touted endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, and New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio.
Meanwhile, he did not tout a single endorsement by a local official during the primary on the endorsement page on his web site. Jealous’s primary campaign benefited heavily from an independent expenditure campaign by one-percenter Californians.
As the Democratic nominee, Jealous now has the backing of most elected Democrats, though many expect him to lose and are not heavily invested in his campaign. Jealous’s tendency during the primary campaign to make Sanders-like attacks on the Annapolis Democratic establishment yet simultaneously take credit for so much of their work, understandably grated and hasn’t been forgotten. Comptroller Peter Franchot and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett have not endorsed him.
Jealous has felt lots of love from the national political establishment and from ultra-progressives. Not so much from Maryland officials or Maryland general elections voters.