By all measurements, Gov. Lawrence J Hogan Jr.’s campaign rally in Montgomery County Tuesday night was a big success – except maybe for the Robin Ficker conundrum.
This was the largest pre-election rally for a Republican candidate in the heavily Democratic county in 20 years. About 175 enthusiastic supporters turned up outside the Barking Mad Cafe in Gaithersburg to hear Hogan and the city’s mayor, Jud Ashman, a Democrat who has crossed party lines to endorse the governor’s reelection.
Hogan is making a big play for Montgomery County this year — a place where no Republican statewide candidate has cleared 40 percent of the vote since Ellen R. Sauerbrey took 41 percent in the 1994 gubernatorial election, a race that essentially ended up in a statewide tie.
“I’m telling you here tonight – if you work hard and get your friends to the polls, we’re going to win Montgomery County,” an ebullient Hogan told the crowd.
Hogan got just 36.7 percent of the Montgomery County vote in 2014, though he did well in a few legislative districts, finishing with 47.7 percent in District 15, which covers Potomac and parts of the Upcounty, and with 48.6 percent in District 14 in the northeastern corner of the county. Chances are he will do better in just about every Montgomery County legislative district this year, with the possible exception of District 20, in Takoma Park and Silver Spring, where Democrat Anthony G. Brown rung up 80 percent of the vote four years ago.
“They’re putting a lot of effort into it, in Montgomery County,” said James F. Shalleck, a Republican stalwart who has run unsuccessfully for county executive and state’s attorney.
And with Hogan’s wild popularity, some Republican candidates for the legislature in Montgomery County now believe they have a fair shot of winning in two weeks.
“It’s in play,” said Harvey Jacobs, a real estate lawyer and one of three GOP candidates for the House of Delegates in District 15, who attended Tuesday night’s rally and beamed when Hogan told him that he had seen his campaign signs driving to the rally.
Jacobs said that as he goes door-to-door in the district, Hogan is almost universally admired – and voters seem receptive to a pitch for “common-sense” policies, a phrase the governor frequently uses himself.
“I’m winning over the independents and even some of the soft Democrats, who are tired of the one-party rule in Annapolis,” Jacobs said.
More than any other Montgomery County district this year, 15 could in fact be competitive. One of the Democratic incumbents, Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo has not been able to spend much time on the campaign trail this year, following the death of his wife from cancer in the early spring. Another Democrat, Lily Qi, is a first-time candidate who may benefit from a strong turnout by Asian-American voters but is not all that well known.
Besides Jacobs, Republicans also believe another one of their candidates Laurie Halverson a former member of the State Board of Education, also has a chance of winning. Both Jacobs and Halverson feature Hogan prominently on their campaign websites, literature and social media accounts.
Any seats the Republicans pick up in Montgomery County will be gravy. The county’s last two elected Republicans, state Del. Jean B Cryor and County Councilman Howard Denis, lost their seats in 2006.
Back in 1994, while Sauerbrey was racking up 41 percent in the county, Republicans won two of the nine seats on the County Council and eight of the county delegation’s 29 seats in the General Assembly. Additionally, three Howard County-based Republicans won legislative seats that included a sliver of northeastern Montgomery County.
1994 was a huge Republican wave election; 2018, Hogan’s popularity notwithstanding, should, broadly speaking, be pretty good for Democrats.
Asked as he was leaving Tuesday night’s rally whether he thought Republicans could pick up any seats in Montgomery County next month, Hogan seemed taken aback.
“Umm…I don’t know about that,” he said as he was whisked away by staffers and his security detail.
One Republican Hogan does not seem eager to associate himself with is Ficker, the controversial lawyer and anti-tax activist who is the GOP nominee for Montgomery County executive.
During his speech in Gaithersburg, Hogan did not recognize Ficker, even though Ficker was standing just in front of the stage, waving one of his campaign signs and volubly chanting, “Four more years!”
Later, as Hogan was leaving the venue, he looked visibly uncomfortable as Ficker muscled his way through the crowd for a photograph, refusing to look Ficker in the eye and barely acknowledging his presence.
Ficker then pestered a Hogan campaign photographer to get him copies of any pictures as quickly as possible.
“I want to get it [out] all over,” he said.