Ben Jealous says he's ready to do what some say is Maryland's political equivalent of climbing Mount Everest: Defeating Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
It just might be that tall a task, even for a Democrat supporting progressive policies in a blue state where Republicans are outnumbered 2-1. That's because it's not hard to find Democrats - even in some surprising places - who really like Hogan.
In Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester, an overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood where protesters poured into the streets during the city's 2015 unrest, Donte Fisher wore a "Hogan for Governor'' T-shirt during Tuesday's primary. Once, it would have been highly unusual for black citizens in a disenfranchised Baltimore neighborhood to voice any enthusiasm for a statewide Republican candidate, especially when they could support a contender who once led the Baltimore-based NAACP and could become the state's first black governor. But they say Hogan is not a typical Republican.
"I think Hogan has been a good governor. He gets things done. He gets more things done for Baltimore than the mayor,'' Fischer, 45, said, referring to Mayor Catherine Pugh, a Democrat.
In the state capital of Annapolis, Democrat William Ciancaglini skipped over the choices for governor on his primary ballot. That's because he's already decided to vote for Hogan in November. He noted Hogan's resilience in overcoming cancer in his first year in office as part of the reason.
"I just like the good job he's done, and after his recovery he still went back like he was a bull with a horn ready to go to work again,'' Ciancaglini said.
With the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders and other liberal Democrats, Jealous won decisively, winning 22 of 24 Maryland counties in a field that included Prince George's County Executive Rusher Baker, a well-liked candidate who had the backing of top Maryland Democrats, including Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Steny Hoyer and Attorney General Brian Frosh. Jealous has never held elected office.
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"You tell us beating Hogan is like Everest? Well, we just climbed K2,'' Jealous said Wednesday, referring to the world's second-highest mountain. "If you can climb K2, you can climb Everest.''
Hogan, speaking to reporters at the statehouse Wednesday, was quick to note a poll by The Washington Post this month that found two-thirds of Democrats approved of the job Hogan is doing. He is describing Jealous as a tax-and-spend liberal, and he says voters will have a stark choice to make in November.
"I believe we're going to have a real clear choice for a change and frankly this election is going to come down to whether people are happy with the direction the state is heading, whether they want us to keep moving forward or whether they want to go backwards and take Maryland back the way it used to be before we got here four years ago'' Hogan said.
But Jealous says that's just scare tactics from a governor who hasn't done much to help address the state's biggest problems.
"This is about priorities. It's about making our state run better. It's about, yes, investing, but making investments that people of the state are willing to make,'' Jealous said.
Hogan, who was uncontested in the primary, also has a big fundraising edge over Jealous. Hogan reported having about $8.2 million this month, compared to about $260,000 for Jealous, but the Democratic nominee said he is confident he can raise the needed money.
"We raised money faster than any other campaign we were up against, and now that we're in the general, it'll be even easier, so we feel good,'' Jealous said. "We've got work to do, but we feel good.''
Maryland Democrats have been trying for more than a year to tie Hogan to President Donald Trump. But Hogan has distanced himself from the president, by not attending the Republican presidential convention in 2016 and writing in his father's name on the ballot during the election. He also responded to the immigrant family-separation crisis on the U.S. border with Mexico by ordering home Maryland's four National Guard members deployed to the Southwest.
"The one thing that Ben and I have in common is that neither one of us endorsed, supported or voted for Donald Trump,'' Hogan said.