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COVID-19 in Maryland Government & Politics

9 Races to Watch on an Unprecedented Primary Day

A ballot drop-off box for the June primary outside the Edward Bohrer Recreation Center in Gaithersburg. File photo

Primary day is almost here — though in actuality it’s been here for a few weeks, depending on where you live and how promptly you received your mail-in ballots.

With the presidential primaries a foregone conclusion, most of the political action in the state on Tuesday is in Baltimore City, where, in contrast to many Maryland jurisdictions, most of the local offices are decided in presidential rather than gubernatorial years.

The primary, which was originally scheduled for April 28, is taking place in the midst of a pandemic and once-in-a-generation urban unrest that’s been raging for the past week. And Maryland is also attempting a widespread mail-in election for the first time.

How will all these factors impact turnout — and the makeup of the electorate? Anyone who claims to know isn’t telling the truth and anyone hazarding a guess is merely spit-balling.

With that in mind, we bring you nine races we will be watching closely on Tuesday — or whenever ballots are eventually finally counted:

Democratic primary for Baltimore mayor

The Big Enchilada, with more than 20 candidates, appears to be a three-way race, if the most recent poll is to be believed. It’s the Old Guard — former mayor Sheila Dixon — versus the new wine, City Council President Brandon M. Scott, versus something completely different, Mary Miller, a former U.S. Treasury Department official and financial company executive who is largely self-funding her campaign.

Former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah and former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith have run effective and well-regarded campaigns, emphasizing the plague of crime in the city, but may fall short. Which means Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who has been mayor for a little over a year, may well finish last among the six candidates — a repudiation not seen in urban politics since Betsy Hodges in Minneapolis in 2017 or Abe Beame in New York, 40 years earlier.

One thing is for sure: We don’t expect to know the results on Tuesday night and we wouldn’t be surprised if the outcome of this primary winds up in litigation. The fact that ballots were delivered late to Baltimore City is a warning sign that the disposition of the election could end up in court.

Democratic primary for Baltimore City Council president

The Democratic race appears to be between state Del. Nick J. Mosby, City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, and former councilman Carl Stokes. Mosby appears to have some momentum, with endorsements from The Baltimore Sun and The Afro newspaper, and elevated name recognition thanks in part to the high profile of his wife, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby (D).

Stokes has been around forever and that could help him. And Sneed is part of a new guard of municipal leaders who will benefit from her alliance with Scott if Scott makes a good showing in the mayoral race.

Democratic primary for Baltimore City comptroller

Joan Pratt has held the job for a quarter-century and is facing her first real challenge in ages from City Councilman Bill Henry. Pratt has been buffeted by her business partnership with soon-to-be-incarcerated ex-mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D), among other troubles. If there is a strong turnout for some of the old guard candidates higher up the ballot like Dixon and Stokes, Pratt could be saved

Republican primary for Cecil County executive

It’s a four-way race but the action is between the incumbent, Alan McCarthy, and Danielle Hornberger, an aide to U.S. Rep Andrew P Harris (R).

Hornberger has tried to turn the race into a referendum on taxes and fealty to President Trump. If she’s successful, she’ll win. If the race is more about McCarthy’s steady if unspectacular leadership in the county, he could still hang on.

Democratic primary in the 7th congressional district

In many ways, this is a rerun of the special Democratic primary that took place in February, when now-Rep. Kweisi Mfume smoked his opponents in the race to replace the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D). Very few people anticipated the wide margin between Mfume and his foes in that contest – cementing the notion that he has graduated to the status of icon in Baltimore politics. And now he has the benefit of incumbency on his side, so even with good challengers like former Maryland Democratic chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the late congressman’s widow, and state senator Jill P. Carter in the field, it’s hard to imagine him losing.

2nd congressional district Republican primary

Has there ever been a quieter primary involving two Republican members of the Maryland General Assembly? It’s hard to imagine.

Both state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling and state Del. Richard K. Impallaria have taken advantage of the fact that they don’t have to sacrifice their legislative seats to run for Congress this year, and they are competing for the right to take on nine-term rep C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger in the fall. Salling is more popular among his colleagues in Annapolis than Impallaria, but whether that translates with the primary electorate is anyone’s guess. Whoever wins, Ruppersberger will be strongly favored in the general election.

Montgomery County Board of Education at Large

There has been more Sound and Fury about this election then just about any other in the state this primary season — especially when you consider how few people are paying attention. The question is whether one candidate, Stephen Austin, who has been bludgeoned by most of the county’s political establishment for questioning school boundary studies underway in Montgomery County, will finish in the top two in the primary and go on to the general election. The strongest contenders for now appear to be Lynne Harris, who has been endorsed by The Washington Post and County Executive Marc B. Elrich, and Sunil Dasgupta, who enjoys the support of the teachers’ union.

Baltimore City Council 4th district Democratic primary

There are several interesting City Council primaries in Baltimore involving incumbents trying to fend off aggressive challengers and open seat races with an intriguing array of candidates. A tough race to call is in the 4th district, in the northern part of the city, where several appealing candidates are seeking to replace Henry, who is running for comptroller. Among the candidates to watch: Mark Conway, the former director of the city’s CitiStat program; Logan Endow, a London School of Economics and Stanford University graduate who currently works in the Baltimore City school system as a re-engagement coordinator; and Nicole Harris-Crest, an attorney whose father, the late councilman Kenneth Harris (D), once held the seat.

5th congressional district Democratic primary

Democratic socialist young woman of color challenges an entrenched, powerful veteran incumbent and pulls an upset. That’s the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez story in New York in the 2018 Democratic primary — could it also be the Mckayla Wilkes story in the 5th District this week? Wilkes is running an aggressive challenge against House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D). But Hoyer, who has held the seat since 1981, is not going to be caught by surprise like former Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), who was vanquished by AOC two years ago.

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9 Races to Watch on an Unprecedented Primary Day