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In Baltimore City, Candidates Battle For The Democratic Base

Christopher Connelly/WYPR


With just days left before Maryland chooses its next governor, both campaigns have shifted into high gear to get out the vote. In Baltimore, the city’s robust political machine is ratcheted up, and that machine belongs to the Democrats.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown rallied about four dozen troops in his Baltimore field office on Eutaw Street making calls on his behalf – and told them that the city’s turnout will be part of his pathway to victory. It was one of many trips Brown’s made to the city to drive early voters to the polls. He spent most of Wednesday Baltimore, waving signs and greeting voters. He’s back Thursday morning for more.

Outside Brown’s Baltimore headquarters, an old Tercel slowly made its way down Eutaw Street decked out with signs that said, simply, “Vote for the Democrats”, and blaring that message from a jury-rigged loudspeaker. In the looped recording, Rep. Elijah Cummings introduces First Lady Michelle Obama who says Maryland faces “an important election on Nov. 4” and encourages passersby to vote.

Larry Gibson, a professor at the University of Maryland law school and long-time Democratic political operative, is the man behind the message. “With many voters, particularly African American voters, there’s just a rejection of the Republican Party in large measure as a result of their treatment of the president,” Gibson says.

Baltimore is a deep blue stronghold; there are nine registered Democrats for every Republican. Gibson says the signs and the message from two hugely popular black Democrats are reminders for the city’s African-American majority that make up a core piece of the Democratic base.

“It’s probably in the Democrats interest to remind folks that there’s more at stake here than just the election of an individual candidate,” Gibson says, “but the choice of what party is going to control in the future going forward the voting apparatus.”

Towson University political scientist John Bullock says Brown needs all this effort because Democratic dominance in Baltimore can be a double-edged sword: In city races, Democratic contenders rarely face tough fights in the general election, which can leave voters complacent.

“You don’t want people to think that it’s already a done deal. Because often there’s a perception that well you’ve won the Democratic primary so you’re already going to win,” Bullock says. “And can be very dangerous especially in a potentially close election if your base doesn’t turn out and those couple percentage points can make a huge difference in the end.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan has been aggressively courting Baltimore and other majority African-American districts; even though he admits it’d be very unlikely. That’s part of the playbook former Republican governor Bob Ehrlich won with in 2002, Bullock says – reaching out to black voters who aren’t enamored with the current Democratic administration or its tax policies.

“I think it’s an uphill climb, but if he’s able to chip off some of them it could be beneficial to some of his overall numbers,” Bullock says.

Without the kind of get out the vote machinery Democrats can count on in Baltimore, Hogan’s campaign is using ads to make his case. In one, a woman speaks directly to the camera.

“Families are struggling and I don’t feel that Brown can make the change,” says the woman who identifies herself ask K. Kandie Leach. “What makes thing crazy is when you keep voting in the same party and there is no change. Actually they call that insanity. I have never voted for someone in the Republican Party before. I am voting for Larry Hogan.”

Hogan spent Sunday campaigning in Baltimore City at Souls to the Polls events in African American churches.

“We had people saying they’d never seen [Gov.] Martin O’Malley or Anthony Brown or the mayor or anybody in their neighborhood, and they were shocked that we were there,” Hogan said.  “I’m not saying we’re going to win Baltimore city but I can assure you that we’ve got some people in inner city Baltimore who are willing to consider crossing over and voting for us.”

Still, Hogan has to make sure people don’t just consider going against their party loyalties, but actually cast their vote for him if he expects to win next Tuesday.

Christopher Connelly is a political reporter for WYPR, covering the day-to-day movement and machinations in Annapolis. He comes to WYPR from NPR, where he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow, produced for weekend All Things Considered and worked as a rundown editor for All Things Considered. Chris has a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. He’s reported for KALW (San Francisco), KUSP (Santa Cruz, Calif.) and KJZZ (Phoenix), and worked at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s filed stories on a range of topics, from a shortage of dog blood in canine blood banks to heroin addicts in Tanzania. He got his start in public radio at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when he was a student at Antioch College.