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Democrats eager to unseat Md. Republican governor after 1 term

WTOP takes a look at the Democrats running in the race to capture the state's top job from the GOP.

WASHINGTON — While Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan prepares for a 2018 re-election bid with high approval ratings, Democrats are aiming to make the Republican a one-term governor.

WTOP takes a look at who’s in the race to capture the state’s top job from the GOP.

New faces in the running

Krish Vignarajah, who served as policy director for former first lady Michelle Obama and at the State Department, is announcing her run for governor as someone who — according to her campaign website — “has committed her career to public service because she knows how differently life could have turned out.”

Josh Kurtz, author of the political website “Maryland Matters,” said Vignarajah is the only woman in the race and has a compelling personal story. Her parents came to the United States from Sri Lanka when she was a little girl.

“She is young, dynamic and energetic,” said Kurtz, who says Vignarajah could be an “attractive alternative” to the more established candidates in the race.

There is a potential problem, however, Kurtz added. Questions have been raised about Vignarajah’s eligibility to run: She was registered to vote in both D.C. and Maryland. It’s raising the issue of whether she meets the Maryland requirements to run for governor: A candidate must live in and be registered to vote in Maryland for five years under the state’s constitution.

Also running is tech entrepreneur Alec Ross, who could appeal to younger voters and see politics differently, Kurtz said.

Ross worked on the 2008 Obama campaign and served as “senior adviser for innovation” to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Kurtz said of Ross, “He’s kind of got a different message: He’s talking [about] how technology can be a great equalizer.”

There’s also Jim Shea, who is well known in Maryland legal circles: He’s the former chair of Venable, LLC, a high-profile Baltimore law firm. He also served as the president of the university board of regents.

“He’s a smart guy; he’s raising money from Baltimore business interests at a pretty steady clip, I think, and he’s talking about education, transportation and job growth,” Kurtz said.

County executives make a run for the state house

At Monday’s campaign event in Towson, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said he was the best candidate to go after Hogan.

Kurtz said Kamenetz has a point: “If voters are looking for an experienced person, if Democratic voters are thinking strategically about someone who can possibly cut into Hogan’s vote in Baltimore County, Kamenetz may be the best bet.”

Another county executive, Rushern Baker of Prince George’s County, is in the running and, like Kamenetz, has been a vocal critic of Hogan’s. According to Kurtz, Baker has made inroads in improving the business climate and has made some positive changes in education — although a current investigation into reported grade inflation has challenged that narrative.

Kurtz said Baker has made real progress in cleaning up local politics. “When he took over, the place was crawling with corruption, and he’s helped stop that to a degree,” said Kurtz, who points out that both Kamenetz and Baker serve in counties that are critical to any Democratic efforts to win.

A nationally-known progressive in the race

Ben Jealous, former president of the NAACP, is making a run for governor. He’s known as an inspiring orator with a progressive message and “that’s going to appeal to a lot of people,” said Kurtz.

Jealous has already gotten an endorsement from a former U.S. presidential candidate: Sen. Bernie Sanders. If Jealous can succeed in fundraising, Kurtz said, “I think he’s going to be quite a serious contender for the nomination.”

State House fixture hopes to go to governor’s mansion

Maryland State Sen. Rich Madaleno is “well-known in Montgomery County; he’s very well known in Annapolis as an expert on the budget,” but Kurtz said despite Madaleno’s smarts, he could face a hurdle when it comes to expanding his support and raising the funds that become so critical in statewide races.

Madaleno could find that his work in the legislative session could help raise his profile, Kurtz said, adding, “He’ll be in the thick of a bunch of legislative fights and budget fights in Annapolis during the first part of the year.”


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