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From WTOP: Voter Voices, Part 1

Editor’s Note: As part of Maryland Matters’ new content sharing agreement with WTOP Radio, we present the first of a five-part series the station began airing last week, featuring interviews with registered Maryland voters. We’ll publish all five reports over the next several days.

In the series, “Voter Voices,” WTOP reporter Kate Ryan asked registered voters across Maryland what issues concerned them, and who would be getting their vote in the upcoming election for governor. From the crowds checking out the parade of horses at the Frederick County Fairgrounds to the shoppers looking for the freshest fish at Lexington Market in Baltimore, Maryland residents were asked about what matters to them as they get set to vote in the general election on Nov. 6.

First stop: Montgomery County. Montgomery County is “the largest and most politically active county in the state of Maryland,” said Bruce DePuyt, senior reporter at Maryland Matters, a news site that covers state and local government. The county is often noted for its wealth: the median household income is $100,352. But, “It’s not all Potomac,” DePuyt said, referring to one of the richest enclaves in the county. “It has become America in miniature. It’s a very, very diverse place.” While Democrats outnumber Republicans by better than 2 to 1, there is a large sliver of unaffiliated voters in the county, and Democrats have been known to cross party lines when casting their ballots. “Republicans are typically able to get about 37 percent of the vote” in Montgomery County, said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

‘I think his name is Ben Jealous’

The D.C. region’s traffic problems are well-documented, and in Montgomery County, residents complain about gridlock while debating how best to alleviate it. Many commuters grit it out on the Interstate 270 corridor, leaving home before dawn to try to beat the worst congestion. Others find transit works for them. The MARC rail line serves local commuters such as Aretha Steele, who takes the train from Old Town Gaithersburg to her job in Silver Spring daily. She could take Metro from the Shady Grove stop, but the 25-minute trip is shorter than traveling Metro’s Red Line, she said — and cheaper, too. Pausing to calculate the costs by taking MARC rail, Steele estimated she saves about $55 a month. Transportation is important to her, she said. And, as she looks ahead to voting in Maryland’s upcoming election, she said she has an open mind — and some research to do. When asked if she was familiar with the candidates in the race, she identified Hogan, but was hesitant when asked about the Democratic candidate. “I think his name is Ben Jealous,” she said. An unaffiliated voter, she described herself as a Christian and said the GOP’s values seemed to align with her own. She added, “I like what the party stood for, but, I’m not so sure anymore.” She didn’t elaborate on why the Republican Party could lose her vote, but added when it comes time to cast her ballot, she’ll look at the issues. “I don’t want to go by what people say. I want to be for the right person — I don’t want to be for the party.”

‘I’m going to take … any Democrat over Hogan’

Outside Plum’s Hair Gallery in Gaithersburg, Keith Earley said he’s been following the governor’s race pretty closely. “Hogan has not done a bad job,” he said, “but that’s damning him with faint praise,” he finished. Earley, a registered Democrat, said that though Hogan has been portrayed as a moderate, “I’m going to take pretty much any Democrat over Hogan.” When asked why, Earley said it’s because to his mind, Hogan hasn’t done enough to distance himself from President Trump. Hogan’s 2017 visit to a Bethesda school with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was a mark against the governor, as far as Earley’s concerned. “Education policy under Betsy DeVos is a train wreck,” Plum said.

‘Both sides have good views …’

Education is a top concern for Montgomery Village resident Amoye Taylor. “I would like more security in schools, just to keep kids more safe,” said Taylor. She said she sees increased bullying in schools as a big problem, along with worries over mass shootings. “Now more than ever.” Taylor said she’s not sure who will get her vote. Like many of the Marylanders WTOP spoke to, she insisted she considers positions over party when deciding who should get her vote. On the Silver Spring/Takoma Park campus of Montgomery College, student Kaimaya Bamfo said education — and how to pay for it — are top concerns for most of her friends. She said by attending a local community college, she’s able to avoid taking on student debt, but that’s not true for many of her peers. “A big issue is financial aid — and how to provide it to everyone who is in need,” she said. So, who will get her vote? She’s undecided, although she’s a registered Democrat. Bamfo said she doesn’t feel a strong connection to the Democrats, and she’s not predisposed to vote against Republicans. “Both sides have good views; they just don’t know how to come together and make something happen,” she said.

‘He would never get my vote …’

At the Takoma Park Busboys and Poets restaurant, Darryl Burrell stopped to look at a poster with the silhouette of a woman wearing a jacket printed with the words, “I really do resist, do you?” an obvious reference to the jacket worn by first lady Melania Trump that read, “I really don’t care, do u?” Burrell said he votes in every election — due to his upbringing. He was a Boy Scout, and patriotism was important, and as an African-American, he feels obligated to take part in the hard-won right to vote, he said. “I honor them by voting,” he added. A registered Democrat, Burrell said he’s most concerned about women’s issues and civil rights. When asked about the governor’s race, Burrell said Hogan is more moderate than most Republicans. “That’s a point in his favor — I tolerate him and respect him because he is the governor,” Burrell said. But, that respect won’t carry much weight in the voting booth. “He would never get my vote,” Burrell said. Like Earley, Burrell draws a straight line from Hogan, a Republican, to the politics of Trump, despite Hogan’s efforts to distance himself from the president on issues such as immigration, health care, the environment and even the president’s habit of tweeting. Burrell said he’ll vote for Jealous, who previously served as the president of the NAACP but hasn’t held elected office. Citing Jealous’ experience as a national figure, Burrell said Jealous represents “new blood” with “old school” social activism. “And I think that freshness energizes our state and our country,” Burrell said.

Hogan’s race to lose?

Though two of the voters interviewed in Montgomery County said they’d certainly vote for Jealous, the others — even if they identified as Democrats, or voted for Democrats in the past — said they still had to take a closer look at Jealous’ record. That could signal trouble for the Democrat. In 2014, Hogan won every single county with the exception of Montgomery, Prince George’s and Charles. He also lost Baltimore City. Those areas are key for a Jealous win, according to DePuyt, the Maryland Matters reporter. “Jealous must have strong turnout among younger voters, progressive voters, and voters of color to offset the losses he’s likely to see among whites, and older voters, and voters who lean right in their political viewpoint,” Depuyt said. Eberly, the St. Mary’s College professor, added, “If Larry Hogan can manage to get into the 40 percent range in Montgomery County and do as well as expected in all of those other counties beyond the I-95 corridor, it becomes very hard for him to lose this race.”

Click here to hear the audio that accompanied this report. Montgomery County — by the numbers Total population: 1,058,810 residentsMedian household income: $100,352
Percent of residents in poverty: 6.9 percent
Racial demographics: 43.8 percent white; 19.7 percent African-American; 19.6 percent Hispanic/Latino; 15.6 percent Asian Registered voters

  • Active registered Democrats: 383,799 voters
  • Active registered Republicans: 113,992 voters
  • Active registered unaffiliated voters: 142,811 voters

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Maryland State Board of Elections

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From WTOP: Voter Voices, Part 1