By Josh Kurtz
Maryland and Texas have almost nothing in common.
And yet Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primaries in the Lone Star State – which included the first congressional primaries since President Trump was elected – may provide some clues for how things will shake out here. The results offered plenty of surprises and lots to chew on.
Lesson No. 1: Women rule
There may or may not be a national blue wave this election year, as so many pundits suggest, but it sure looks like there could be a pink wave. In Texas on Tuesday, women won just about everything, everywhere.
In a Democratic congressional primary in a district that takes in bits of Austin and San Antonio as well as Texas’ fabled Hill Country, Marie Street Wilson, a little-known teacher and LGBTQ activist who spent $40,000, topped her three male opponents who spent about $1 million between them. Because no one reached 50 percent, Wilson and a tech entrepreneur who spent $770,000 will be headed to a runoff in May.
“Wow,” Wilson told The Texas Observer. She quickly added that her gender undoubtedly propelled her to the top in a race with three men.
“It had to,” she said. “I’m not naive enough to think that I didn’t get some default votes.”
But the pattern repeated itself across the state – in Democratic and Republican primaries.
Incredibly, Texas’ 36-member congressional delegation only has three women, two Democrats and one Republican. That’s about to change.
Thanks to Tuesday’s vote, the state will be sending its first two Latinas to Congress, both Democrats. They are all but guaranteed victory in November.
The Democratic nominee in one of the most competitive congressional districts in the state will be a woman, regardless of who wins the May runoff. Women made it to Democratic runoffs in the three other competitive House districts. A woman is in the Republican runoff to replace the departing chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
Two women are in runoffs in a district where the Democrats have a longshot pickup opportunity. The top vote-getter in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, which is headed to a runoff, was a woman (though whomever emerges with the nomination will get clobbered by the Republican incumbent, who has $43 million in his campaign account). And so on and so on.
What does all this have to do in Maryland? And what might it mean?
It means we shouldn’t write off any woman in any race.
It may look like the gubernatorial campaign of former Michelle Obama aide Krishanti Vignarajah is struggling right now. But she’s the lone woman in the nine-way Democratic primary. She’s heading the only all-female ticket in the race. Why shouldn’t she gain some traction?
Ditto for former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow, one of the six Democrats running for Montgomery County executive. Her opponents are five white men.
In Baltimore County, Councilwoman Vicki L. Almond was already considered the frontrunner in the Democratic primary for county executive. She should be able to count on a couple of extra points, just on gender alone.
Ditto for Del. Kathryn L. Afzali and maybe Regina M. Williams, two of the three Republicans running for Frederick County executive.
And now no one should assume that Del. Aruna Miller, one of the three frontrunners in the 6th District Democratic congressional primary, will be swamped by businessman David J. Trone’s unlimited resources.
Democrats will have women nominees in three of the five most competitive state Senate districts this year, and Republicans will nominate a woman in a fourth. Will their gender give them an added boost in November? It’s entirely possible.
Lesson No. 2: Voter turnout is way up
In the Texas primary, Democratic turnout was up 84 percent from the previous midterm election, in 2014. But Republican turnout was also up, by 14 percent, from four years earlier.
Obviously, in a GOP stronghold like Texas, overall Republican turnout still dwarfed Democratic turnout when it came to raw votes: 1.54 million to 1.04 million. Republicans are heavily favored to sweep all the statewide offices and will still have a robust edge in the state’s congressional delegation and legislature, even if they lose a few seats.
How to extrapolate these figures to Maryland isn’t all that easy. Obviously, a big Democratic turnout could imperil Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who looks pretty strong right now.
But otherwise, it might not change much. The way the state’s population is configured, and the way voters vote, neither party is poised to significantly pick up seats in the legislature or in local offices.
A wave election — and let’s assume, this cycle, that if there is a wave it will be in the Democrats’ favor — could put a few marginal seats in play. But in Maryland, there just aren’t that many of them.
Lesson No. 3: Make the bosses take the losses
In one congressional primary in Texas, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee operatives released damaging information about one of the contenders in a seven-candidate field, Laura Moser, because they feared she was too liberal to compete in what is expected to be a very competitive general election.
Rather than hurting Moser’s campaign, the clumsy move by the national party to intervene in a local race gave it new energy; people who hadn’t considered voting for her became outraged and changed their minds, and she’s now headed to a runoff. Her opponent is a slightly more politically mainstream woman.
In the congressional district where Wilson topped the Democratic field, national Democratic leaders pumped money into the campaign of the tech entrepreneur, Joseph Kopser. Maryland’s own Steny H. Hoyer, the House minority leader in Congress, chipped in $5,000 from his political action committee and $2,000 from his personal campaign account. Voters resented it.
Same in another congressional district, where the vaunted Castro brothers of Texas tried to anoint a Democratic candidate. He finished fourth in the primary.
And in yet another district, a self-funding candidate backed by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), was smoked in the Democratic primary by a Latina state senator, who beat him by 42 points.
Self-funders and aggressive fundraisers also did not fare so well.
In Maryland, Democratic leaders routinely like to put their thumbs on the scale to help their favored candidates. It doesn’t always work, but often enough it does.
So this time, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III looks like the establishment favorite in the Democratic primary for governor. Does that breed voter resentment and propel somebody else?
Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks is the establishment favorite – and the frontrunner – in the Democratic race to succeed Baker. But could that circumstance fuel the insurgent candidacy of former congresswoman Donna F. Edwards?
Maryland has traditionally been a top-down state, politically. Insiders usually win and insurgents usually lose. Could that trend be upended this year? Candidates who are seen as inevitable tend not to generate a lot of excitement.
Maryland is not Texas. They do everything bigger there, and we’re America in miniature. They eat barbecue, we eat crabs. Their politicians wear bolo ties, and ours don’t.
Our primary is almost four months away; the general election is eight months from now. And that’s an eternity, yadda yadda yadda.
But the Texas primary revealed some pretty powerful trends. It’s hard to imagine some of them won’t be duplicated here – and around the country.