Autopsy Part I: Poor Explainers for Why Ben Jealous Lost

After a losing campaign, people are often looking for someone to blame. Racism and a lack of party support are two reasons that some of Ben Jealous’s more zealous supporters think explain his loss. Today, I take the bull by the horns and argue that neither can explain why Ben Jealous lost the governor’s race so badly.


Democrats are often quick to turn to isms when their preferred candidate loses or someone is supporting someone else. But identity is a poor explainer here.

It doesn’t explain why Jealous is down 4.4% from Anthony Brown’s vote share in 2014. Remember also that Brown ran in a year far more hostile to Democrats that resulted in a lower share of Democratic voters at the polls. In the primary, over 80% of Democratic voters cast ballots for nonwhite candidates.

Equally important, much of Hogan’s strongest gains appear to be among minority voters who Jealous thought would propel him to victory. Hogan’s vote share was up 10% in Baltimore City and 13% in Prince George’s County.

The same electorate in Howard that rejected Hogan elected Calvin Ball as county executive over a white incumbent. In Montgomery, Hogan’s share of the vote jumped 8% to nearly 45%. These are the same voters who elected Ike Leggett to three terms as county executive and just elected Will Jawando to an at-large seat on the county council.

Race and party are intertwined with views on racial issues playing a significant role in shaping party identification. But partisans seem increasingly willing to vote for their party’s candidates regardless of race. In Florida, Andrew Gillum lost by just a little more than Bill Nelson. Even if the difference is due to racism, it’s not a huge one.

Lack of Maryland Democratic Party Support

President Donald Trump certainly did a lot to motivate Democratic voters. The Maryland Democratic Party at the state and local level worked hard to promote Democratic turnout and, by all accounts, worked closely with the Jealous campaign. There was no hostility or effort to throw him under the bus. Don’t forget that Susie Turnbull formerly chaired the MDP.

Based on the results, they did a great job in taking advantage of a favorable political environment. Not a single Democratic delegate lost, and the party managed to take seven new seats. Democrats lost two Senate seats narrowly in very hostile turf but managed to pick up another. Democratic candidates scored upsets in the Anne Arundel and Howard county executive races.

In short, the party delivered. Jealous was simply unable to take advantage of it for a variety of reasons, some of which were simply beyond his control and for which no one is to blame. I plan to discuss these problems in Part II.