To some critics, he is an out-of-step Takoma Park liberal ill-suited to the day-to-day job of running Maryland’s largest political subdivision.
But with mail-in ballots hitting mailboxes this week and early voting just around the corner, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) is viewed favorably by many Democrats and is well-positioned to win a second term, according to an independent poll conducted last month.
The survey found that Elrich has more support than his three challengers combined, and Democrats give him high marks for his handling of most — though not all — of the biggest issues facing the county.
Fully one third — 33% — of Montgomery Democrats said they back Elrich. Challengers David Blair and Hans Riemer each had the support of 14% of likely primary voters surveyed, while political newcomer Peter James was the choice of 1%. The remaining 38% said they were undecided.
There was more good news for Elrich: After four years at the helm of county government, which followed 12 years on the county council, he is much better known than his main rivals. Blair, the former CEO of a health care company, is making his second run for executive, while Riemer is a three-term member of the County Council.
The incumbent’s overall favorability ratings suggest that those looking to unseat him have their work cut out for them. More than half — 54% — of Democrats have a very or somewhat favorable opinion of Elrich. Riemer’s favorable/unfavorable score stood at 29/8; Blair’s was at 28/16.
Steve Silverman (D), a former Montgomery County councilmember who is active politically, said the data were consistent with what other polls have shown for the last year.
“The two principal challengers have not contrasted themselves with Elrich,” he said. “To beat an incumbent you have to let people know what the fundamental differences between you and the incumbent are. As of June 13th, I haven’t seen evidence of that.”
“I’m not talking about going negative,” he added. “I’m talking about your basic contrast message.”
Silverman contributed $250 to Riemer, a longtime friend, but he said he is “not working for or against anybody” in the July 19 county executive primary.
The poll was conducted by Data for Progress, a left-leaning polling firm that claims its survey work in New York City’s mayoral primary last year was more accurate than other snapshots of that race.
The firm polled 529 Montgomery Democrats from May 19-23. Respondents were chosen using voter registration data and contacted by cell phone. The survey had a 4-point margin of error.
Because there has not been any independent polling in the race for county executive, Rockville resident Jonathan Robinson asked the firm if it would consider doing a survey. Robinson is an affordable housing advocate who “is personally not a fan of Marc Elrich but I am not supporting any candidate.” He has donated to Riemer.
Robinson explained his desire to collaborate with Data for Progress to get information on the race before the primary: “They’re a 501(c)(3) non-profit,” he said, “So they have funds set aside from donations and foundations. They do polling on all sorts of issues all the time.”
Montgomery Democrats gave Elrich particularly high marks for his handling of the pandemic, public safety and education, along with his overall stewardship of county government. He was viewed unfavorably on affordable housing and the cost of living.
Former Washington Post reporter and editor Robert McCartney said the poll’s findings suggest that “Blair and Riemer are splitting the anti-Elrich vote, probably ensuring his reelection.”
“If Elrich wins, I hope he’ll do more to build more affordable housing in the county and promote economic growth,” added McCartney. “Northern Virginia is clobbering Montgomery economically.”
A wealthy self-funder, Blair finished second in the 2018 primary, just 77 votes behind Elrich. He has been endorsed by several high-profile local officials and the Sierra Club. Four years ago he won the Washington Post’s endorsement. He has vastly outspent his rivals on paid advertising, Bethesda Magazine reported last week, and analysts expect him to advertise heavily during the closing stretch of the campaign.
Riemer hoped to pick up supporters when his council colleague Tom Hucker abandoned his bid for county executive. On Monday he reported that his fundraising effort had topped $1 million.
Elrich is the the only one of the “Big 8” local leaders who faces a serious primary challenge this year. Whoever wins the Democratic primary in Montgomery is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, given Democrats’ vast voter registration advantage in the county.
The Data for Progress survey was first reported by Bethesda Beat.
The poll sought Democratic attitudes on other issues as well:
By better than two to one, voters approved of a push to alter the county’s growth plan to allow for different types of housing. “Thrive Montgomery 2050,” described as “update to the county’s master plan” that “would also open up some single-family neighborhoods to a mix of housing types, such as duplexes and triplexes, but would not change zoning or other detailed land use,” had the support of 55% of those surveyed; 21% were opposed.
Support was strongest among unmarried voters, renters, Blacks and those under 45.
Democrats were almost evenly split on Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s plan to add toll lanes to I-270 and the Capital Beltway — with 45% expressing support and 46% opposed.
Hogan himself is way more popular than his toll lanes plan. Nearly two-third of Montgomery Democrats — 65% — view him favorably, while just 33% do not. Among voters 45 and over, his favorability skyrocketed to 75%, with just 23% opposed.