April 2021 Maryland Gubernatorial Power Rankings
The week everything got scrambled
Anything happen this week?
Welcome to the April installment of The Duckpin Maryland Gubernatorial Power Rankings. These rankings will list, in my estimation, the contenders for the office of Governor of Maryland on a 1-10 scale. This list will be updated every month; maybe more once we get to 2022 itself.
A lot of things happened with this month’s rankings. The #1 ranked contender since we started in November was Boyd Rutherford. Until he announced on Wednesday that he was not going to run. Another potential candidate, Barry Glassman, announced he was running for Comptroller.
So yeah. A few things changed this month.
Every so often, I consider expanding this list beyond ten. There are a lot of potential candidates running who could be serious candidates that don’t make the top ten. But at the end of the day, this isn’t about just ranking the people running (which is why certain declared fringe candidates don’t get mentioned) but about trying to figure out who is the most likely to be elected at this moment in time. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but neither Robin Ficker, Ashwani Jain, or Ed Tinus are going to be governor in 2023. And with multiple candidates just this week bowing out of the race, it seems like that there is no reason to expand the list beyond ten.
The rankings are a combination of polls, data, political environment, and gut feelings. It is not necessarily a ranking in order of who I think should be elected Governor, but who is best positioned to win the November 2022 General Election at that time. Think of it as a snapshot in time.
#10: Former Lt. Governor Michael Steele (R) (Previous: NR)
We welcome Michael Steele back to the list after a month out. Steele was the first African-American elected statewide in Maryland when he was elected Lt. Governor in 2002. He has not held public office since. He ran for U.S. Senate in 2006, and then served two years as Republican National Committee Chairman, leading the party in taking back the House in 2010. Steele’s lane for securing the Republican nomination will be complicated by his endorsement of Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election and the fact that the Maryland Republican Party has drastically changed since he was most recently involved.
Maybe we can bring the puppies back.
#9: Jon Baron (D) (Previous: NR)
The policy expert and former non-profit executive is trying to be the little engine that could. He may officially be in the exploratory phase of his campaign, but there is little doubt that he is running.
Baron may be running, but he is going to face problems heading into any serious campaign. The Democratic primary voter has shown that they are looking for a firebrand with unserious and bombastic policy solutions. Not a policy wonk and technocrat. Nor will friends making comments like “I immediately presumed that he would be running as a Republican” help at all with the left-wing primary base.
#8: Former Attorney General Doug Gansler (D) (Previous: NR)
The scuttlebutt that Gansler is going to run for Governor again just doesn’t seem to stop. Gansler served two terms as Attorney General and was defeated in the 2014 gubernatorial primary by Anthony Brown. He has statewide connections and statewide campaign experience to be sure. Is he more personable and relatable than most of these candidates? Yes. Does he have a base? It’s hard to say. Does he have baggage? Absolutely. Will he be a formidable candidate if he runs? Time will tell.
#7: Wes Moore (D) (Previous: 8)
Moore is an author, non-profit executive, and retired Army officer that is an occasional darling of the Baltimore-area media. We learned in February that Moore is considering running for Governor next year as a Democrat. Which is interesting:
Moore, of course, has no connection to the Democratic establishment, no base, and no real path to victory at the moment. But he also doesn’t have the baggage that Ben Jealous has, either, which puts him slightly higher on this list than Jealous.
#6: Congressman Anthony Brown (D) (Previous: 6)
Speaking of candidates for failed once before, Anthony Brown looks like he is gearing up to make another run. Brown was the perceived front-runner for the entire election even though many of the leading indicators were trending Republican over a year before the election. It also led to one of the greatest self-owns of all time on Twitter. Brown was just elected to his third term in Congress and with his paths for advancement limited, he might take one more bite at the apple. Much like Jealous, it’s hard to imagine Democrats nominating a failed candidate; they’ve never done so in the past. But Brown has the advantage over Jealous by being an incumbent Congressman and better candidate (at least compared to Jealous).
#5: Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) (Previous: 2)
Being the Democratic leader of the most important jurisdiction in a Democratic primary helps vault you toward the top, but indicating that you may not run will send you back down. Alsobrooks may be in her first term, but she quickly shot toward the top of this list based on that fact alone. Her previous experience as State’s Attorney and as director of the Prince George’s County revenue authority helps too. Like Olszewski, Alsobrooks is a first-term executive who has to decide if it’s too early to run for Governor or if this is her best opportunity. But it’s looking like Alsobrooks will not strike while the iron is hot. She will be the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic Primary if she runs; a perch that worked for one predecessor (Parris Glendening in 1994) and failed another (Rushern Baker in 2018). But it’s seeming less likely by the day that she actually runs.
#4: Former County Executive Rushern Baker (Previous: NR)
This was as much of a surprise as Rutherford’s decision not to run. Last week, Maryland Matters reported that Rushern Baker would make a second run for Governor in 2022. He immediately jumps toward the head of the line due to his base in Prince George’s County and his experience as a candidate in 2018. He finished second in 2018 with 29% of the vote in a crowded field. He lost to Ben Jealous, but Democrats are less likely to go with an inexperienced candidate next year than they were in the 2018 election. Baker has statewide contacts and executive experience, a combination that many of the other candidates lack. It will be interesting to see if Baker stays at the front of the line going forward.
#3: Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz (R) (Previous: 5)
She’s in, the first major Republican to announce a run for governor. Secretary Schulz has an intriguing profile for a statewide candidate; former Delegate, secretary of two cabinet Departments, and a resident of Frederick County, now solidly a swing district. She’s been increasing her statewide profile, keynoting the Red Maryland Leadership Conference Earlier this year. Many Republicans floated the idea of a “dream ticket” with Schulz running for Lt. Governor as Boyd Rutherford’s running mate, but with Rutherford out of the race and Glassman running for Comptroller, the field in the Republican primary has basically been cleared. Just as important; assuming Angela Alsobrooks does not run, she will be the only major party candidate for governor who is a woman.
#2: Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) (Previous: 4)
Normally a statewide elected official would be higher on the list. But there’s nothing normal about Peter Franchot’s political trajectory. He was a radical left-wing Delegate turned budget conscience Democrat and now turning back into a radical left-wing Democrat in order to run for Governor. He fills no natural lane in this election; progressives distrust him, moderates distrust him. The Len Foxwell debacle hurts him in a number of ways. He has a large bank account ($2,216,592.88 at the end of the 2020 cycle) and high name ID though, and that counts for something. He has a path to victory, but it’s much narrow than many would otherwise think. Franchot has already released his campaign kickoff video and launched his new website, which moved him up one spot. Uncertainty remains as to how his promotion of and relationship with a local gossip blogger will hurt him, something that is already causing fights in the Democratic intelligentsia.
#1: Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski (D) (Previous: 3)
Olszewski will certainly be the darling of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in 2022. “Johnny O” has been moving Baltimore County in a left-wing direction, certainly at a quicker pace than his predecessor, the late Kevin Kamenetz. It’s not entirely certain if Olszewski will run; he is, after all, a first-term County Executive. But he may not get a better time than this, an open seat. In fact, Ted Venetoulis was the prohibitive favorite in the 1978 Democratic Primary as a young first-term Baltimore County Executive when he lost in a massive upset to former Transportation Secretary Harry Hughes. But the wheels are certainly in motion and Olszewski is now openly mulling the possibility of running and I doubt that he would be so open about this if he weren’t leaning toward making a run. The only Baltimore County Executive elected Governor has been Republican Spiro Agnew.
Dropping Out: Boyd Rutherford (#1, announced he was not running), Barry Glassman (#7, announced he was running for Comptroller), Ben Jealous (#9), Tom Perez (#10)