There’s been much speculation about what the current national political situation might mean for races in Maryland in 2018.
Many political professionals believe Gov. Larry Hogan (R) may be able to survive a re-election bid, despite any Democratic wave caused by voter dissatisfaction with President Trump. But what will that mean for other state races for Republicans down ballot?
Even though national trends suggest that Hogan’s re-election bid will be challenging, there are very few legislative districts in Maryland where Democrats are likely to be on offense in 2018. One exception is in Howard County.
Del. Bob Flanagan (R) currently represents Howard County’s District 9B in the House of Delegates, a seat he’s held since 2015 (though he previously served 16 years). At this writing, he remains unopposed in the June 2018 primary.
Two Democrats have filed for the seat – local businessman Daniel Medinger and Courtney Watson, former Howard County school board chairwoman and two-term member of the Howard County Council. District 9B takes in Ellicott City and some of Elkridge and West Friendship.
While past elections do not serve as any indication of what is in store for 9B in 2018, Flanagan’s Democratic opponent in 2014, Tom Coale, said Howard County’s vote swings “depending on the mood of the electorate.” Registered Democrats in the county outnumber nearly Republicans 2 to 1; in District 9B less than half of the registered voters are Democrats.
District 9B overwhelmingly voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and Hogan in the 2014 gubernatorial race. The county generally trends Democratic, yet Howard’s District 9 is represented by four Republicans, while representatives from the county’s District 12 and 13 in the state Senate and House are all Democrats.
Coale called the political environment in Howard County “50/50.” He said Howard residents are most interested in protecting the values of the community and electing a state legislature that will do the same.
The county’s Republican Party will struggle in 2018 because of the man at the top, candidate Watson said, “and Trump is someone who threatens the values of Howard County.”
District 9 Sen. Gail Bates (R) argued that the actions of the president matter much less to the people of Howard County than what’s going on at the local level. She said she and Flanagan “have been trying to focus on good customer service and making sure the people have the services they need, most of which tend not to be partisan anyway.”
“I understand that’s the Democratic strategy to win elections — try and tie everyone to President Donald Trump. … Which is a stretch,” Bates said.
Flanagan, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is no stranger to the state legislature. He represented Montgomery and Howard County’s District 14B and Howard’s District 9A from 1987 to 2003 in the House of Delegates, and was elected again in 2014 to represent 9B. Part of the time he was out of the legislature he served as Maryland’s secretary of Transportation from 2003 to 2007, appointed by then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R).
Watson served two terms on the Howard County Council from 2006 to 2014. In addition, she spent two years as the chairwoman of the Howard County Board of Education.
Watson argued that Flanagan’s long tenure is an indication that the district needs a change in representation. “I think that we need new voices in Annapolis,” Watson said. “[Flanagan] knows what it’s like to be a delegate year after year, but he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a county councilman or a school board member.”
Trump’s presidency is one of the main reasons Watson said she decided to run in the first place. As Maryland’s volunteer leader for the Clinton campaign, Watson stood on the front lines of the Democratic Party’s loss in 2016.
Because of the 2016 presidential election, Watson says anyone who can run for public office should. She said she wants to join a team in Annapolis “that will protect Marylanders against some of the impacts that could come from [Trump’s] administration, such as loss of health care and decreased funding for the Chesapeake Bay.”
But first Watson must get through a primary with Medinger, a Howard County businessman who says he has an ambitious political agenda. He says his extensive background in advertising and communications will help “rebrand the state of Maryland.” He wants Maryland to be recognized nationally as “the special state that we are.”
Medinger said though he respects anyone who chooses to serve in public office, he believes residents in his district are “tired of the same people.”
“I believe life has three parts: learning, earning and serving. I’ve been very focused on the serving part,” Medinger said.
Watson ran unsuccessfully in 2014 against then-state Sen. Allan Kittleman (R) for Howard County executive. Medinger lost in the 2014 primary for the District 9 Senate seat.
As of Wednesday, Flanagan was the sole Republican to file in the District 9 delegate race. The deadline to file is Feb. 27.