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Maryland Statewide Primary Preview

With Governor Larry Hogan (R) term-limited, Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) retiring, and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) running for Governor, Marylanders will enjoy a once in a blue moon opportunity to choose new nominees for all three statewide offices. Although every office has attracted a variety of interesting faces, the election season itself has largely been sleepy. Limited polling and a hefty chunk of undecideds has birthed several fluid races with no clear favorite. Five of the six open primaries are contested, and all five should be at least somewhat competitive.

It should be noted that mail ballots, which will comprise a significant portion of ballots in the primary, cannot be opened until Thursday, and ballots can continue to be received until July 29th. As such, be prepared to wait for final results in Maryland, and for the results to shift over time.

Governor

Term-limits have rendered popular incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ineligible to run. This has prompted a deluge of Democratic candidates to jump into the ring, aware that any one of them would be favored to become Maryland’s next governor. The race attracted a diverse set of candidates with varying levels of experience, but there are just three contenders who are seen as having a viable chance of winning. The first is long-time state Comptroller Peter Franchot. Franchot has a long history in Maryland politics, beginning with his election to the House of Delegates in 1986. In the 2006 primary for Comptroller, he defeated former Governor and incumbent Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and has only seen landslide elections since. Franchot has made both friends and enemies in his long tenure in Maryland politics, and is generally seen as the most moderate candidate in the race. In recent years, he has allied with Hogan on several issues, and declined to endorse either the governor or his Democratic challenger Ben Jealous in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

The second viable contender is author and entrepreneur Wes Moore, best known for his book The Other Wes Moore. Moore has never held political office before, but has racked up a stellar list of high-profile endorsements from Maryland establishment figures such as Reps. Steny Hoyer, Kweisi Mfume, and Dutch Ruppersburger, as well as state Senate President Bill Ferguson, state House Speaker Adrienne Jones, and state House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke. His long list of endorsements also includes the Maryland State Education Association. Moore, the only top candidate from the Baltimore area, would be the state’s first Black governor. He has posted the best fundraising hauls of any candidate in the race, thanks in part to endorsements from celebrities like Oprah.

The final contender is former US Labor Secretary and DNC Chair Tom Perez. Perez, who hails from Montgomery County, got his start in Maryland politics as a Montgomery County councilman in the early 2000s before becoming a national figure as Obama’s Secretary of Labor and leading the Democratic National Committee during the Trump era. Perez has run a policy-oriented campaign with a “Get Stuff Done” message. Thanks to his national connections, he has earned the endorsements of Democratic power players such as Nancy Pelosi, but he has also gained endorsements from progressive politicians and organizations such as the AFL-CIO. If elected, Perez would be the state’s first Latino governor.

There has been limited polling of the race, and the polls that we do have are mostly just internals released by different candidates. Franchot has led in both independent polls of the race as well as nearly every public internal, although his leads are usually mired in the teens or low-20s. It is possible that, given Franchot’s very high name recognition, he has hit something of a ceiling and may struggle to grow beyond that. However, in a race as divided as this year’s Democratic primary, candidates may not need more support than the upper 20s or low 30s to win the nomination, as unlike many southern states, Maryland does not have runoffs.

But with public polling as scarce as it has been, the uncertainty in this race cannot be overemphasized. Both Moore and Perez have been hot on Franchot’s tail in most polls, and all three do have a good shot at winning the nomination. Moore, who led among Black voters in the Goucher poll, may have an advantage if he can capitalize on Black support throughout the state. He has a litany of endorsements from vote-rich Prince George’s County, and has also polled decently among Maryland’s other large primary demographic of suburban whites, which gives him a clear lane to victory. That being said, crosstab analysis suggests that there are bright spots in polling for both Perez and Franchot as well. Franchot’s support likely skews older, a significant boost in a primary election that is unlikely to feature sky-high turnout. And Perez can point to a Data For Progress poll which showed him leading with 25% in populous Montgomery County, while Moore and Franchot lagged behind with 15% each. Perez’s best path to victory likely relies on strong support from liberal suburbanites in such counties, and his lane to the governor’s mansion likely relies upon whether he can realize these margins.

The other side of the primary has much greater implications for the general election. There are two major GOP candidates: state delegate Dan Cox and former Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, and between them, the divides in the national Republican Party are as clear as day.

Schulz, who worked for the Hogan administration and was a state delegate from Frederick County (somewhat ironically hailing from the same seat Cox holds now), has attempted to recreate the Hogan playbook by running on economic issues and avoiding taking positions on social issues that would be toxic in the general election. While Schulz took more conservative positions on issues such as abortion when she served in the House of Delegates (Hogan, notably, came without such a political paper trail in 2014), she has attempted to create distance between herself and Trump’s wing of the party, aware that Trump is deeply toxic in the Old Line State. As such, Schulz has the backing of not only Hogan, but of the vast majority of the Maryland GOP establishment.

Cox is an entirely different story. His biggest weapon, by far, is Trump’s endorsement, which is the only notable one that he has received. He has positioned himself as a truly Trump-oriented candidate, attacking the integrity of the 2020 presidential election and calling Vice President Pence a “traitor.” He was involved in the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol, bussing in constituents for Trump’s “Save America March” that day. Cox’s far-right positions would render him unelectable in Maryland, a fact Kelly Schulz has used to attack him. He has notably lagged significantly in fundraising to Schulz, and has a limited amount of cash on hand. While this normally might be a major problem for him, he has received a massive assist from an unlikely ally: Democrats, who are seeking to elevate his campaign to a primary victory, aware that it would take any chances of Republicans holding the governorship off the table. Democrats have become the biggest spender in this race, blanketing the airwaves with ads that are nominally attacks on Cox but actually highlight his deeply conservative positions to Republican voters.

Polling in this race has been limited to just two independent polls, one of which showed Schulz ahead 27-21% and the other featuring a Cox lead of 25-22%. These, however, were notably fielded ahead of the Democratic spending on Cox’s behalf. The vast numbers of undecideds make this race highly fluid, but the power of Trump’s endorsement and a big ad buy for Cox may be a deciding factor in swaying undecideds.

The biggest factor affecting the general election is the Republican primary. Any of the viable Democrats would be fairly unproblematic nominees, and Franchot in particular has a stellar electoral record. The difference between nominating Schulz and Cox, however, is vast. Schulz would at least attempt to recreate a Hogan-style campaign, whereas Cox would throw Hogan’s brand out the window and run a Trump-centric race, which would all but cede the race in deeply Democratic Maryland. Our ratings for these races are Tilt Moore and Lean Cox. If Cox does win the primary, our rating for the general election, which is currently at Likely Democratic, would change to Safe Democratic.

Attorney General

Two-term Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) is retiring this year, and two Democratic candidates have entered the race to replace him. Both Democrats are mainstream liberals who differ primarily on style and past experience rather than ideology.

The first candidate is Congressman Anthony Brown, who currently represents Maryland’s 4th District, covering most of central Prince George’s County and a substantial piece of Anne Arundel County. Brown was elected to the House of Delegates in 1998 and was chosen as Martin O’Malley’s running mate in 2006. He served as Lt. Governor for eight years, before launching an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for governor against Larry Hogan in 2014. Brown was subsequently elected to the US House in 2016 and has served there ever since. Brown has extensive national and state-level connections, and has earned the endorsements of US Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren, as well as US Reps. Steny Hoyer, Kweisi Mfume, and David Trone. On the state level, Brown has garnered endorsements from House Speaker Adrienne Jones, the County Executives of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, and the Maryland State Education Association.

The second candidate is former Baltimore Judge Katie Curran O’Malley. O’Malley comes from a political family; her father, Joseph Curran, served as Maryland Attorney General for 20 years. O’Malley is also married to former Governor Martin O’Malley, and as such was First Lady of Maryland for eight years. She served as Assistant State’s Attorney of Baltimore County before getting appointed in 2001 to serve as an Associate Judge of the First District, which is coterminous with Baltimore City, a position she held until last year. O’Malley has pitched herself as having a different kind of political experience than Brown, as well as being a candidate who can “meet the moment” in the aftermath of the fall of Roe v. Wade. As with Brown, she has a long list of endorsements, which include state Senate Majority Leader Nancy King, state House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, and Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner.

In what is becoming a common national GOP theme, the Republicans running for Attorney General sharply divide the wings of the party, although with much lower stakes here. Jim Shalleck, a former prosecutor who hails from Montgomery County, has Hogan’s endorsement. Michael Peroutka, a former Anne Arundel County Councilmember, is by far the more right-wing candidate. Peroutka was the Constitution Party’s nominee for President in 2004, has taken extremely conservative positions on social issues like gay rights and abortion, and also has ties to a white supremacist group called The League of the South. Neither candidate has raised any substantial amount of money, but Peroutka’s presence on the ticket would not be beneficial to Republicans. Of the two polls of the race, Peroutka has led Shalleck 19-18% and 17-11%, but with such a gargantuan amount of undecideds it is difficult to assess the usefulness of such polls.

The Maryland Democratic establishment is divided on Brown versus O’Malley, and recent polling has shown a relatively close race. There have been but two independent polls, one of which showed Brown with a 42-29% lead and another with O’Malley basically tied, 30-29%, with Brown. Brown’s previous statewide campaigns have made him a familiar name and the slight favorite at this point, and it is reasonable to expect he will dominate in his native Prince George’s County, and likely with Black voters across Maryland. This gives him a substantial advantage over O’Malley, but she also has a familiar name and the resources to match Brown. Whoever wins the primary will be the prohibitive favorite in the general election; Republicans have not won the position of Maryland Attorney General in 104 years. We rate the primaries as Lean Brown and Tilt Peroutka, and the general election as Safe Democratic.

Comptroller

Incumbent Comptroller Peter Franchot’s decision to leave the office after a 16-year tenure has opened the door to Maryland’s quietest primary, with a grand total of three candidates between both races.

The first candidate, and the consensus frontrunner for the job, is state Delegate Brooke Lierman, who represents southern Baltimore City in the House of Delegates. Lierman first won the seat in 2014 and has held it ever since. A mainstream Democrat, Lierman has rallied the Maryland political establishment behind her, amassing an enormous list of endorsements from most major power players in the state. Her only opponent is Tim Adams, who serves as the mayor of Bowie in Prince George’s County. Adams has a handful of endorsements from state delegates and local officials, and lent his campaign a substantial amount of money. Nevertheless, Lierman is considered the favorite, and has led Adams 28-19% and 28-14% in both public polls of the race, and we rate the primary as Lean Lierman.

Republicans will nominate Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who has held his position since 2014. Glassman is running unopposed. He is the most credible candidate Republicans have put up in years, but Republicans have not won the Maryland Comptroller’s office since the 1800s. We rate this race as Safe Democratic at the moment.

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