The Democratic have placed a bet with the nomination of Ben Jealous that a more left-wing progressive candidate will energize voters, especially the growing share of minority voters, and beat Gov. Larry Hogan. As Barry Goldwater once said, Jealous “will offer a choice, not an echo.”
Will it work? It’s an interesting test for the progressive wing’s thesis that the Democrats need to run more vocal, left-wing candidates. If it doesn’t work in blue Maryland in what is shaping up to be a very good Democratic year, where and when can it work?
This strategy runs counter to the 2014 gubernatorial post-mortem. Many argued that then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s 2014 campaign needed to deliver a message more clearly. But few thought his defeat resulted from an insufficiently left-wing platform. After all, the O’Malley-Brown administration had raised taxes to protect against the decimation of state services during the recession and to fund transportation infrastructure. O’Malley led the successful referenda fights on the Maryland DREAM Act and marriage equality.
The Jealous Agenda
Nevertheless, Jealous will run on the most left-wing platform in living memory. Jealous wants to enact single-payer health care, raise teacher pay by 29%, fund full-day pre-K education, make college free, staff schools with mental health professionals, spend significant dollars fighting the opioid epidemic, provide summer youth employment, expand public transit substantially, and offer public sector jobs when no private sector work is available.
Jealous has also attacked incrementalism or half measures, telling voters how his grandmother said that if you solve half of a problem, you still have a problem. As a result, it’s now hard for Jealous to backpedal and talk gradualism. It runs counter to his whole message.
How Hogan Will Attack Jealous
In a previous post, I looked at Jealous’s advantages heading into the general election. But what vulnerabilities will Hogan exploit?
Jealous’s agenda is expensive. Very expensive. Gov. Larry Hogan’s campaign will go after Jealous, as they would any Democratic opponent, as wanting to raise taxes. Jealous says it will only be on the top 1% of taxpayers and on legalized marijuana. Combined with savings from criminal justice reform and building fewer roads, that will pay for everything.
The list of extremely expensive services Jealous wants to add to the state budget may render voters doubtful of these claims. Many voters will also be concerned about the impact of another tax hike and an indexed $15 minimum wage on the economy. Unlike in a Democratic primary, attacking Hogan (and thus voters on the fence) as needing a stronger commitment to social justice if they have qualms will alienate rather than impress.
Hogan will undoubtedly try to use fear of major tax hikes to divide the Democratic coalition, and to pick off economically successful voters, disproportionately white and Asian, who may be more liberal on social than economic issues. Jealous will attempt to frame the debate as the 1% versus the rest of us. Hogan will alternatively style himself as a protector of taxpayers.
Jealous’s embrace of altering school funding formulas to take more money from wealthier counties to give more to needier counties will aid Hogan’s efforts. In Montgomery, for example, Hogan can position himself as a protector of the county’s prized school system, against Jealous’s efforts to send yet more MoCo money elsewhere.
It’s hard to imagine an issue more likely to pry Democratic voters away here. In Maryland’s secular heartland, lots of people have an ambivalent relationship with organized religion but everyone believes in education with fervor.
Jealous’s characterization of the violence in the wake of Freddie Grey’s death due to injuries inflicted during his arrest as an “uprising” rather than “riots” will also to raise eyebrows. Few would dispute that the Baltimore City police is in dire need of radical reform. But Hogan may well ask Jealous how senseless destruction advanced the causes of police reform and racial justice?
One building that burned down was a nearly finished project to provide affordable housing for seniors and a community center with job training and HIV counseling among other services. (Rev. Donte Hickman’s tireless efforts resulted in the project’s completion despite these daunting setbacks.) Again, attacking Hogan or voters for being insufficiently woke or committed to racial justice seems an unlikely vote-winning strategy.
Will Linking Hogan to Trump Work?
Beyond his own message, Jealous will relentlessly link Hogan to Trump and the need to send a message to the Republicans. However, Hogan hasn’t touched the hot-button social issues and hasn’t stopped gun control legislation. Despite his loud grumbling about taxes, Maryland has not undergone anything like the disastrous state downsizing in the name of tax cuts that has failed so miserably in Kansas and Louisiana.
Even O’Malley’s gas tax remains in effect with Hogan happy to travel around the state announcing new roads. Jealous promises to refocus the money, which also seems likely to displease the many voters who favor the new road projects. Hogan’s pie-in-the-sky plan to widen I-495 and I-270 gains fans from people who like that he is at least thinking about addressing to their traffic woes and don’t think transit will get them there.
Jealous has an exciting vision to sell. It also provides a buffet of avenues for a Republican to attack. By running as a left-wing progressive, Jealous has also left open centrist turf that Hogan will be eager to occupy as a mainstream problem solver. It will be up to Jealous to prove skeptical political observers, who rate the race as Likely Republican, wrong.