Former NAACP head Ben Jealous won the Democratic nomination for governor last night, besting his closest competitor, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, by 10 percentage points.
Ben Jealous walked across the stage at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture with his two young children while the crowd of supporters chanted his name.
Behind him stood Mayor Catherine Pugh, Congressman Elijah Cummings, his running mate Susie Turnbull and his parents.
He quickly tried to soften his image as probably the most progressive of the Democratic candidates.
“The people will look at the results and try to discern the meaning of this victory,” he said. “Let me tell you what I’ve been telling voters for months – I’m not running to the left, I’m not running to the right. I’m running to the people of our state.”
Jealous paid his respects to his late opponent, Kevin Kamentez, for his “wisdom” and his family. And he thanked his other opponents.
“I’ve spoken with several of them tonight and together we are ready to go out and beat Larry Hogan,” he said.
He touted his plans for a clean energy economy, universal health care, living wage jobs and affordable higher education, and tried to tie Governor Hogan to President Trump.
He criticized Hogan for inviting Education Secretary Betsy Duvos to the state, and allowing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau, or ICE, to bring children separated from the parents at the southern border to Maryland.
“And you have aided and abetted Trump when you stood shoulder to shoulder with Attorney General Sessions,” he said. “Parroted his call to return to the failed war on drugs.
One supporter who attended the party said she decided to vote for Jealous in the voting booth today.
Michelle Ngwafon, 25, of Montgomery County, said she thought there were many good choices, but Jealous spoke with a vision that inspired her.
Rushern Baker, Jealous’ closest competitor, conceded around 10:30 pm. He told his supporters at the College Park Marriott that he pledged in a phone call to do everything he could to help Jealous win in November.
“The main thing is we need to get a Democrat back in Annapolis so that we can actually have health care for everybody, so that we can actually raise the minimum wage,” he said. “So that we can turn an education system that's gone down under Hogan's administration and turn it back up.”
He told supporters it was a bittersweet night for him, but their work is not done.
“It is about the work we have to do tomorrow,” he said. “Tomorrow we have to do the work of making the state better."
Earlier in the evening, Hogan joked with the crowd at his election party at Union Jack’s pub in Annapolis. He said sooner or later one of the seven Democrats in the primary would “limp across the finish line” with a tiny percentage of the vote.
“It’s not really their fault that they’re not catching on with the voters,” he said. “It’s just that 75 percent of all Marylanders, including two--thirds of all Democrats, approve of the job that we’ve been doing.”
A Washington Post University of Maryland Poll earlier this month showed Hogan with a 71 percent job approval rating and approval of nearly two-thirds of Democrats.
Jealous said those approval ratings don’t worry him.
“There is skepticism that Larry Hogan can be beaten,” he said. “Well, we’ve got a message for those who think this race is already over: Larry Hogan will lose in November because he is not ready to run against someone who knows how to build a people powered grass roots campaign.”
But that people power will have to come from all corners of the state.