In Maryland, Democrats Fight To Beat Popular Republican Governor Larry Hogan Gov. Larry Hogan is well-liked by voters, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans the state by a 2-to-1 ratio. Democrats choose their nominee for governor Tuesday.
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In Deep-Blue Maryland, Democrats Fight To Beat Popular Republican Governor

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In Deep-Blue Maryland, Democrats Fight To Beat Popular Republican Governor

In Deep-Blue Maryland, Democrats Fight To Beat Popular Republican Governor

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Democrats in Maryland will vote for their nominee for governor tomorrow. Both leading candidates in the Democratic primary are African-Americans, both hoping to become the state's first black governor. The nominee will face Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who's quite popular. He won office in a blue state and has worked to keep his brand separate from President Trump. NPR's Brakkton Booker has more.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Aside from the R next to his name, Governor Larry Hogan does not have a lot in common with President Trump except for the way each talk about their out-of-nowhere election wins.

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LARRY HOGAN: We pulled off the greatest upset victory in the entire United States of America.

(CHEERING)

BOOKER: That's Hogan earlier this month talking about his victory in 2014. Since his election, the Republican has built a strong base of bipartisan support. He's earned praise for his steady hand during the Baltimore riots in 2015...

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HOGAN: The people who have legitimate concerns and frustrations about the ongoing investigation with respect to what happened to Freddie Gray are not served well by these violent acts.

BOOKER: ...And inspired a hashtag, #HoganStrong, during his battle with cancer.

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HOGAN: I am 100 percent cancer-free and in complete remission.

BOOKER: Even in this election year Hogan has shown a willingness to go against the leader of his party. In protest of the thousands of children being split up from their parents, the governor called the state's National Guard troops home from the southern border. But Hogan's popularity isn't just linked to his politics, says Mileah Kromer, who teaches political science at Goucher College in Baltimore.

MILEAH KROMER: He has a personality that people like. So he's gregarious. He comes across as authentic. But he's also one of the most disciplined politicians I've ever come across.

BOOKER: With all this as a backdrop, it becomes more clear why Hogan's approval rating hovers around 70 percent. At Hogan's re-election kickoff, I meet Damon Flemons.

DAMON FLEMONS: I'm a traditional Democrat, and I voted Republican.

BOOKER: He's the type of voter Democratic Party officials are worried about because he plans to cross party lines again.

FLEMONS: If we take ourselves out of the partisan politics and look into what's best for our state, we'll see that he is the best candidate to do that.

BOOKER: Of the eight Democrats running, the main front-runners are polling at just 16 percent. That's according to a recent Baltimore Sun poll. Ben Jealous, the former NAACP president, has been endorsed by big-name progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. He also got a boost from his childhood friend and comedian Dave Chappelle.

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DAVE CHAPPELLE: So you guys know that I'm out of my element. Yeah. Yeah. Politics has never been my thing. But full disclosure - I've never had a lot of trust in government really until I realized that my godbrother might get a powerful seat.

BOOKER: Jealous credits Chappelle for shaping his views on making marijuana legal for adults.

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BEN JEALOUS: We will take the money out of the gangs' pockets. But we'll use those tax revenues to make sure that every child in Maryland has pre-K and they show up to kindergarten ready to learn.

BOOKER: The other leading Democrat is Rushern Baker. Both men agree on most major issues, so it's hard to find daylight between the Jealous and Baker platforms.

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RUSHERN BAKER: The one thing I would not fund with legalized cannabis, adult-use cannabis, is our education. Those dollars should be paid for out of the general fund.

BOOKER: Mileah Kromer, the political science professor from Goucher College, says a lot of people have called this primary race sleepy.

KROMER: Which is really a shame because we have - the two front-runners for the Maryland Democratic gubernatorial primary are two African-American men in a state which has never elected an African-American governor.

BOOKER: Tomorrow Democrats will decide their nominee and after that set their sights on beating a popular incumbent governor. Brakkton Booker, NPR News.

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