ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — One of the best opportunities for Democrats to regain a governor’s office this year is in Maryland, and the race to succeed term-limited Republican Larry Hogan has drawn a crowd of candidates. Winning back the seat shouldn’t seem so tough for Democrats in a state where they outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 ratio, but the GOP has won three of the past five elections.
Nationwide, Republicans hold a 28-22 edge in governor’s seats. Of the 36 governor’s races this year, Maryland and Massachusetts represent the best chances for Democrats to narrow the gap.
Maryland Democrats see an opening now because the popular Hogan, only the second Republican governor to win reelection in the state history, cannot seek a third term.
That’s attracted prominent Democrats to Tuesday’s primary, including members of former President Barack Obama’s Cabinet: onetime Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who also was chairman of the Democratic Party, and ex-Education Secretary John King.
Also in the race are Wes Moore, a bestselling author supported by Oprah Winfrey; Comptroller Peter Franchot, the state’s tax collector, who has name recognition in Maryland from four successful statewide races; and former state Attorney General Doug Gansler.
The primary winner will probably face either Kelly Schulz, a Republican endorsed by Hogan, or Dan Cox, who is backed by Donald Trump.
Given some of the GOP successes over the past two decades, Democratic voters are thinking more carefully about who can win in November.
Nancy Duden, 61, voted early in Annapolis, for Perez. It was a decision she struggled over during the drive to the voting center.
“Sometimes there aren’t very good choices, and this time there were so many good choices that I think people really need to pay attention to the qualifications of each candidate,” she said. “But I also think you have to give thought to who can actually win.”
Democrats once held the governor’s mansion for more than three straight decades. When Republican Robert Ehrlich won in 2002, he was the first in his party to be governor in 36 years — since Spiro Agnew in 1966.
A poll last month by the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher, The Baltimore Banner and WYPR found no clear front-runner among the Democrats, with Franchot at 16% and Moore and Perez each at 14%.
The primary comes less than a month after a new Maryland law approved by the Democratic-controlled legislature took effect to expand abortion access. It was passed in anticipation of the Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade, which the justices did in June.
Less than a week later, Hogan directed the Maryland State Police to suspend the state’s “good and substantial reason” standard for permits to carry handguns after the Supreme Court struck down a similar New York law.
While Democrats who control Maryland’s legislature have been able to override many of Hogan’s vetoes over the years, the governor has had impact. For example, he recently blocked a request to accelerate $3.5 million in annual spending for training to expand the number of people who can provide abortions in the state.
By Brian Witte, Associated Press. Article has been edited for length.