Rushern Baker pauses second run for Maryland governor

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Rushern L. Baker III, a former Prince George’s County executive with a blunt-talking campaign, paused his bid to be Maryland’s next governor Friday, the first candidate in the 10-man Democratic field to step back from the race.

Baker gambled on public financing, limiting his donations to $250 apiece to obtain matching state funds and craft a grass-roots narrative.

But in a hypercompetitive race with opponents raising millions and voters still largely disengaged, Baker is mulling whether he has ignited enough support to make his second bid for the governor’s mansion viable.

He said in an interview that he’ll take one week to determine if he should permanently suspend his campaign and endorse a rival, during which time he hopes campaign donations pour in.

“To be brutally honest with you: Rumors circulate that we are going to drop out, and then our fundraising numbers go up,” Baker said. The one-week “does give us a chance to see if anything can change pause.”

Baker, 63, said he faced the reality of having to ask staff to go unpaid or accumulate additional campaign debt, neither of which he would do — even though he thought he could still win a contest where polling shows a plurality of undecided voters.

“I think it’s the right decision to realistically look at our chances of winning without the financial resources,” he said of his campaign with running mate Nancy Navarro, a Montgomery County Council member.

“I don’t think it’s the message, I don’t think it’s the ticket. … I do feel like with so many undecided voters, it’s a jump ball, and certainly we could pull it off.”

Baker said regardless of whether he permanently suspends his campaign, voters will see him on the campaign trail either for himself or whomever he throws his support behind.

“I want to see a Democrat win,” he said, adding that outside of campaigning, he will broadly advocate to take corporate donations out of Maryland politics and address the rampant crime in Baltimore that has bedeviled leaders for years.

Baker forcefully raised the issue of uniielding murder rates in the state’s largest city, calling it a slaughter of Black men that has gone largely unaddressed because they were not White.

“The issues to which we have spoken on — most notably, the existential crises of and lawlessness in the city of Baltimore, and the corrosive effect of corporate and dark money upon our political system — have soundly resonated with voters and our fellow candidates, Baker said in a statement released by the campaign.

“Furthermore, despite being outspent efficient by our competitors, we have consistently polled near the top of the Democratic primary field — a reflection of the way we have managed our campaign, and a validation of the ideas we have presented to the people of our great state.”

Baker has been in politics for decades, becoming a delegate in 1994 and winning his first of two county executive terms in 2010. After a bruising loss in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, Baker had no intention of running for public office again. But then the pandemic hit, crime rose, and he launched a bid in which he promised to be a “more authentic” version of himself.

But the same forces that propelled him to run have also distracted voters, who candidates say are not paying attention to the race.

“They’re concerned about their own lives,” Baker said. “There are good and bad parts of public financing. One of the good parts is that you have to talk to a lot of people. And people haven’t been paying attention for a while. They’re just worried about their lives, not thinking about politics.”

Court battles over redistricting also pushed the primary into the height of summer vacation season, on July 19.

Maryland Democrats are eager to recapture the governor’s mansion after losing to Republicans three times in the past five elections, despite a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage and an electorate that swings deeply blue in national elections. Candidates have elevated crime as a chief issue, along with closing educational and mental health gaps widened by the pandemic and addressing the economy. Term-limited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is not on the ballot.

The crowded Democratic field features impressive resumés and decades of political experience. The candidates are Comptroller Peter Franchot; former US labor secretary Tom Perez; best-selling author and former nonprofit chief Wes Moore; former US education secretary John B. King Jr.; former state attorney general Doug Gansler; former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain; public policy expert and philanthropist Jon Baron; former philosophy and public policy professor Jerome Segal; and perennial candidate Ralph Jaffe.

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