Maryland Democrats badly want to beat Republican Gov. Larry Hogan next year, and there are now eight candidates who’d like the challenge, an unusually large number.
At present, polling shows that the eight Democrats who have announced are little known to half the voters and more. That’s not a big deal a year from the election, but it is a problem for one of these candidates to emerge as the clear choice to take Hogan down.
A poll last month by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy — a firm that started in Columbia in 1983, but is now based in Jacksonville, Fla. — found that several Democrats do pretty well when matched up against Hogan. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker was the strongest of the bunch; Hogan beat him by only seven points, 46%-39%, despite the fact that 40% of those polled didn’t even recognize Baker’s name.
In similar matchups, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz got 35% against Hogan’s 48%, and former NAACP President Ben Jealous got 33% against the governor’s 49%. (Montgomery County Sen. Rich Madaleno is little known in the rest of the state, despite strong progressive credentials.)
Those are pretty good numbers for folks half the voters don’t recognize. Mason-Dixon points out none of the matchups show Hogan getting more than 50% of the vote. These poll numbers suggest that Hogan is vulnerable against the right candidate, even though the governor is still quite popular.

Second Most Popular
According to the national polling firm Morning Consult, Hogan is still the second most popular governor in the U.S. (He’s never been the “most popular,” as some Maryland Republicans often inaccurately state.) But his rating has slipped in the most recent polling. Almost all governors have dropped slightly in the third quarter, the Morning Consult pollsters report.
Sixty-six percent of Marylanders approve of the job Hogan is doing, while 18% disapprove. In April, Hogan’s numbers were 73% approve and 16% disapprove. Hogan is still edged by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, another Republican chief executive of a Democratic state. America’s least popular governor is Hogan’s buddy, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, with 77% of his constituents disapproving of his work, a record low, these online pollsters say.
The Mason-Dixon poll found slightly worse numbers for Hogan than Morning Consult, with 61% approving and 26% disapproving of the job he is doing.

Never Elected
Like Ben Jealous, four other Democrats in the race have never held elected office and have never even run for political office before. These include tech expert Alec Ross, who worked for Hillary Clinton at the State Department; Krish Vignarajah, who was policy chief for Michelle Obama; attorney Jim Shea, the former managing partner of the Venable law firm and former chair of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland; and Washington policy consultant Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the wife of Rep. Elijah Cummings, who was just endorsed by Emily’s List, a major funder of women candidates.
Kamenetz, a county councilman for 16 years prior to his two terms as executive of Maryland’s third largest county, grouses that being governor should not be an entry-level position; clearly, five of the eight candidates disagree. The Democratic nomination for governor of Maryland has seldom had so many outsiders in the race. Typically, two or three elected Democrats with executive experience vie for the nomination.
Larry Hogan, who ran his own real estate firm, cast himself as the outsider in 2014, but he actually had more political and government experience than most of the “outsider” Democrats now running. He was Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s appointments secretary for four years, handling the naming of hundreds of positions on state boards and commissions.
Hogan had also run twice for Congress, coming the closest of any Democrat to beating Rep. Steny Hoyer. And he had worked as an aide for his father, Larry Hogan, Sr., as Prince George’s County executive, a post Hogan, Sr., held after leaving Congress and running unsuccessfully for governor.
For the Hogans, politics was the family business, and they were involved in many other campaigns.

Down on Hogan
All of the Democrats say Hogan is doing a terrible job, and except for Jealous, they rarely mention the man Hogan succeeded, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, though they embrace O’Malley policies.
Ross, for instance, who once taught in a Baltimore middle school, has said, “Maryland has never had an education governor,” hoping to claim that title for himself.
But O’Malley’s tax increases and diversion of transportation and environmental funds were a deliberate effort to maintain public school aid in the depths of The Great Recession. O’Malley also plowed more money into the state universities to keep tuition down, while most states cut aid to higher education during the recession and raised tuition.
All of the Democrats promise to spend more money on education, but they do not say where that money might come from. The latest figures from Annapolis show state revenues growing at 3% a year, while state spending on education grows at almost 4% a year. Those numbers don’t work.

Hogan Headlines Kittleman
In 2014, Hogan won statewide with 51% of the vote, and Republican Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman won with 51.2%. Hogan got 1,100 more votes than Kittleman in Howard County. Both campaigns worked together to achieve what was hardly a landslide, but still a remarkable win for Republicans in Maryland. They hope to at least match that performance next year.
Last month, Hogan headlined Kittleman’s annual picnic on the family’s West Friendship farm, turning out a record-setting crowd of more than 800 people, according to the Kittleman campaign count.
Hogan praised Kittleman’s accomplishments and urged his re-election next year. As for himself, Hogan said, “I intend to be the second Republican governor in the entire history of the state to be re-elected.” (Theodore McKeldin was the only other Republican governor to win re-election, serving from 1951 to 1959, in between his terms as Baltimore’s last Republican mayor.)
If Kittleman is successful, he would be the second Republican Howard County executive to win re-election; the late Chuck Ecker served from 1990 to 1998.
Democratic County Councilmember Calvin Ball is scheduled to announce his plans Nov. 9. Ball, like four of the five current council members, is term-limited, and has been expected for months to challenge Kittleman.

Schrader Still Goes Unpaid
Former Howard County Councilmember Dennis Schrader could be nominated as volunteer of the year for the state government. Since July, he has been serving as acting secretary of the Maryland health department, but is not being paid because of a dispute between the governor and the legislature. Hogan appointed Schrader, and then withdrew his name when it appeared the Senate was not going to take a vote on his nomination — then Hogan reappointed him.
But the legislature put language in the budget bill saying Schrader could not be paid. Comptroller Peter Franchot was willing to pay Schrader, but state Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who is elected by the legislature and has the final word, said he could not get his six-figure salary.
Schrader’s wife, Sandy, the former state senator for District 13, is director of inter-governmental affairs for Kittleman.