On the day he effectively ended his bid for governor, Rushern Baker spent hours fielding phone calls from his former Democratic rivals. All nine reached out almost immediately after news broke Friday morning that he had suspended active campaigning.
Most praised him for the manner in which he campaigned — and for his record of public service, which dates back nearly 30 years.
Left mostly unspoken was the obvious: Now that Baker is out of the race, the Democrats still battling for their party’s nomination would all love to have his endorsement.
In an interview, former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) called Baker “the most experienced executive in the whole field.” He said Baker’s endorsement would be “very significant.”
“He doesn’t owe anybody” his endorsement, the former Baltimore mayor added, but “if he were to make an endorsement, I think it would be a powerful statement for whomever were to receive it.”
Baker said he decided to quit the race because he lacked the funds to compete successfully. He insisted that he and his running mate, Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro (D), offered voters the best choice. Although earlier polls conducted by various campaigns placed Baker in the low double-digits, part of a four-way top tier, a Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore poll published last weekend showed him with just 7% support, with Comptroller Peter Franchot at 20%, former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore at 15%, and former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez at 12%.
“While he is only at 7%, that 7% could lift a candidate or give them momentum at a critical time as we enter mail and early voting,” said Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore College of Public Affairs. “With a lot of undecideds, a nod like this could matter for a candidate to build steam or pull away.”
“A lot of undecideds are looking for a cue to signal a winner to back,” Hartley added. The Sun poll showed that 31% of Democrats were undecided ahead of the July 19 primary.
In 2018, nearly 22% of the vote in the statewide Democratic primary came from Prince George’s County. Baker served as county executive from 2010 to 2018. He represented the county in the House of Delegates for eight years during the 1990s and early 2000s.
In the 2018 race for governor, Baker finished second in the Democratic primary, despite being the favorite of most of the Democratic establishment, with 29% of the vote.
“Rushern Baker is one of the most decent and highly respected executive public servants in our state,” O’Malley said, “and he comes from a really important county where he was very well regarded after two really good terms.”
Baker’s successor, County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), surprised observers — and Baker — by endorsing Moore, who has been targeting Prince George’s voters with radio ads. Several candidates have chosen running mates from Prince George’s, including Franchot, the frontrunner, who is paired with former County Councilmember Monique Anderson-Walker (D).
In an interview on Friday, Baker said he would make a decision about whether to formally withdraw from the contest late next week. Although he has known most of his former rivals for many years, he offered no clues as to who he will back — though he did say he wants a nominee who will have the resources to be successful in November.
He called the outpouring of praise from other candidates “humbling.”
“They’ve been very kind in their words,” he said.
Several Democrats issued statements about Baker or posted on social media Friday.
“Rushern was always in this race for the right reason: a deep belief that government can be a force for good in people’s lives,” said former U.S. Education Secretary John King.
“A person of unparalleled grace, integrity and accomplishment,” said former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez. “I have been so very proud to call him my friend for almost 20 years.”
Moore praised Baker for his “leadership, integrity and fundamental decency.”
Former Attorney General Doug Gansler called Baker “the only other candidate who understood the urgency of the crime problem in Maryland…”
Comptroller Peter Franchot said Baker “raised the bar on issues from education to public safety.”
On Twitter, another Democratic candidate, former Clinton administration official Jon Baron, said he voted for Baker in the 2018 primary.
“You’re a good man and a dedicated public servant,” Baron wrote. “Good luck on your future endeavors. I know you’ll continue your lifelong work to bring Maryland forward.”
On Friday, Baker said only that he was suspending his campaign, and did not rule out the possibility of reigniting his candidacy between now and the July 19 primary. But most political professionals consider that an unlikely scenario.
Even if he formally withdraws as a candidate and endorses someone else, Baker will remain on the ballot — and because candidates are listed alphabetically by last name, he will appear first. Baker is better known to casual voters than most of the other candidates — meaning he is still likely to rack up some votes.
The final status of Baker’s candidacy may also be dictated by the fact that he was the only candidate in the Democratic primary in the state’s public financing system.