WASHINGTON — The leader of Maryland’s second most populous county and a former civil rights activist. A statehouse veteran and the former chairman of one of the state’s most prominent law firms. A former State Department official in the Obama administration and a former aide to Michelle Obama.
Those are some of the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor in one of the most crowded field of contenders in decades.
Fierce opposition to President Donald Trump has fueled predictions of a “blue wave” of Democratic victories in the fall, but it’s uncertain whether that will translate into an enthusiastic embrace of any one of the eight Democrats running to take on Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
A string of recent polls indicate many voters still haven’t made up their minds about who they will vote for and some haven’t been paying much attention to the race at all.
The crowded field and the fact that only in the last week or so have true front-runners emerged have made the race unusual.
“You actually have to go back several decades to have a field this crowded and a race this unsettled,” said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Front-runners pull ahead?
Nearly a week before Democrats head to the voting booth, two candidates appear to have drawn ahead of the pack.
Former president and CEO of the NAACP Ben Jealous and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker have both established at least modest leads, according to recent polls.
Among the Democratic field of candidates, most say they will increase education funding in the state and there is universal agreement on the need to expand pre-K and increase college affordability — even if paths diverge on how to pay for those programs.
Baker has released a 10-point education plan that proposes millions of more dollars per year to upgrade school infrastructure, a new Cabinet-level position in the governor’s office to track student performance and boosting teacher salaries.
At a debate last month, candidate Jim Shea, a Baltimore lawyer who ran the state’s university system for several years, attacked Baker’s handling of Prince George’s County schools, which have been plagued by a series of scandals, including inflated graduation rates.
Shea said the missteps in Prince George’s County would make Baker an easy target for Hogan in a potential head-to-head matchup in the fall.
Baker has vigorously defended his record on schools, saying dropout and truancy rates turned around under his administration.
For his part, Shea has promoted a six-part plan that includes strengthening the career track for teachers and increasing funding for K-12 education, which he says is not keeping pace with growth in other parts of the state’s budget.
Jealous, who has been endorsed by the Maryland State Education Association, has pledged to boost teacher salaries by 29 percent and has proposed paying for all-day universal pre-K by legalizing and taxing the adult use of marijuana.
Rich Madaleno, a veteran Maryland state senator who’s known as a policy wonk, sits on the Kirwan Commission, a landmark effort aimed at increasing spending on public education in the state. The commission called for boosting spending in high-poverty areas and securing financing for universal pre-K.
Madaleno has pledged to use the commission’s recommendations as a template for his education priorities.
Krish Vignarajah, a former policy aide to Michelle Obama, has proposed shuffling funding from other parts of the state budget to boost funding for education and has also proposed a comprehensive school safety plan.
Alec Ross, a former State Department staffer in the Obama administration turned tech entrepreneur, has proposed expanding universal pre-K. His platform proposes requiring that all Maryland schools offer computer science courses at every grade level by 2022.
Jealous is the former national president and CEO of the NAACP, a post he held for five years.
Since 2015, Jealous has worked as a partner a partner at Kapor Capital in Baltimore and is also a professor of criminal justice at Princeton University.
Endorsements: The Baltimore Sun; the Maryland State Education Association; California Sen. California Sen. Kamala Harris; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; UNITE HERE!, which represents workers in the hospitality industry
Ross is a former Obama administration staffer who served in the State Department as senior adviser for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He is the author of the book, “The Industries of the Future.”
Shea is a Baltimore lawyer, previously the chairman of the Venable law firm, one of the state’s largest and most prominent law firms. Shea also served as chair of Maryland’s university system of Maryland for four years.