Maryland governor’s race reveals Democratic fault line

Although Maryland is one of America’s bluest states, it has a Republican governor. In 2014, we elected Larry Hogan. It was only the second time in 48 years a Republican had won that office here. We haven’t had a Republican Senator since 1987.

This year, the Democrats nominated Ben Jealous to run against Hogan. Jealous, formerly the head of the NAACP, is a hard leftist. He favors debt-free college, a state-based single payer health insurance, a 29 percent increase in teachers’ pay, and shrinking the prison population.

Hogan is a popular governor, but in a state as blue as Maryland this doesn’t assure his reelection. Just ask Bob Ehrlich, our last GOP governor. He had a positive approval rating, yet lost to Martin O’Malley (remember him?) in his reelection bid.

However, to have a good chance of defeating Hogan, who is even more popular than Ehrlich was, Jealous will probably need a unified Democratic party. This entails securing support and endorsements from elements of the party that aren’t hard left.

Jealous still has work to do. According to the Washington Post, influential State Senate President Mike Miller has “offered only tepid backing for Jealous while praising Hogan for ‘governing from the middle.’”

Isiah “Ike” Leggett, the executive of Montgomery County where I live, has thus far declined to endorse Jealous because of concerns that the candidate’s positions on taxes, school funding, and Amazon.com’s second headquarters would penalize the County. “I’m not sure they [in the Jealous campaign] have thought through the impact and implications of some of the positions that they’ve taken,” says Leggett, charitably. He estimates that the county would pay 38 percent of the total revenue raised under Jealous’s socialism-in-one-state plan. That’s more than double our share of the state’s population.

Other influential Democrats are strongly backing Jealous, but express disagreement with him on issues like state-based, single-payer health care. Sen. Ben Cardin is the best example of such a Democrat.

The reservations regarding Jealous seem mainly the product of doubts he can defeat Hogan by running hard left. As a Democratic strategist told the Post, “everybody in the Democratic establishment is concerned that if he doesn’t moderate himself, he has no chance against Hogan.”

But there is more to it than just electability. Leggett, the Montgomery County Executive, expresses his concerns in policy, not political, terms. He believes that Jealous’ policy preferences will hurt the County.

He’s right, of course. In the end, socialism hurts almost everyone. However, the affluent are the first to be hit. Montgomery County is still affluent. Leggett would like to keep it that way.

In relatively affluent suburban counties policy and pragmatism intersect for Democrats. In many states, the party needs well-to-do, college educated suburban white voters to offset the defection of white working class voters fed up with Democratic elitism and identity politics. Elitism, if anything, appeals to affluent whites and identity politics per se does not seem to turn them off in large numbers.

Economic policies are a different matter. Hit them hard enough in the pocketbook (or mess with their schools or the racial composition of their neighborhoods) and upscale suburban voters will balk. They will still hate Donald Trump, but traditional Republicans won’t look so bad, and moderates like Larry Hogan will look good.

The Post suggests that Jealous understands the need to soften his pitch. He’s going to meet with Leggett and I wouldn’t be surprised if the meeting leads to an endorsement.

However, the long-term problem signified by the mild resistance to Ben Jealous — the enormous tension between the Democratic left’s policy preferences and the interests of suburban voters (and not just white ones) — won’t go away.

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