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Do political endorsements matter?

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Maryland Family Network
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As Maryland’s primary races warm up, the candidates, especially the ones running for governor, are touting their endorsements on almost a daily basis. The question is, how much do they count to the voters?

Among the Democrats, for example, Wes Moore, an author and entrepreneur, has an impressive list of endorsements from veteran politicians, including Adrienne Jones, speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and U.S. House majority leader Steny Hoyer, who announced his support last month in a MARC train station parking lot on the campus of Bowie State University.

“Wes Moore is unique,” Hoyer said, reading slowly from a script. “Unlike others, he is uniquely suited to bring a message of hope and possibility to this race.” 

Tom Perez, the former Maryland and U.S. Labor Secretary and former head of the Democratic National Committee, lists U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on his website. An exuberant Del. Luke Clippinger was on hand for the opening of his Baltimore headquarters.

“So for me, this is really simple,” Clippinger shouted to a raucous crowd. “He's got the experience. He's got the know-how. What he needs is you!”

But do these endorsements really help the candidates?

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, says some endorsements are worth more than others. Nancy Pelosi, the daughter of former Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro, Jr., has deep roots in Maryland.

“But Hoyer is more physically connected with the state of Maryland,” Eberly said. “He can show up, he can campaign for somebody. He's got more of an in-state network. So, I think when it comes to boots on the ground, his endorsement probably means more.”

Many of the others in the crowded Democratic field claim the endorsements of mayors of small cities in Maryland, or candidates for offices like county commissioner. Comptroller Peter Franchot has more than 100 former and current elected officials listed on his web site and former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler has endorsements from 41 current and former state Attorneys General on his website.

But endorsements from out-of-state figures don’t mean that much, says John Dedie, a political science professor at the Community College of Baltimore County. What would really move the needle, he says, would be celebrity endorsements.

“If someone like Lamar Jackson, or a Cal Ripken endorsed a candidate that would get a lot of media buzz,” he said. “These other little endorsements that these candidates have gotten from out of state people, they don't generate a media buzz.”

Two of the Republicans, Kelly Schulz, who served seven years in Gov. Larry Hogan’s cabinet, and Dan Cox, a freshman Delegate from Frederick County, split the pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions in the state party.

Schulz got Hogan’s ringing endorsement at a rally in March.

“There's only one candidate who has the experience, the ability and the desire to keep moving Maryland forward; your next governor Kelly Schulz,” Hogan declaimed to loud cheers.

Cox has a written endorsement from former President Donald Trump, who called him “MAGA all the way,” and the endorsement of Douglas Mastriano, a far-right Pennsylvania state Senator who just won the GOP primary for governor there. It was recorded at the Maryland monument on Gettysburg National Battlefield.

“He stands for life, the protections of the Second Amendment and all the freedoms that are delineated in our Constitution,” Mastriano said “And so with Dan, he has our full endorsement and support. You can find no better man to lead your great state to the greatness that it should have.”

Melissa Deckman, chair of the political science department at Washington College in Chestertown, says those endorsements are unlikely to help Cox in a state with a two-to-one Democratic voter registration edge where Donald Trump polled only 32% of the vote in 2020.

Maryland Republicans are “looking for electability,” she says. And they don’t see it in Cox, who was at the January 6 rally in Washington trying to overturn the election of President Joe Biden. But Schulz still must walk a fine line, Deckman says.

“I think Kelly Schultz has tried to kind of thread that needle of not alienating Trump voters, but at the same time making sure she's got enough centrists coming out to vote for her,” she said. “And she's really hammering about electability linking herself to Hogan. I think that's the smart strategy.”

While the Republicans are split along pro-Trump, pro-Hogan lines, the Democrats are splitting labor endorsements. Wes Moore has nailed down the Maryland State Education Association, the teachers’ union, and Tom Perez has endorsements from AFSCME, the state employees’ union, and the Communications Workers of America.

But Eberly, of St. Mary’s College and Dedie, of the Community College of Baltimore County, differ on what they’re worth.

Dedie says he doesn’t see much value in labor union endorsements, other than providing a few activists to knock on doors.

“Unions aren't what they were 50 years ago as far as their influence,” he explained. “And also the fact that now union members don't say, ‘Oh my God, my union has supported them, I got to support them too. They're very independent thinkers.”

Eberly concedes labor union endorsements aren’t as valuable as they once were but in Maryland, he says, some of them can make a difference..

“Public sector unions are still relatively powerful and still have pretty substantial membership,” he argued. “So I would say that it varies by state, and it varies by the strength of the individual union. We just happen to be in a state where public sector unions are still relatively strong.” 

And there’s one other factor; the timing of endorsements. Deckman says with the primary date pushed to July because of lawsuits over redistricting maps, that will be especially tricky for Democrats, who tend to vote early by mail.

“So you don't want to wait too long,” she cautioned, “because once people start voting by mail, it's a done deal.”

But you don’t want to peak too soon, either, Eberly warns. The impact could fade because many voters just aren’t paying that much attention yet.

“I think most folks are just waiting for the school year to end and then they’ll start thinking about their summer vacations,” he said.

Other than the fact that they help raise money, which is always needed, some “high profile endorsements are probably better served in the two or three weeks right before the primary,” he added.

That would be some time in late June. The primary is July 19.