When Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz died suddenly Thursday morning, the 60-year-old was competing in a crowded field for the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor. With the primary election just six and a half weeks away, Kamenetz’s death could dramatically alter the dynamics of the race.
State law gives Kamenetz’s running mate, former Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, the option of running for governor in his place, or she can choose to remain the lieutenant governor candidate while the campaign names someone else for the top of the ticket.
According to the State Board of Elections, Ervin has until Thursday to make that decision. Whatever she decides, Kamenetz’s name will still appear on the ballot.
The Kamenetz campaign declined to talk about what comes next.
In a statement Thursday, Ervin said she is “shocked and heartbroken” by his death. “I have been honored to call him a friend and partner,” she said.
The situation is highly unusual in Maryland politics, maybe even unprecedented, said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. It has left many people grappling for what to do next, or even how to talk about it.
“This changes the dynamic of this race, which means it needs to be talked about, it needs to be reported on,” Eberly said. “But this is such an uncommon occurrence and such a human tragedy that it really does raise the question of how do we talk about this.”
A February Mason-Dixon poll placed Kamenetz among the frontrunners in a field of nine candidates vying to be the Democratic nominee for governor. A more recent April Goucher Poll found that 28 percent of likely voters would pick Kamenetz in a match-up against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, with 23 percent undecided.
“Kevin Kamenetz was tightly packed with Ben Jealous and Rushern Baker as the top three candidates,” Eberly said. “They had the best name recognition, which to me suggests that the folks who backed Kamenetz made a choice that they wanted him, as opposed to Baker or Jealous.”
Without Kamenetz, the candidates who were trailing in the polls now have a chance to win over those voters who were backing him.
“But I suspect that at least for a little while here, no one’s going to be courting those voters,” Eberly said. “I think everyone’s going to be taking a bit of a breather here and give the family some opportunity to absorb what has happened and to instead just sort of focus on the legacy of Kamenetz’s 24 years of service.”
Nearly all of his opponents in the primary contest issued statements of support on Thursday.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker announced that he was suspending his campaign activity out of respect for Kamenetz’s family. He said he worked closely with Kamenetz on legislation while both served their respective counties.
State Sen. Richard Madaleno, a fellow gubernatorial candidate, praised Kamenetz for his grit and determination.
“His knowledge and dedication to all Marylanders will be sorely missed,” he said.