The top six Maryland gubernatorial candidates seeking the Democratic nomination participated last week in the final televised forum, just days before the primary election.
The debate, recorded Thursday, June 14 at the WRC-TV (Channel 4) studios in Northwest and aired three days later on WRC and Telemundo-44, addressed issues such as marijuana reform and policies instituted by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
The participants also took the opportunity to lob a few shots at each other.
In his opening remarks, Baltimore attorney Jim Shea summarized how Hogan would attack two of his opponents — Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and former NAACP President Ben Jealous — in the general election.
“If Rushern Baker is our nominee, Hogan will exploit the problems of the Prince George’s County Schools system,” Shea said. “If Ben Jealous is our nominee, Larry Hogan will portray him as a tax-and-spend Democrat.”
Several polls show Baker and Jealous as the two front-runners in the Democratic primary. If either is ultimately elected, they would be the state’s first Black governor.
The polls, however, show at least 30 percent of Democratic voters remain undecided in the highly competitive race.
“Undecided voters are dominating this race. I think they want a new face with new ideas,” said tech entrepreneur Alec Ross, who also taught several years in Baltimore City public schools. “I’m not from the political merry-go-round that comes from the old Maryland, permanent political establishment. I like the lane I am running in.”
Krish Vignarjah, onetime policy director for first lady Michelle Obama, continued to push her message of the absence of women in the 14 federal and statewide offices that represent Maryland.
“If you looked at how Democrats have won against incumbent Republicans [in other races], the vast majority of those pickups have been won by women,” she said.
State Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr. of Montgomery County poked at the Jealous campaign for allowing groups outside of Maryland to influence the election.
“Do I have outside special interest [groups] from outside the state of Maryland pouring money into my campaign? No,” Madaleno said.
Several union and progressive groups committed $500,000 on behalf of Jealous to use the money through phone calls, emails and digital advertising.
One of those groups, Working Families Party, was previously led by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Valerie Ervin, who last week ended her bid and threw her support behind the Baker campaign.
“We’re very happy to have Valerie Ervin’s endorsement and [Erving running mate Marisol Johnson’s] endorsement because they have worked hard for working families in Maryland,” Baker said. “They have said our candidacy is the one to move Maryland forward.”
Jealous said his experience as the youngest-ever NAACP president will help him create a movement to win the primary and defeat Hogan.
“We will win this campaign the way that I’ve won every major victory in my life: by simply building a bigger, more robust coalition that most folks think it’s possible,” he said. “I’m proud of the race we are running.”
Through the first three days of early voting in Maryland, nearly 70,000 people have cast their ballots — a 50 percent increase from the first three days of early voting in the primary election four years ago.
The early-voting period runs until Thursday, June 21. The primary election is Tuesday, June 26.
“We know the presence of early voting does increase voter turnout in states that have it,” said Mileah Kromer, political science professor at Goucher College in Towson. “It’s just difficult to say right now what early voting numbers really indicate for this particular election.”