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Commentary: August Heats Up

By Josh Kurtz

To borrow from the late, great Lloyd Bridges in the classic comedy “Airplane,” looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

Surely, I thought, it would be safe to take a quick family jaunt to the West Coast in early August — go hiking, gaze out at the Pacific, read Willamette Week, search for the perfect seafood stew and hit as many microbreweries as possible.

Instead, just when I wanted to tune out and casually absorb some Oregon news — like the looming eclipse, wildfires exacerbated by drought that have brought a constant haze to the sky and a new police chief in Portland named Outlaw — I miss some of the most consequential couple of weeks in Maryland politics.

ITEM: In the wake of Rep. John Delaney’s announcement that he won’t seek re-election so he can focus on a longshot presidential bid, businessman David Trone announces that he’ll run for Delaney’s seat rather than for Montgomery County executive — thus transforming two major races. He also says he intends to raise money for the campaign, and not just self-fund.

It looks like the Democratic field in the 6th congressional district is more or less set, as we await additional developments on the Republican side. On the other hand, the Montgomery County executive race is in flux. Will more Democrats, beyond the three councilmembers currently running, get in? David Blair? Mike Knapp? Cheryl Kagan? Someone else?

We know Del. Ben Kramer (D) won’t be running for county exec, a job he has long thought about. He declared his candidacy for the state Senate, one day after Del. Bonnie Cullison (D) expressed interest in the job. She quickly backed off and endorsed Kramer. He’s likely to wind up in a chamber where both his father and his sister served.

ITEM: Anne Arundel County Councilman John Grasso (R) changes his mind, says he’ll challenge Anne Arundel Executive Steve Schuh in the GOP primary, rather than run for the Senate seat held by Sen. Ed DeGrange (D).

Grasso has always been the Peck’s Bad Boy of Anne Arundel politics. But this defies logic — trading a competitive Senate race for a Quixotic fantasy that he cannot possibly win. For good measure, Grasso mused openly of challenging Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — who is only the most popular politician in the state.

ITEM: The Washington Post Magazine runs a long, long story that attempts to explain Hogan’s bipartisanship appeal. The piece, by former Post and Baltimore Sun State House reporter Matt Mosk, now a producer at ABC News, ignores Hogan’s thin skin and penchant for lobbing partisan attacks and goes a little overboard on the governor’s bromance with Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), but does a very thorough and credible job of detailing and interpreting the phenomenon.

As a tasty dessert to Mosk’s meaty main course, the Sun runs an op-ed by Goucher College political scientist Mileah Kromer on the challenges facing the Democrats looking to take Hogan on — and their opportunities.

ITEM: Krishanti Vignarajah, who has the potential to be one of the most exciting candidates of 2018, makes a very shaky entrance into the gubernatorial election, when questions are immediately raised about her eligibility to run. Her candidacy could be very short-lived — or, if she’s lucky, she could have a second chance to make a good first impression on voters.

ITEM: Another 47 candidates enter the Montgomery County Council at-large race. Or is it 48? (Additionally, Andrew Friedson, a top aide to Franchot who, in the interest of full disclosure, is a member of the Maryland Matters steering committee, jumps into the District 1 council race.)

For all these big developments, one of the most significant things that happened when it comes to trying to figure out the 2018 election cycle was a column a couple of weekends ago in The Washington Post by David Von Drehle, who is always thought-provoking.

In it, Von Drehle chided Democrats for thinking they can ride President Trump’s unpopularity and chaotic administration to major victories in 2018. The Democrats, he argued, don’t understand the electorate and will need to develop a compelling message to win back the voters they lost in 2016 and in recent midterms. The article was spot-on and, for Democrats, thoroughly depressing.

But the same can be said for Maryland Democrats, and there were places in the article that seemed to speak directly to Democrats’ futile efforts to knock Hogan down a few pegs, even though Von Drehle was clearly addressing the national party.

It served as a reminder, for Democrats looking to oust Hogan and, frankly, for political challengers everywhere: You have to make the case to voters why they should fire the incumbent and hire you.


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Commentary: August Heats Up