District 32 in Anne Arundel County is home to a Senate race that mimics the dynamic between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the 2016 White House election.
The Democrat, Del. Pamela G. Beidle, is deep-rooted in Anne Arundel politics and has a list of qualifications that dates back to the 1980s, while the Republican, County Councilman John J. Grasso. has less political experience but compensates with strong partisan ideology, controversial statements and attention-grabbing Facebook posts.
Beidle has been representing the constituents of District 32 since long before her election to the House of Delegates in 2006. In 1998 she was elected to the Anne Arundel County Council representing District 1 where the vast majority of constituents overlap with legislative District 32. Since 2015, Beidle has been the chairwoman of the Anne Arundel County Delegation.
The candidate said she wasn’t considering a run for Senate until incumbent Sen. James E. DeGrange (D) announced his retirement and asked her to run as his replacement. Although she is more liberal than the incumbent, Beidle said she’d never run against DeGrange, with whom she’s worked with on the Joint Committee of Gaming Oversight in Annapolis.
DeGrange said he is very confident that Beidle will win in November and fill the seat he’s held for almost 20 years “very well.”
Grasso has been less visible in the district — especially lately. The councilman has remained elusive from the press during this election, adopting a Trump-like strategy of communicating ideas directly through his Facebook account. He has no campaign website and did not respond to Maryland Matters’ request for an interview.
Grasso’s Facebook page has been the home of intense controversy since announcing his campaign, most recently having to apologize to the president of the Anne Arundel County Muslim Council after three Facebook posts containing anti-Islamic sentiment.
The posts included the statement “One nation under God, Not Allah. America is not a Muslim nation. America is not an Islamic nation. America is a Christian nation.” Another expressed Grasso’s support for the idea that Trump should ban Islam in American public schools, later clarifying he does not think any religion should be in public schools.
Anne Arundel Republicans are counting on the wild popularity of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) throughout the county to propel them in competitive races, and that’s the case in District 32, too.
“This is a Hogan district — Hogan got 61 percent here four years ago,” Tim Walters, one of the three Republicans running for the House in District 32, said during a candidate forum last week.
However, the district has a history of sending Democrats to the legislature. The current District 32 lineup is all Democratic, and has been since 1999.
And Hogan’s public support is not something Grasso can count on. After Grasso’s controversial Facebook posts, Hogan said that he does not endorse Grasso and would never do so – even though a phantom Hogan endorsement initially appeared on Grasso’s campaign literature, erroneously. Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh (R) called the posts insensitive and inappropriate but did not rescind his endorsement.
What Grasso would focus on in office if elected remains unclear. His Facebook page includes almost no mention of issues specifically relevant to District 32 or the Maryland General Assembly and instead focuses on campaigning against his opponent with statuses like, “Democrats are the party of mobs. Republicans are the party of jobs.”
Beidle, on the other hand, discusses her plans as if she already has the job. Should she be elected, Beidle said she would like to replace DeGrange on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
“It was really important for Sen. DeGrange to have someone from Anne Arundel County [on the committee] to keep bringing home dollars to the county,” she said.
She said her first priority would be implementing the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission, the 25-person committee formed in 2016 to make suggestions to the General Assembly and governor on how to improve Maryland public education.
On the ballot this November, Question 1 is an amendment to the Maryland constitution that is likely to pass, placing all tax revenue from casinos into a “lock box” for supplemental public school funding.
Between the extra $517 million expected from this initiative and the $1.9 billion per year in additional school funding that the Kirwan Commission is likely to recommend, Beidle said she wants to make sure her county is getting its fair share of the money.
Beidle and Grasso were supposed to face off in a debate in Odenton on Wednesday night, but Grasso backed out at the last minute. A handful of protesters were waiting outside for his arrival, demanding his resignation in response to his Facebook posts. Because the forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Beidle was forced to sit in the audience while the three Democratic and three Republican candidates for the House of Delegates debated.