January 2021 Maryland Gubernatorial Power Rankings

The latest in a series of rankings between now and the June 2022 Primary

Welcome to the December 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.

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: Congressman David Trone (D) (Previous: 10)
The rumor mill has suggested that the Congressman and wealthy alcohol executive would eventually run for Governor. Who certainly has the deep pockets to make a serious and credible campaign. But as we have seen in races from John Delaney’s quixotic bid to President to Jim Shea’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign that money cannot buy happiness. Weirdly Trone’s financial prowess seems to have given Peter Franchot an excuse to use him (or an avatar of him) as a boogeyman to raise more money for his campaign. Trone is often criticized by the left as being too conservative and Democrats were ready to throw Trone overboard when Trone announced he was battling cancer in 2018 (which led to this bizarre response from the Trone campaign). Trone has the money to compete but a large number of hurdles to overcome.

#9: Former U.S. Secretary of Education John King (D) (Previous: 9)
John King is a relative newcomer to Maryland Politics. This makes him completely unknown in a Maryland Democratic Party that is simultaneously moving further and further to the left but also has a tremendous distrust of outside candidates, particularly after the 2018 election. But he also has no baggage with him from years and decades of Maryland Democratic Party inside baseball. King has a high ceiling in his race, with many of his Obama connections likely to find their way back to Washington in new roles with the Biden Administration.

#8: Ben Jealous (D) (Previous: 8)
Ben Jealous was the Democratic nominee for Governor in 2018. His campaign was well documented and basically was over three months prior to the General Election. Jealous won the primary because he was the flavor of the moment for the progressive left that is taking over the Maryland Democratic Party. But Jealous is old new now after getting thumped in a General Election during what was purportedly a “blue wave.” Not only is he going to not have that far left lane to himself in the 2022 Democratic Primary, but he is also going to have to contend with better candidates who have actual governing experiences and connections to the Maryland Democratic Party. Not a good combination for a candidate who has failed once before.

#7: Congressman Anthony Brown (D) (Previous: 7)
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).

#6: Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski (D) (Previous: 6)
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. Democrats have never nominated a Baltimore County Executive before. 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. The only Baltimore County Executive elected Governor has been Republican Spiro Agnew.

#5: Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) (Previous: 3)
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 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. But he takes two steps back this week because of uncertainty 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.

#4: Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) (Previous: 5)
Glassman is an experienced legislator and an experienced executive. He’s also flirted with the idea of running for higher office before, floating a trial balloon for a U.S. Senate campaign in 2016. Glassman is said to be considering a campaign for either Governor of Comptroller. He would be a credible candidate for both, but his recent comments about Andy Harris make one wonder if he is also considering a primary challenge for Congress. One challenge to Glassman in running statewide is having a base in Harford County; that does not always translate to statewide primary support. Two previous county executives, Eileen Rehrmann in 1998 and David Craig in 2014 lost bids for Governor in their respective parties. But Glassman has also been on Baltimore area TV with ads that are ostensibly about COVID-19 but do feature Glassman prominently.

#3: Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz (R) (Previous: 3)
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 increasing her statewide profile, keynoting the Red Maryland Leadership Conference Earlier this year. She also has options. She could run for the open seat as Frederick County Executive. She could run for a newly redrawn competitive Congressional seat. And many Republicans have floated the idea of a “dream ticket” with Schulz running for Lt. Governor as Boyd Rutheford’s running mate. Time will tell what Schulz will ultimately decide. But her decision will have ripples in this field.

#2: 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. 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. I think Alsobrooks will certainly strike while the iron is hot. She will be the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic Primary; a perch that worked for one predecessor (Parris Glendening in 1994) and failed another (Rushern Baker in 2018).

#1: Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford (R) (Previous: 1)
The Lt. Governor was the biggest benefactor of President Donald Trump's re-election defeat. There was going to be no chance that a Republican would be elected in 2022 had Trump been re-elected. But he wasn’t, and that means Republicans will compete on an even field with the Democratic nominee. And bluntly, Republicans will have a likely advantage if Democrats wilt as they did during the 2018 primary. Rutherford is not the prototypical gubernatorial candidate. He’s been more seen as an administrator than a front guy. But if you have seen his “Mundane But Meaningful” series then you know he has the chops to be relatable and funny. He’s also assembled a dynamite team around him. And being part of Governor Larry Hogan’s team, a team with an out-of-this-world approval rating will help with voters in all parties. Many Republicans have floated the idea of a “dream ticket” of Rutherford paired with Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz as his running mate. If that comes to fruition, a Rutherford-Schulz ticket will clear the field in the Republican primary. But whether it does or it doesn’t, Lt. Governor Rutherford remains the favorite to be elected Governor in 2022.