Anthony Garove is normally plugged in during election season. He lives in the Remington neighborhood of Baltimore and would typically see a ton of campaign signs that constantly remind him that it’s time to vote.
But these days he has no idea who he’s voting for as the mid-July Democratic primaries approach. There are few signs in people’s yards and he has had too much going on personally to pay close attention to politics.
“Wait, who’s running?” Garove, 31, asked. If he had to decide immediately he would choose Wes Moore for governor. “Wes Moore has been the most visible to me, between the media and his book, and so he is probably who I’m going to vote for.”
Garove is not alone in his lackluster interest in the election.
About 35% of Democratic voters polled by a recent Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR said they don’t know who they will vote for in the governor’s race. With the Goucher poll showing a virtual dead heat between three candidates — Peter Franchot, Tom Perez and Moore — their votes could make a difference between who wins the Democratic nomination. The same is true for the Republican primary; 44% of voters in that party polled said they are undecided.
Even voters who are decided, or have a strong preference, said they could easily change their minds. The poll found 63% of likely Democratic voters aren’t set on their choices. About half of Republicans surveyed said the same thing.
The candidates will have to spend the final weeks before the election keeping those voters on their side and figuring out how to engage those not tuned in.
But what exactly are voters looking for from the candidates, and what is going to grab their attention? Crime and the economy were among the important issues raised by voters. But many aren’t even sure themselves what will be the deciding factor.
Drena Byrd doesn’t know much about any of the candidates in the governor’s race and what little she has learned hasn’t excited her. She doesn’t really know what will. The 52-year-old who lives in Edmondson Village intends to do more research before casting her ballot, but right now her vote is up for grabs.
She said Franchot had an edge on the other candidates simply because she knows who he is. She also likes that he implemented the gas tax holiday earlier this year and saved her a little money.
“I am really undecided right now … But I’m leaning toward [Peter] Franchot because I feel he understands the nuances of state government.”
Political strategist Richard Parker of the Deus Group, who has run campaigns for former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, former Gov. Parris Glendening and former U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, said that the candidates aren’t doing much to make themselves stand out.
“It seems to me that voters just aren’t wowed by the slate of candidates in the gubernatorial race, and that has lent itself to a lack of interest in the race,” said Parker. “There’s no one who comes with a certain amount of energy from their prior position, coupled with the fact that some people don’t even recognize wholly that it’s campaign season, there’s just not a lot of eyes on the race.”
Joe Spicer, who lives in White Marsh in Baltimore County, is completely torn.
“I’m looking at three candidates right now, Peter Franchot, Wes Moore and Tom Perez, but I have not decided,” he said. “I really haven’t had the time to delve into the platforms or polices of those running for governor, but I know a little bit about each of them.”
“Peter Franchot, what I like about him, is that he has the government and public service experience,” he said. “With respect to Tom Perez, I know that he was the head of the Democratic National Committee and he has ties to [former] President Barack Obama and his confidence. But with Wes Moore, I like the fact that he values education and the idea that he’s ‘not leaving any one behind.’”
Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs, said the change in the date of the primary from June 28 to July 19 caused confusion among voters, and it doesn’t help that the primary is now in the middle of vacation season.
“Some have even argued the election’s coverage hasn’t even ramped up until recently,” he said.
He expects that people will start paying more attention closer to the primary and may be more motivated because of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
“So people aren’t super excited to vote, but there are issues nationally that have happened recently that could change that in a big way … and that is the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the gun decision, the economy and the gas prices that are firing up pockets of people to get out vote, and they just haven’t made up their own [minds] who that will be for just yet,” Hartley said.
The governor’s race isn’t the only place people are trying to make up their minds. In the state comptrollers race, more than half of likely Democratic voters surveyed, 52%, were undecided. In the attorney general’s race more than two-thirds of likely Republican voters and 35% of likely Democratic voters surveyed are undecided about which candidate to support.
The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Democratic primary, where incumbent Marilyn Mosby is facing challengers Ivan Bates and Thiru Vignarajah as she fights a federal indictment, could also depend on voter turnout.
“The State’s Attorney race is the most import race in Baltimore this election season,” said Parker of the Deus Group. “People are tired of divided government here. And in order for it to work, prosecutors, police, the mayor and governor will have to work together for this city to see the changes it needs.”