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Government & Politics

8 Things to Watch on Primary Night

With voters now headed to the polls, most people will be focused, when results come in Tuesday night, on the bottom line: Who won? Who lost? What will the general election look like? It’s remarkable how many important races seem too close to predict as of Tuesday morning.

But then there are the stories behind the stories: the trends, the surprises, the results that may tell us, in the broadest sense, where we are headed as a state. So here are some of the things to watch as primary results roll in:

Just How Disastrous? 

Will final election results be delayed because 80,000 voters whose updated records were never forwarded from the Motor Vehicle Administration to the Maryland State Board of Elections now have to cast provisional ballots?

Provisional ballots, by law, won’t begin to be counted until July 5. Eighty thousand voters represent more than 10 percent of the number who cast ballots in the 2014 gubernatorial primary.

You do the math: A lot of close races may not be decided until next month. What are the implications of that?

And what are the chances that there will be lawsuits challenging certain election results? The law is the law, but state election officials are already under fire for the way they handled ballot access questions following the death of ex-Baltimore County executive Kevin B. Kamenetz (D) and the indictment and resignation of former state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D).

Has the integrity of this election been compromised? And will any state officials be held to account for the chaotic run-up to this primary?

Voter Turnout 

Turnout in early voting was up 57 percent across the state from four years ago. Is that a sign of renewed voter fervor, or just a consequence of more voters becoming familiar with the convenience of early voting? If there’s considerably higher turnout on the Democratic side, does that spell trouble for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in the general election – regardless of whom the Democrats nominate?

Equally critical is who turns out to vote: More women? More minorities? Younger voters? How does that impact the primary results – and what are the implications for the general election?

One thing to be mindful of: Turnout percentages are likelier to be lower this primary cycle in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties than they were four years ago. That’s because non-affiliated voters are being given the chance to vote this time around, in school board elections. Thus, the universe of voters in those counties is increasing significantly, meaning voter turnout percentages may drop.

Early Vote 

The results from early voting are released shortly after the polls close at 8 p.m. Election Day results usually don’t start rolling in until at least an hour later. How closely will the early vote match the final results? Those trends are easier to pick up in statewide races than they are in local contests – though if a challenger is leading an incumbent or establishment candidate in the early vote, that will capture our attention as the night progresses.

In the Democratic primary for governor, we’ll be watching the early vote results in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. If Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) does really well there, that could be a sign that he’ll win the primary. Remember, Baker has run strong in his home turf in pre-primary polling – but not as strong as the last few Prince Georgians who became the Democratic nominees in open-seat primaries for governor, Anthony G. Brown in 2014 and Parris N. Glendening in 1994.

Hogan’s Coattails 

The governor inserted himself in two contentious Republican primaries: He endorsed his state insurance commissioner, Alfred W. Redmer Jr., for Baltimore County executive, and he endorsed retired Maryland Natural Resources Department police officer Jack Bailey over state Sen. Stephen M. Waugh in St. Mary’s County.

Do Hogan’s endorsements propel his preferred candidates to victory? Will that intensify and increase the value of his endorsements in the general election as a result? What if Redmer and/or Bailey lose? Hogan will surely be uncomfortable with Del. Patrick L. McDonough as the Republican nominee for county executive in Baltimore County, the jurisdiction that is the geographical centerpiece of the governor’s reelection strategy.

Changes in Annapolis 

The state Senate seems poised for a makeover this election cycle. The House of Delegates will also see significant, though perhaps not as dramatic change. How much of that change is evident when the results come in Tuesday? How much younger and more progressive is the Senate Democratic caucus going to become? How many senior Senate leaders fall? Expect some surprises. And it’s never too early to think about governing implications, for 2019 and beyond.

Unions and Progressive Groups 

They put a lot of time, money, energy and manpower into a bunch of races – sometimes aligning with veteran Democratic leaders, other times in noteworthy opposition. What will their won-lost record be when the dust settles after this primary? Do they propel allies to victory or make powerful enemies?

Upset Specials 

Incumbents will lose their primaries, from one corner of the state to the other. Many of the vulnerable incumbents have been discussed in political circles for months, and their defeats would not be all that surprising. But are there a few upsets in the making that would prompt political professionals to smack their heads and wonder why they didn’t see it coming?

Some progressive groups have suggested that Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) is one such candidate. They have come to loathe Zirkin, citing, among other things, his opposition to the paid sick leave legislation that became law and to the proposed TRUST Act to protect immigrants, and to his support for mandatory minimum sentences for criminals.

In his Democratic primary challenger, tax attorney Sheldon Laskin, they see a low-key version of Bernie Sanders who is talking about single-payer health care and political reform. His campaign has been a cause celebre among certain Baltimore-area lefties.

But it may well be another Baltimore County politician who falls: County Councilman Tom Quirk (D). His primary challenger, liberal activist Sheila Ruth, has the same kind of supporters that Laskin does, and is a smart tactician with energy and momentum. Just a hunch.

Who’s your upset special of the evening?

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow 

Tuesday night’s results are the table setters for the general election. Think about that in each and every race as the numbers start to come in.

Get the popcorn ready, have fun, and check on Wednesday – and beyond – for results and analysis.


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8 Things to Watch on Primary Night