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Maryland could elect its first African-American governor this fall

Democrats nominated Ben Jealous in their primary on Tuesday.

NAACP President Ben Jealous Discusses George Zimmerman Trial In Washington Alex Wong/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Ben Jealous, a progressive who’s previously served as president of the NAACP, has a shot at becoming Maryland’s first African-American governor — and the third African-American governor in the nation.

In Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Jealous defeated seasoned Prince George’s County official Rushern Baker for the chance to take on popular incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan this fall. If he wins in November, Jealous would become the third African American to hold a state governorship, a landmark milestone as a growing number of candidates of color vie for elected office around the country.

Despite being a first-time political candidate, Jealous dominated a crowded fight for the Democratic nomination, triumphing over a wide range of political veterans including a former adviser to Hillary Clinton and a Maryland state senator. Polls had Jealous and Baker in close range of one another ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Jealous’s win marks a victory for the progressive wing of the party, which hasn’t seen many statewide gains in the primary cycle thus far. Jealous, a longtime community organizer and a partner at Kapor Capital, a venture capital firm, was a Maryland co-chair for Bernie Sanders’s campaign in 2012 and a top 2018 prospect touted by Our Revolution, a Sanders-aligned group.

In the past few months, Jealous has attracted the support of Democratic heavyweights, with Sens. Kamala Harris (CA) and Cory Booker (NJ) turning out to stump for him. Labor groups like Service Employees International United have overwhelmingly backed his candidacy as well.

Jealous has sought to unite Sanders’s populist message with a focus on racial justice. “My path is basically the two communities that I’ve spent my career, the black community and black and brown communities, and the progressive community,” Jealous told Mother Jones.

Maryland’s election of an African-American governor would be a groundbreaking move for the state, where a third of the residents are African American. African-American political leaders like Donna Edwards — who mounted a failed bid against now-Sen. Chris Van Hollen in 2016 — have said that they did not feel the full backing of the Democratic establishment when they’ve run in the past.

Jealous is the second African American to win a Democratic gubernatorial primary in this election cycle. In May, Stacey Abrams also swept her race in Georgia.