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Baltimore County key as Kamenetz plots run for governor

Baltimore County

Here is one of the things you get to do when you are county executive: show up at groundbreakings for new schools.

That’s what Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz did Wednesday at the site of the new Lansdowne Elementary. And it gave him a chance to tout his plan to spend $1.3 billion on 16 new schools, as well as 19 school additions and renovations.

"This initiative is the largest single commitments by a county in the history of this state," Kamenetz told the crowd at the groundbreaking. Kamenetz’s job takes him around the county and he says people take notice of that. And that may be helpful as he seriously considers running for governor.

Baltimore County is a key battleground--a bell weather-- because it mirrors the state politically. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county by more than two to one. But Larry Hogan in 2014 crushed his Democratic opponent in the county, getting about 60 percent of the vote.

Baltimore County Delegate Joe Cluster, the former executive director of the state Republican Party, said Hogan’s numbers were close to 70 percent on the conservative east side. And he says it would be hard for Kamenetz to cut into that.

"The only way he is going to have a shot of coming close to winning Baltimore County is to do better on the east side, which I don’t think is possible," he said.

Cluster said Kamenetz doesn’t necessarily have to win the county to have a chance of unseating Hogan. But he would need to shave five or six points off Hogan’s 60-40 margin in 2014.

"That would show trends dropping in all areas probably, and (Hogan) wouldn’t do as well in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, and then he would be in some real trouble from a Republican standpoint."

But before challenging Hogan, Kamenetz first would have to win the Democratic primary next June and that’s expected to be a crowded field. Cluster says he would like to see a Hogan/Kamenetz matchup next year, arguing Kamenetz doesn’t have a strong record to run on.

And Republican State Senator Johnny Ray Salling claims Kamenetz is unpopular in his own county.

"It just seems like he doesn’t want to work with us in any way," Salling said.

But Mileah Kromer, who runs the Goucher Poll at Goucher College, said there is no independent polling to back up that claim. But Kromer said Kamenetz needs to push back against even the perception that he couldn't beat Hogan in his home county because that would undermine Kamenetz’s viability in the primary.

She said you can tell how Kamenetz believes he’s doing in the county by where he campaigns once he declares he’s running.

"If he’s doing really well in Baltimore County, he won’t have to spend that much time there," Kromer said. "But if he’s doing very poorly, you’ll see him spending a lot of time on his home turf."

Kromer also said look to see if Kamenetz is able to raise big dollars in the county and find volunteers for his campaign.

Asked about Hogan’s convincing win in the county in 2014, Kamenetz pointed to his record of building schools, no tax increases and protecting the environment.

"I’ve always taken the approach that if you show you are capable of doing the job, the results will speak for themselves," he said.

Democrats also are banking on the party riding a political wave fueled by opposition to President Trump in 2018. Last November, Trump got 38 percent of the vote in the county, 34 percent statewide.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2