Happy New Year — now it’s back to politicking.
We may not need reminding, but it bears repeating — off-year elections in Maryland are bigger than presidential years. There’s lots on the ballot this year, and much to talk about. And for a whole host of reasons, this may be the biggest “change” election in the state since 1986.
Until congressional and legislative district lines are finalized — and the courts may be the ultimate arbiters — and all the candidates have come forward, we can’t say for sure what all the competitive races in the state are going to be and what the political landscape will truly look like. For example, Hogan vs. Van Hollen is nice to fantasize about, and would truly become one of the marquee elections in the country. But what are the chances of it actually happening? The filing deadline is Feb. 22.
So here’s an early attempt at identifying a baker’s dozen races to watch in 2022. Some are obvious, others less so.
Well, duh. This is the Big Enchilada, with fascinating primaries in both major political parties. Maybe we are being homers here, but we think this is one the most exciting races to follow in the entire country.
Can anyone truly handicap the Democratic primary? As of today, we see three candidates in the top tier — Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, author and former foundation CEO Wes Moore, and former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez. If you want to disabuse us of this gut feeling, feel free — we are open to persuasion.
It’s hard to discount well-known warhorses like former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and former state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. Baker especially is well-liked by his fellow pols. But it feels like their time has passed. We remain intrigued by former Obama administration Education Secretary John B King Jr., who has offered the most coherent and consistent progressive message, but we’re still skeptical he has a path to victory. Some of the lesser-known candidates are intelligent and interesting. And what if former Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman gets into the race?
We detected some elbows being thrown among the candidates’ operatives in the days leading up to Christmas. No doubt those elbows will become even sharper in the new year. We can’t wait. And there will be some new and important campaign markers in the weeks ahead, including campaign finance statements in the middle of January and lieutenant governor picks for many of the candidates.
There are so many cross-currents in this race that they are hard to keep track of. The stakes for Maryland Democrats, after eight years of a popular Republican governor, Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., could not be higher.
On the Republican side, why shouldn’t we take Del. Daniel L. Cox seriously? He has been endorsed by the most powerful Republican in the country, President Trump. And while we wouldn’t bet money on him beating the Democratic nominee if he wins the Republican primary, we think a general election with Cox as the GOP nominee is going to be closer then most Democrats imagine.
As for Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, the Republican establishment choice, even after eight months as a declared candidate she remains untested but with a great deal of potential. We found her one-on-one interview with former state Sen. Robert A. Zirkin at the Maryland Bar Association last month instructive. She came off like Glenn Youngkin, with an appealing life story and moderate, almost bland, common-sense position by and large.
But how much is she going to get roughed up in the primary with Cox? How nimble will she be in a general election? How much will she be able to stick to her script when tougher questions requiring tougher answers get asked? How much will the Hogan seal of approval rub off on her?
And what’s up with Michael Steele?
Howard County executive
When Democrat Calvin Ball ousted Republican County Executive Allan H. Kittleman in 2018, Kittleman traveled to Ball’s victory party and the two men embraced. We’re betting their rematch in 2022 won’t be nearly as civil. Howard County went Republican in 2014, a good year for the GOP, and Democratic four years later, a good year for the Democrats. How will the national political dynamic play out there this time? Or has Howard turned sufficiently blue for Ball to withstand any national trends?
Montgomery County executive
For four years, Montgomery County insiders of all stripes have been telling us what a disaster County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) is — a bad manager, they say, stuck in his ways, tone deaf, unprepared for the managerial challenges and incapable of offering the vision that the job requires.
There’s a case to be made, and Elrich’s Democratic primary opponents are already making it. But do those argument register with the electorate? It’s hard to know what the public sees and absorbs of the insiders’ chatter. Elrich has gotten high marks for his management of the pandemic, and that may be all that matters. He certainly has a well-established point of view and a devoted band of followers.
What’s more, are Democratic primary voters really looking for what Elrich’s opponents are peddling? In the most progressive and polyglot jurisdiction in Maryland, it’s unfathomable that in 2022, only white guys are running for county executive. It feels like a missed opportunity — for the community and for certain ambitious Montgomery County politicians.
As for the ambitious politicians taking Elrich on, each has some appeal and a message to sell, but is it enough? We’ll see how businessman David Blair deploys his millions and the near inevitable endorsement from The Washington Post this time around — and whether the business community can marshal its anti-Elrich forces in any kind of coherent way.
And we’ll see how the two council members running, Hans Riemer and Tom Hucker, utilize their political bases and records and knowledge of the county. Hucker, who started out as one of Elrich’s most reliable allies on the council, has become a particularly harsh critic of the incumbent’s management style. But he still shares largely the same geographic and progressive base as Elrich, and that could be problematic for one or both. This is going to be a fascinating six months in Maryland’s largest jurisdiction.
Anne Arundel County executive
Plenty of smart people in both political parties consider Steuart Pittman (D) an accidental county executive and an underdog in 2022. But he has thrived so far on being underestimated, and this will be a test of his political durability and savvy, along with a gut check for how much the county has actually changed from light red to purplish blue.
Before Republicans can take their whacks at Pittman, who has governed unapologetically as a progressive and an environmentalist, they must first sort through their own primary, with Councilmember Jessica Haire, the wife of Maryland GOP Chair Dirk Haire, as the establishment favorite. Former state Del. Herbert R. McMillan is running as a political outsider and provocateur, and other reasonably well-known Republicans are still flirting with the race to one degree or another. Some analysts believe Pittman will be the underdog no matter who the Republicans nominate.
State Senate District 26
In this Prince George’s County district, Sen. Obie Patterson (D), who is 83 and has also served in the House of Delegates and the Prince George’s County Council, is planning to run for reelection. Del. Jay Walker (D) is plotting to run against him. And there’s a persistent rumor that former Sen. Anthony Muse (D) also wants to try to get his old job back. That’s quite a dynamic!
Frederick County executive
Frederick is one of Maryland’s fastest changing counties and as a result one of the most interesting politically, and with Democratic County Executive Jan Gardner term-limited, it’s a good time to take stock of just where the county is now. The Republican nominee is almost certain to be state Sen. Michael J. Hough, who fashions himself in Annapolis as a center-right problem-solver — note that he initially voted for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform proposal.
In his day job, Hough serves as chief of staff to West Virginia Congressman and former Marylander Alexander X. Mooney (R), who is one of Trump’s favorites. Still, in what is shaping up to be a good cycle for Republicans, Hough’s message of low taxation and cracking down on crime should resonate with many voters.
The question is who the Democrats put up to run against him, with two county council members the leading candidates for the nomination. Kai Hagen will be the favorite of most progressives and many environmentalists, while Jessica Fitzwater will cast herself as the heir to the Gardner legacy. Both have passionate supporters and it will be instructive to see what mood the Democratic electorate is in. Daryl Boffman, a former school official and tech executive, is also seeking the Democratic nomination.
The Democratic race to replace Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) is shaping up to be a heavyweight slugfest between U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown and former Baltimore City District Court Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley, who happens to be the wife of former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) and daughter of former Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D). There’s a lot of knowledge and talent in this race but also a certain sense of entitlement, and top-flight Democrats are already starting to take sides.
There’s little doubt that Brown, as 2014 nominee for governor and O’Malley’s lieutenant governor before that, is better known among Democratic voters right now. But that could cut both ways. And the O’Malley vs. Brown dynamic is a little weird.
Will a third Democrat get into the race? This feels like one of those primaries where, if things start to get nasty between the two leading candidates, a third contender could take advantage. But no one has emerged yet. The likely Republican nominee is former prosecutor James F. Shalleck.
Baltimore County state’s attorney
In today’s Democratic Party, in a jurisdiction that’s slowly turning more liberal, an old-school prosecutor like State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger (D) should be vulnerable in 2022. But will the recent crime wave and jittery voters save him? And is his Democratic primary challenger, attorney and party activist Robbie Leonard, the right messenger for an anti-Shellenberger push?
House of Delegates District 29B
This is shaping up to be a rematch of 2018, when Democrat Brian M. Crosby ousted Republican Del. Deborah C. Rey by about 6 points in a perpetually changing district at the southern end of St. Mary’s County. Four years earlier, Rey had ousted Democratic Del. John L. Bohannon Jr., considered a rising star in Annapolis, by just 76 votes. Assuming the rematch comes to pass, it will pit two military veterans with dramatically different political styles and ideologies.
Republicans have been increasingly dominant in St. Mary’s County in recent years, and 2022 is shaping up to be a good year for the GOP at the national level. But Crosby could defy the odds. House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) recently gave Crosby a plum position by making him vice chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, which should boost his fundraising potential.
Montgomery County Council District 6
The council’s lone woman, Nancy Navarro (D), is departing due to term limits — and is running for lieutenant governor as Baker’s running mate. So now there’s a barn burner of a Democratic primary to replace her, featuring two prominent Latinas. The unfortunate thing is, one of them has to lose.
One candidate is former state Del. Maricé I. Morales (D), an immigration rights attorney, and the other is Natali Fani-González, the former vice chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board. Democrats and their affiliated groups are already dividing: Fani-González has the support of CASA in Action, state Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) and former Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), among others. Morales has the support of eight current members of the Montgomery County legislative delegation, including Sens. William C. Smith Jr. (D) and Susan C. Lee (D), along with several community leaders.
The field of Democrats candidates may not be complete, with the filing deadline still six weeks away and district lines just finalized. Omar Lazo, a small business owner, is also running — and others may follow.
House of Delegates District 42B
The legislature’s proposed redistricting plan reshuffles some Baltimore County districts in interesting ways. Overall, District 42 seems to have become a little more Republican, but it’s chopped into three subdistricts, and one may produce a general election showdown between Del. Michele J. Guyton (D), a former member of the State Board of Education and Republican Ellen “EJ” McNulty, a public health expert and former state government bureaucrat. Both are unconventional politicians who stray from their parties’ orthodoxies at times, setting up a fascinating race in both stylistic and strategic ways.
Legislative District 33
Anne Arundel County’s District 33, which is currently a purplish-red district represented by Republican Sen. Edward R. Reilly, would be chopped into three subdistricts under the proposed new legislative map and become more favorable to Democrats. District 33A as proposed seems likely to elect a Democrat — possibly Anne Arundel County Councilmember Andrew Pruski, who has expressed interest in running for the House and is termed out on the council. District 33C, where Del. Heather A. Bagnall (D) lives, appears to be a tossup district.
One unanswered question: Another one of the district’s representatives, Del. Sid A. Saab (R), recently announced that he won’t run for Anne Arundel County executive in 2022 and will seek to remain in the General Assembly. But some political professionals believe he’ll wind up challenging Reilly in the GOP Senate primary rather than running for another term in the House. Democrats are high on their likely Senate nominee, lawyer and nonprofit executive Dawn Gile.
Baltimore City state’s attorney
So far, two-term State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby has two Democratic primary opponents, Ivan Bates and Roya Hanna. But for all intents and purposes, Mosby will be campaigning against the world — or at least against myriad foes who won’t be on the ballot, like Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and the U.S. Department of Justice and doubters in the media. She’s got her detractors, of course, but also rabid fans. If she and her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick J. Mosby (D), can stay a few steps ahead of the feds this year, she’ll probably do fine in the primary.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the political affiliation of Rep. Alexander X. Mooney (R).