Opinion: Biden’s Win and Lessons for Maryland

Former vice president Joe Biden on the campaign trail last year. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images.

In Maryland, Joe Biden won big. In fact, Biden’s victory here in the Old Line State was the largest margin of victory for the Democratic Party in modern history.

So what does the win in Maryland mean for Maryland and the bigger picture?

One of the headlines from the 2020 election was that polling is dead. Democrats expected to win the Senate and are now fighting in Georgia to break even. No one expected the Democrats to lose as many seats in the House as they did. And Biden was supposed to win North Carolina and maybe even Florida and Iowa.

As the mail-in ballots continued to be counted over the following days and weeks, the margin looks better for Biden now than it did that frustrating Tuesday night. Nonetheless, we’re now in December and big-name Democrats and media outlets are still wondering what went “wrong” for the Democrats.

The most common thought is that the term “Defund the Police” took out several moderate Democratic members of Congress — even though those Democrats didn’t run on defunding the police. Hmm…

Here in Maryland, Democrats not only won, but unlike the rest of the country, we outperformed the polls. The most-recent Goucher Poll of Maryland voters conducted before the election found that Biden was favored to win by a margin of 31%. Biden ended up winning by 33.2%. (Kudos to Mileah Kromer and the Goucher team.)

The New York Times compiled a list of metro areas with the largest swings against Trump, which included both Baltimore and Salisbury areas in the top eight in the country.

Every Democratic congressman in Maryland unsurprisingly won re-election, but most winning by much larger margins than during the 2016 presidential cycle. That includes progressives like Jamie Raskin, who increased his margin of victory by over 10% and moderates like Dutch Ruppersburger, who increased his margin by almost 7% from 2016.

Democrats even closed the gap with Republican Andy Harris by 11% from 2016. Were Maryland voters just oblivious to the calls for criminal justice reform? No.

In October, the Baltimore County Council voted to ban the use of chokeholds by the police, require annual de-escalation training, and whistleblower protection among other police reforms. Baltimore County may have followed the lead of Montgomery County, which had also just passed a bill to ban chokeholds and limit use of force.

In June, less than two weeks after the death of George Floyd, several hundred protesters marched through the streets of Easton in Talbot County in support of Black Lives Matter. Talbot County continued to be the center of activism over the summer with a vocal debate about the existence of a Confederate memorial called the Talbot Boys.

Yet, when it came time to vote in the election, Talbot residents voted for a Democrat for president for the first time since 1964. Same in Frederick County. Kent County voted Democrat for the first time since 2008. In fact the entire state of Maryland outside of Somerset County trended bluer. This, while members of the House of Delegates and state Senate were meeting this summer to prepare criminal justice reform ahead of the 2021 session.

In a high-profile move this summer, Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County announced her support of the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. And Marylanders expressed their support by voting for Democrats like we’ve never seen.

So this is the takeaway — Maryland needs to keep doing what we’re doing. We need to tune out the national talking heads. We need to keep reforming the police and our criminal justice system.

Where we were as a society was not good enough. We were and are failing our Black communities. Now is the time to fix it. We proved in 2020 that we can do the work AND win elections. In 2021, there is much work left to be done and no better time to do it.

— ROBBIE LEONARD
The writer is principal attorney at Leonard & McCliggott Law Group whose practice includes Criminal Law and Election Law among other areas. Mr. Leonard also serves as secretary of the Maryland Democratic Party and member of the Democratic National Committee.