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May 2021 Gubernatorial Power Rankings
Another #1 bites the dust
Welcome to the May 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.
For the second straight month, the top candidate announced they weren’t running. Johnny Olszewski, who ascended to the #1 spot last month after Boyd Rutherford declined to run, announced that he was running for re-election as Baltimore County Executive.
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: 10)
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. He’s gonna have to decide to get in or get out very soon, since the GOP has quickly coalesced around Kelly Schulz.
Maybe we can bring the puppies back.
#9: Congressman Anthony Brown (D) (Previous: 6)
Anthony Brown looked like he was 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 Ben Jealous, it’s hard to imagine Democrats nominating a failed candidate; they’ve never done so in the past. Brown has the advantage over Jealous by being an incumbent Congressman and better candidate (at least compared to Jealous). But if Brown doesn’t get moving, he’s gonna fall himself lagging behind the top of the field.
#8: Former DNC Chairman Tom Perez (D) (Previous: NR)
Tom Perez is back on the list, coming off a four-year term as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. That’s worked in launching politicians to governorships previously (see Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania and Terry McAuliffe in Virginia). Perez’s problem at this point is that he’s been out of Maryland local politics for over ten years at this point, and the landscape of the Maryland Democratic Party has radically changed since then. While he did serve as one term as a Montgomery County Councilman as Maryland Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, he has been focused on federal and national politics since 2009. But Perez told Maryland Matters that he has the network to compete. Prior to serving as Chairman of the DNC, Perez was the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division and the Secretary of Labor under Barack Obama. Perez’s last attempt at statewide office, in 2006, crashed and burned after he was disqualified from running for Maryland Attorney General.
#7: 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.
#6: 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.
#5: Former Attorney General Doug Gansler (D) (Previous: 8)
The scuttlebutt that Gansler is going to run for Governor again just doesn’t seem to stop. The fact that he is staffing up leads us to say that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. 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.
#4: Wes Moore (D) (Previous: 7)
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.
#3: Former County Executive Rushern Baker (Previous: 4)
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.
#2: Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz (R) (Previous: 3)
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.
#1: Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) (Previous: 2)
Normally a statewide elected official would have started higher on the list, not taken six months to make it to the top largely due to circumstances beyond his own control. 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.
Dropping Out: #1 Johnny Olszewski (#1, announced he was running for re-election as Baltimore County Executive)