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Government & Politics

‘Big Eight’ County Executive Elections; Races for U.S. Senate and House

Seven of Maryland’s “Big Eight” jurisdictions are electing executives and councils this year. Baltimore city is the exception; city officials are chosen in presidential election years. Most of the counties have competitive county executive elections on tap.

Anne Arundel County

Incumbent executive Steven R. Schuh (R) is a smart, hard-charging, well-funded politician with a broad agenda – and possibly, an eye on the next rung on the political ladder. But even in a Republican-leaning country, with a booming local economy and a record that includes cutting taxes, Schuh’s reelection is by no means a sure thing.
Steven R. Schuh, left, and Steuart Pittman

He has made some enemies through the years, has aligned himself with questionable national conservative candidates and causes and has an unreliable 4-3 majority on the county council, meaning he’s had to scuffle for every priority that’s even remotely controversial.

Democrats have been down and out in Anne Arundel County for a while, but improbably, they have found a scrappy challenger to Schuh in political neophyte Steuart Pittman, a horse farmer who is scoring points by criticizing Schuh’s pro-development policies.

As of mid-August, Schuh had three times as much money in the bank as Pittman, and he must be considered the favorite, especially with popular Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) pulling Republican votes in his home county. But it’s a funky political cycle and there are new pockets of progressive activism in Anne Arundel County. Pittman cannot be counted out.

Schuh campaign website:

Pittman campaign website:

Baltimore County

Nice guys can finish first: Voters have two nice guys to choose from in the election for Baltimore County executive. That’s got to be a relief after a volatile and shocking political year in Maryland’s third most populous jurisdiction. John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr., left, and Alfred W. Redmer Jr. 

Both parties had competitive primaries for the county’s top job: On the Republican side, State Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a former state delegate seeking to capitalize on his close relationship with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), defeated Del. Patrick McDonough, an admirer of President Trump, by a solid margin.

On the Democratic side, former Del. John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr., who had been running third in public polls, won the Democratic primary by 12 votes over state Sen. James Brochin and County Councilwoman Vicki Almond. But the county was rocked six weeks before the June 26 primary, when term-limited County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz, 60, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, died suddenly of a heart attack.

Whether it changed the dynamic of the primary is hard to say, but his absence will be felt in the general election. Olszewski put together an unusual coalition of progressives, minorities and unions to prevail – and he’s hoping the coalition expands for the general election. Olszewski is a brainy guy from a blue-collar part of the county, and his dad, Johnny O. Sr., was a member of the county council.

Developers, who have been major players in county politics for decades and were closely aligned with Kamenetz, cast their lot with Almond in the primary – something Brochin attacked her for relentlessly. Now their support is up for grabs.

Through mid-August, Olszewski had more than three times as much cash on hand as Redmer.

There are three times as many registered Democrats as Republicans in the county. The county has only had two Republican executives in its history – the most recent was elected in 1990.

And yet, Hogan is immensely popular in the county, so Redmer can’t be counted out. Every time there is an embarrassing revelation about the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Benjamin T. Jealous, Redmer taunts Olszewski to denounce him. Will the tactic work with the county’s conservative Democrats?

Redmer campaign website:

Olszewski campaign website:

Frederick County

Frederick adopted the executive-council form of government four years ago, and in a Republican year, Democrat Jan Gardner was elected executive after facing a flawed Republican opponent. This year, a more favorable year for Democrats nationally, Gardner faces a tough challenge from Del. Kathryn Afzali (R). Kathryn Afzali, left, and Jan Gardner

The two have clashed over development issues, but this race may be determined by the partisan whims of the voters. The city of Frederick has become a Democratic stronghold, but the outlying areas remain conservative. The popularity of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) will be a factor, but so will the national electoral environment. This seems like a pure tossup.

Afzali campaign website

Gardner campaign website

Also running: independent Earl Robbins:

Harford County

Democrats are becoming an endangered species in Harford County. County Executive Barry Glassman (R), a sheep farmer and former state legislator, is a shoo-in for reelection. His Democratic challenger, Maryann Connaghan Forgan, is hopelessly behind on the fundraising front and does not appear to be generating much grass-roots support, either. Maryann Connaghan Forgan, left, and Barry Glassman

Glassman will definitely be in the conversation as Republicans look for a new crop of statewide candidates in 2022.

Glassman campaign website:

Forgan campaign website:

Howard County

Nestled between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Howard County has become more cosmopolitan and liberal over the years – and is by and large a Democratic stronghold. But in 2014, a heavily Republican year, and blessed with a moderate record in the legislature and a beloved local family name, Republican Allan Kittleman eked out a victory for county executive in 2014 over Democrat Courtney Watson, a member of the county council who was initially favored. Calvin Ball, left, and Allan Kittleman

Kittleman has remained a moderate in office and has largely avoided controversy – and partisanship. But lately, his stewardship over the rebuild of Ellicott City following a devastating flood in 2016 has been called into question, especially after a second historic flood essentially wiped out the downtown for a second time two short years later.

Critics have accused Kittleman of working too hard to preserve businesses and not taking the inevitability of climate change into account.

Kittleman’s Democratic challenger is county Councilman Calvin Ball, a well-known and generally well-liked public figure. Ball has talked a lot – though not exclusively – about national and statewide political trends, which was surprising at first.

But many political analysts compare Howard County demographically to some of the outer Northern Virginia suburbs that went dramatically from purple to blue in the 2017 elections and believe that any blue wave in Maryland this year will hit in Howard County. Ball’s campaign started off slowly, but he has outraised Kittleman in each of the past two fundraising cycles and now has enough to compete. Polls have shown the race to be tight – and it will undoubtedly remain so until Election Day.

Kittleman campaign website:

Ball campaign website:

Montgomery County

General elections are supposed to be snoozers in the state’s largest jurisdiction, but this year will see the most meaningful fall campaign for county executive in decades.

Triggering this: the decision by four-term County Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen to leave the Democratic Party and run for executive as an independent after her fellow council member, Marc B. Elrich, won the six-way Democratic primary by 77 votes. Floreen has pronounced both Elrich – a self-avowed Democratic Socialist whose views are anathema to many developers and other real estate interests – and longtime local gadfly and perennial candidate Robin Ficker, the Republican nominee, “unacceptable.” Real estate interests have been bankrolling her bid, and The Washington Post editorial page, which endorsed Floreen, has been a relentless critic of Elrich. Marc B. Elrich, left, Nancy M. Floreen and Robin Ficker

Can an independent candidate – even a well-funded independent with a significant chunk of Democratic support – prevail in a heavily Democratic county? Could the presence of two Democrats in the general election somehow throw the race to Ficker – who if nothing else, is a provocateur who knows how to attract attention?

Organized labor, progressive groups and civic organizations make up the backbone of Elrich’s support, and a solid chunk of the Democratic establishment will fall in line.

Elrich and Ficker are participating in the county’s new public financing system for candidates; Floreen is not.

Montgomery County is changing rapidly, with a majority-minority population and huge pockets of poverty. It’s no longer the wealthy white suburb it once was.

How to stimulate the local economy and adapt to the changes and challenges should be what this election is all about. But it’s sounding increasingly like a good old fashioned 2002-style debate over growth and development and traffic is likely to ensue instead.

And if Elrich’s opponents can red-bait him sufficiently, they just might prevail. Elrich looks like the favorite, but he should take nothing for granted. 

Ficker campaign website:

Elrich campaign website:

Floreen campaign website:

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks won the Democratic primary resoundingly and will waltz through the general election, where she is unopposed. Before long the talk will turn to what her next political move will be. Alsobrooks campaign website:

U.S. Senate U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) won his first election, to the House of Delegates in 1966, at the age of 23, and he has been in public office ever since. Clockwise from top left, Tony Campbell, Benjamin L. Cardin, Arvin Vohra and Neal Simon

First elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, Cardin has simultaneously been a liberal partisan but also a low-key policy wonk with an easy ability to work with colleagues from across the aisle.

He was the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a time, where he was a reliable ally of Israel, and also is a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, where he’s been the Senate’s lead advocate for the Chesapeake Bay. There’s nothing flashy or demagogic about Cardin. He’s sober and effective, if boring. And he’ll probably win a third term easily. 

Cardin’s Republican challenger, Tony Campbell, seems out of his league as a candidate. More intriguing is the independent candidacy of Neal Simon, a Montgomery County businessman and philanthropist who has vowed to spend at least a few million dollars of his own money on his campaign. Simon is using Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s (R) former top strategist as his campaign manager. He may finish second, but it’s hard to see him coming close to making Cardin sweat.

Campbell campaign website:

Cardin campaign website:

Simon campaign website: A

Also running: Libertarian Arvin Vohra

U.S. House of Representatives 1st District

Thanks to gerrymandering, this is the one Republican district in the state, spanning the Eastern Shore and parts of Cecil, Harford and Baltimore counties, and it has been held since 2011 by Rep. Andrew P. Harris, a member of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus. Andrew P. Harris, left, Jesse Colvin and Jenica Martin

Harris is a power center in the Maryland GOP separate and distinct from the more moderate Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. He may be more conservative than his district as a whole – especially on environmental issues – but not by much, and by and large he’s in the district’s Republican mainstream.

Democrats are very high on their nominee, Jesse Colvin, an Afghan War veteran with moderate politics. If any Democrat has a shot of competing in the 1st District as it’s currently drawn, it’s Colvin. He’s been a very respectable fundraiser to date, and he fits the profile of candidates Democrats are trying to put forward in conservative areas. But the fundamentals of the district are working against him.

Harris campaign website:

Colvin campaign website:

Also running: Libertarian Jenica Martin:

2nd District Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D), a former Baltimore County executive, has represented this district since 2003, and he appears to fit it well. The diverse district meanders all around the state and includes important government facilities like Fort Meade. This fits Ruppersberger’s profile well – he’s the former ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and has made cybersecurity one of his top issues. Liz Matory, left, and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger

Ruppersberger likes to call himself a moderate, and by the standards of the modern Democratic Party, he probably is. But in reality, he’s an old-school lunch pail liberal.

His Republican opponent is one of the most interesting characters in Maryland politics, Liz Matory, a former Democrat who has made her personal political evolution a major part of her pitch on the campaign trail. She even wrote a self-published book about it. It’s an intriguing story, and Matory is a smart and passionate advocate.

But it’s hard to see her finding enough money or votes to oust Ruppersberger, even with some blue collar and pro-Trump neighborhoods in the district.

Matory campaign website:

Ruppersberger website:

Also running: Green Guillaume Mimoun (no campaign website)

Also running: Libertarian Michael Carney

3rd District

Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D) is a political scion who has put his head down and worked hard since his election in 2006. He has made political reform his top issue – and is the lead sponsor of a measure that would create a public financing system for congressional candidates. Look for Sarbanes, the only Marylander on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, to have an elevated role in Congress if Democrats retake control of the House. John P. Sarbanes, left, Charles Anthony and J. David Lashar

But first, Sarbanes must get through his general election with Republican Charles Anthony, a retired hospital administrator. It won’t be much of a contest: Anthony doesn’t have a campaign website or any social media accounts.  The Libertarian nominee, J. David Lashar, is several cuts above the typical Libertarian candidate in Maryland. He’s a former technology executive and one-time top health care official in the Hogan administration who is running a full-blown and thoughtful campaign.

Sarbanes campaign website:

Anthony campaign website: No campaign website.

Lashar campaign website:

4th District

Freshman Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D) has settled into his congressional role nicely, rebuilding his political career after his devastating loss to now-Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in 2014. Anthony Brown, left, and George McDermott

Brown has very little to worry about in November from Republican George McDermott, a perennial candidate, and Libertarian Dave Bishop, a Marine Corps veteran with no social media accounts.

McDermott campaign website:

Brown campaign website:

Dave Bishop website:

5th District The biggest question about Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D) isn’t whether he’ll win a 19th full term in November but whether he’ll remain in House Democratic leadership in the next Congress and if so, what role he’ll play. Steny H. Hoyer, left, Bill Devine and Pat Elder

He’s the House minority whip, the No. 2 position in Democratic leadership. Some younger members and Democratic candidates this election cycle are suggesting that it’s time for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is 78, to move on. Will Pelosi be swept out of her leadership post? Will her top lieutenants – Hoyer, who is 79, and South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who is 78 – also be part of a generational purge? Or is there room for Hoyer to maneuver to become a short-term Democratic leader? A big factor could be whether Democrats retake the majority in November. Hoyer’s Republican opponent is Bill Devine, an admirer of President Trump’s with no campaign website but some social media presence.

Hoyer campaign website:

Also running: Green Pat Elder

Libertarian Jacob Pulcher (no campaign website)

6th District

Since 2012, this has been far and away the most competitive congressional district in Maryland, drawn by Democrats to help elect a Democrat after it had been held by a Republican for the prior two decades. The district boundaries, which run from suburban Montgomery County to the western reaches of the state, are an object of a federal lawsuit, which was heard by the Supreme Court in March 2018 and then returned to the lower courts. The major party nominees in the race to replace Rep. John K. Delaney (D), who is retiring to run for president, are wealthy individuals who are each making their second congressional bids. Clockwise from top left, Amie Hoeber, David J. Trone, George Gluck and Kevin Caldwell

The Democratic nominee is David J. Trone, the owner of a retail liquor chain who has spent about $25 million over the past two election cycles to win a seat in Congress. He was the runner-up in the Democratic primary in the adjacent 8th District two years ago, and he prevailed in this year’s crowded Democratic primary in the 6th District by 9.3 points, defeating two seasoned and well-respected state lawmakers along the way. Trone is well-known to Democrats nationally and in Maryland as a major donor and philanthropist, but during the primary his rags to riches story appealed to voters in the district’s poorer and more rural precincts.

The Republican nominee, Amie Hoeber, is a former Pentagon official during the Reagan administration who has worked as a defense and national security consultant since then. Hoeber was the GOP candidate against Delaney in 2016 but fell short by 16 points, despite the fact that her husband pumped more than $3 million into a super political action committee to support her. On domestic issues, Hoeber seems cut from the cloth of Republican that barely exists any longer: Moderate on social issues but fiscally conservative. Like many down-ballot Republicans, she is trying to hew closely to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who has endorsed Hoeber and is sure to rack up strong totals in most of the congressional district.

But Hogan’s efforts on behalf of a Republican candidate for Congress may be less compelling to voters than his plea for reinforcements in the legislature in Annapolis. In a Democratic leaning district in a Democratic year nationally, Trone must be considered the favorite, especially with his unlimited resources. One unpredictable wrinkle: Trone’s admission in late August that he has cancer and would take a short time off from the campaign trail in September to have a kidney removed.

Hoeber campaign website:

Trone campaign website:

Also running: Green George Gluck

Libertarian Kevin Caldwell

7th District

In a district that takes in Baltimore City and radiates out to parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D) will have no problem winning a 12th full term. And if Democrats take back the House, he’ll become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a powerful position. Elijah E. Cummings, left, Richmond Davis and David Griggs 

Cummings’ health has been of increasing concern. He’s 67 and has had a range of ailments in the past couple of years. But he’s unlikely to let illness get in the way of holding the gavel of an important committee as Democrats focus on investigating President Trump. The Republican nominee is Richmond Davis, an attorney and Vietnam War veteran.

Davis campaign website:

Cummings campaign website:

Also running: Libertarian David Griggs

8th District Jamie Raskin, left, John Walsh and Jason Wunder 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D), a freshman, is as safe as they come in a district that runs through the heart of Montgomery County straight north to more conservative territory in Frederick and Carroll counties. The Republican is John Walsh, who owns a limousine service.

Walsh campaign website:

Raskin campaign website:

Also running: Libertarian Jasen Wunder

Click here to read the first installment of our Voters’ Guide.


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‘Big Eight’ County Executive Elections; Races for U.S. Senate and House