By Josh Kurtz
Happy New Year! And happy election year!
After months — even years — of shadow campaigning, we can drop all pretense. This is an election year, plain and simple, and the midterms in Maryland are usually busier and more important than the presidential cycle.
There are fascinating and important races on tap from Oakland to Ocean City, so picking the top 10 of the cycle was no easy task. But here’s our list. We’d like to hear yours. See below for how to provide feedback. Meanwhile, game on!
The gubernatorial race
The Big Enchilada. A popular, savvy and robustly-funded Gov. Larry Hogan (R) versus Who? Eight Democrats are running and, incredibly, several have a path to victory in the June 26 primary – though this month’s campaign finance reports could reorder the race.
So far the Democratic primary has been a polite affair. But how long will that last? The Democratic Establishment in the state is used to getting its way. How many establishment Democrats gravitate to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker – and will that be enough to put him over the top? Could an insurgent like Ben Jealous break through? Would Democrats want someone who might cut into Hogan’s Baltimore County stronghold, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz? Could a relative unknown catch fire?
Think of how the Democratic electorate can be sliced and diced: Along racial, ethnic and gender lines. By geography and ideology. Generationally. All these factors come into play, too.
Who would be Hogan’s toughest opponent? It may not matter. Hogan could do everything right and still lose in the face of huge anti-GOP headwinds. Or he could defy the national dynamic and become the first Republican governor to be re-elected since 1954. If any Republican can win in this environment, it’s Hogan. But let’s not underestimate how energized Democrats are – even if they aren’t as organized as they ought to be.
One unexplored question is what a Hogan second term would look like. So far he’s governed as a moderate for the most part. Does he become more partisan? If he wins resoundingly, can he push Maryland into the “Purple State” category? It’s becoming tougher for Democrats to compete in key swaths of the state. But they remain dominant in Baltimore and the Washington, D.C., suburbs – and that may be enough to keep them in power.
This race will receive plenty of national attention in 2018 – and so will the winner, going forward.
Baltimore County executive
An open seat, competitive primaries in both parties and a rare competitive general election in the offing – in the most critical jurisdiction in the state? Bring on the popcorn!
The Republican race could go a long way in determining Hogan’s fate. He’s counting on the state insurance commissioner, the genial Al Redmer, being the GOP nominee. But Redmer must first get through a primary with Del. Pat McDonough, the self-styled “Donald Trump of Baltimore County.” Both men have been around politics for a long time – but both must also be considered untested.
Redmer last won office in 2002, when he sought a fourth term in the House of Delegates. McDonough has a loud and loyal following – but does that translate into votes? Hogan has already expressed his preference for Redmer, but he’ll have to tread carefully in the primary. He’ll need Baltimore County Republicans of all stripes – not to mention Trump Democrats and independents– to turn out big for him in November.
The Democratic primary looks simple enough to handicap at first glance – but beware of the conventional wisdom. Councilmember Vicki Almond is the nominal frontrunner. She represents a part of the county with strong Democratic turnout, she has a solid record of service, local developers like her, and she’s one of the few Democratic women running for high office in Maryland – adding a certain urgency to her candidacy.
But the two men running against her have assets as well. State Sen. Jim Brochin is an indefatigable campaigner and a political outsider with a reform agenda. That could resonate with voters tired of the “Towson crowd” holding sway in Baltimore County. But how, in a Democratic primary, does he explain away his positive statements about Trump?
The third candidate, former Del. John Olszewski, is a thoughtful policy wonk with a newly minted Ph.D who is the son of an old-line blue collar east county pol. People assume he has a big advantage in that part of the county – but he may be too liberal, and Johnny O. Sr. may be too unpopular for that to be true.
The primary may come down to the disposition of the county’s growing African-American vote – and which candidate is able to make the most inroads beyond his or her base. And the general election? Hogan will have coattails if Redmer is the Republican nominee. If McDonough wins the GOP primary, the Democratic primary winner will have the advantage.
Montgomery County executive
Only two men have held the county’s top job over the past two dozen years, so change is in the offing. But how big a change? New term limits and a new public financing system have upended the county’s politics, but there are still a lot of familiar faces running for executive.
The temptation is to put the three term-limited council members in the Democratic race – Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal – in one category, and the three other contenders – businessman David Blair, state House Majority Leader Bill Frick and former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow – in another. But that’s a simplistic ordering of the field.
Elrich, coming from liberal Takoma Park, and with the closest ties to civic groups, has an undeniable advantage at the outset. He has also been endorsed by CASA in Action, the political affiliate of immigrants’ rights groups CASA de Maryland, and is likely to have substantial labor support. But his base may not be as big or unshakable as, say, Jamie Raskin’s was in the 2016 congressional primary in District 8.
Leventhal and Berliner also have their passionate fans. Blair, as a wealthy newcomer, has plenty of potential to grow. Frick has been the most aggressive about campaigning as the anti-Rockville candidate, and that could resonate. Krasnow is widely respected and has a wealth of governing experience – and being the only woman in the race will help her cause.
Is the Democratic field set? Businesswoman Tammy Darvish has openly discussed the possibility of running over the past few weeks. And in a majority-minority jurisdiction whose school system is now 70 percent minority, it’s hard to fathom, in 2018, that there isn’t a minority candidate running for the county’s top job.
The Democratic primary will be favored in November over political provocateur Robin Ficker.
Prince George’s County executive
Former Rep. Donna Edwards vs. State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks – now that’s a clash of titans in the Democratic primary! State Sen. Anthony Muse and former Obama administration official Paul Monteiro add uncertainty to the mix.
Alsobrooks has most of the party establishment on her side, is popular and visible in the community, and is making inroads into Edwards’ labor base. But Edwards has some very loyal supporters and her full-throated progressive message could carry the day in a Democratic primary in the age of Trump.
The one public poll on the race showed Muse trailing badly, but he’s a minister and veteran lawmaker with a following in the county and will definitely be a factor in the primary. Monteiro is a political unknown.
The 6th Congressional District
With Rep. John Delaney (D) leaving Congress to run for president, his seat, which extends from western Montgomery County north and west to Garrett County, is a prize for both political parties – and one of the few places where congressional Republicans may be on offense in 2018. Amie Hoeber, a former Reagan administration official who was the GOP nominee in 2016, seems on track to win the nomination again. But even with Hogan, who is sure to do well in Frederick County and points west, at the top of the ticket, Hoeber may wish she was running in a different election cycle – one more favorable to Republicans.
The Democrats have a crowded race to sort out. The leading contenders for now appear to be businessman David Trone, the runner-up to Raskin in the 2016 District 8 primary who won every precinct in that race north of the Capital Beltway, and Del. Aruna Miller, who has the support of Emily’s List. State Sen. Roger Manno is racking up labor support, Iraq War veteran Andrew Duck, who has run for the seat twice before, is appealing to the Bernie Sanders crowd, and physician and author Nadia Hashimi has intriguing potential.
Montgomery County Council At-Large
This is unlike anything anyone has ever seen: 30 Democratic candidates, so far, running for four seats. Only one incumbent council member, Hans Riemer, is seeking re-election. Let’s assume he has an advantage, but in a field this large and volatile, he doesn’t want to get too comfortable.
Some analysts have suggested there’s a top tier of candidates, which includes those who hold or have held elective office, or have been on the ballot before, or have regional or racial or ethnic or professional bases. The conventional wisdom – or any sort of wisdom, for that matter – could quickly fly out the window, however.
And pity the interest groups that contemplate hosting a candidate forum.
State Senate 45th District
Baltimore city will see three generational battles with younger House members who are trying to knock off older senators in the Democratic primary. But none is quite as compelling as the race between first-term Del. Cory McCray, who is 35, and Senate President Pro Tem Nathaniel McFadden, who is twice his age.
McCray, a union electrician and former juvenile offender who is as earnest as the day is long, has an inspiring life story to tell. McFadden, an educator with 24 years in the Senate and an additional four years on the City Council, feels like part of the furniture in Annapolis. But he has a lifetime of political contacts in the East Baltimore district – and Senate Democratic leaders are putting their weight behind him.
Cash on hand could be key – and McCray had the advantage a year ago.
State Senate 8th District
Republicans are targeting a half dozen state Senate districts in 2018 in an effort to deny Democrats a veto-proof majority if Hogan wins a second term. They probably have bigger pickup opportunities in a few other districts. But this generational battle in eastern Baltimore County, between Del. Christian Miele (R) and four-term Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D) is a fascinating study in contrasts. Miele, 36, is an aggressive, charismatic millennial; Klausmeier, 67, is like everybody’s favorite aunt.
There probably isn’t a lot that separates them philosophically. But Hogan will be pushing hard for Miele. And Senate President Mike Miller (D) is putting all his resources behind Klausmeier.
State Senate Republicans may have a few better pickup opportunities around the state, but those races aren’t likely to be as fascinating as this one.
House of Delegates District 9B
Even if there is a big national Democratic wave this November, it isn’t likely to translate into major legislative victories for Democrats in Maryland. That’s because they already have such strong majorities in the House and Senate.
One exception is in Howard County’s District 9B, where veteran Del. Bob Flanagan (R) is seeking re-election. He’ll likely face former County Councilmember Courtney Watson (D), who was moved by Trump’s presidency to attempt a political comeback after running unsuccessfully for county executive in 2014. Watson must first get through a primary with businessman Daniel Medinger.
Assuming it’s a Flanagan-Watson matchup, the race will pit two savvy, well-known politicians against each other. If 2018 turns out to be the Democratic year it appears to be, Watson could have an advantage. But Democrats underestimate Flanagan at their peril.
Baltimore city State’s Attorney
First-term State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) became a national celebrity when she moved quickly to prosecute the police officers in the Freddy Gray case. But she won no convictions, and she’s had an up and down record generally. With a murder wave gripping Baltimore, and no major city elections on tap in 2018, Mosby could find herself shouldering an inordinate amount of the blame. At any rate, crime in the city will be the focus of this campaign like no other this year.
But is Mosby in any kind of danger in the Democratic primary? Her opponents so far are Ivan Bates, a well-known defense attorney, and Thiru Vignarajah, a former assistant state attorney general.
Wildcard: Mosby’s husband, state Del. Nick Mosby (D), is simultaneously running for a full term after being appointed to a House seat in District 40.
What hot elections did we miss? What races this year particularly engage you? Send all thoughts to [email protected] and we will publish some comments over the next few days.