Unless there is a political wave of epic proportions this November, the battleground for legislative seats in Maryland is pretty small.
Democrats seem almost certain to hold on to their super majorities in the state Senate (currently 32-15) and the House of Delegates (currently 99-42); the question is whether they can pick up a seat or two or whether Republicans can gain a few. The days of Democrats competing in conservative territory or Republicans fielding candidates who are palatable to liberal suburbanites seem like a relic of the past.
But there are at least a dozen legislative districts worth paying attention to this fall. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t competitive races elsewhere, and it may be that the parties’ priorities shift in the weeks ahead, as the political map continues to evolve.
With the latest round of campaign finance reports submitted to the Maryland State Board of Elections this week, reflecting candidates’ financial standing at the opening of the general election and fundraising and spending activities from July 4 to Aug. 23, incumbents seem to be in particularly strong shape financially — way ahead of their challengers for the most part. The financial terrain in open-seat races seems a little more even. And sometimes, all the money in the world can’t help an incumbent overcome a bad cycle or the fundamentals in their district.
Here is a look at fundraising in 12 legislative races we’re watching this fall. It will be interesting to see how many of these districts are still in play when the next finance statements are due, later in the fall.
District 9 (Howard and Montgomery counties)
Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D) is almost universally seen as the most vulnerable incumbent senator running for reelection. But Democrats helped her out during redistricting earlier this year by taking Carroll County territory out of the district and replacing it with a sliver of Montgomery County — albeit one of the most conservative areas in the otherwise liberal jurisdiction.
Hester has helped her cause with aggressive fundraising throughout the election cycle, and she currently has a substantial financial edge over her challenger, Del. Reid Novotny (R). But Novotny is a pugnacious campaigner and should not be counted out. Hester won four years ago in part because the cycle was so favorable for Democrats. She could be vulnerable this time if Democrats wind up facing especially strong headwinds.
- Previous report cash on hand: $39,945
- Money raised July 4-Aug. 23: $12,130
- Spent: $12,488
- Cash on hand on Aug. 23: $39,587
Top donors during this fundraising period:
- Theodore Giovanis, Highland $2,000
- Soo Park, Timonium $1,000
- Carl Stahlman, Ellicott City $1,000
- Previous cash on hand: $366,598
- Raised: $15,930
- Spent: 24,405
- Cash on hand: $358,123
- Democratic Senate Caucus Committee $21,897 (in-kind contributions)
- Gary Cohen, Baltimore $2,500
- NAIOP Maryland $2,000
District 30 (Anne Arundel County)
Some political professionals were surprised when Democrats didn’t move to strengthen Sen. Sarah Elfreth’s district in the latest round of redistricting. But that was a testament to their faith in her ability to compete, and so far she appears to be doing everything right, criss-crossing the district relentlessly, focusing on constituent service, and building a formidable war chest.
Her Republican challenger, businesswoman Stacie MacDonald, hasn’t had much presence in the district yet, and is lagging badly on the financial front. But MacDonald self-funded her race for a House seat four years ago in District 33 and came close to winning the Republican primary. She has the ability to close the fundraising gap with Elfreth with a single check.
But it’s unclear whether that will happen, and whether swing-y Anne Arundel County will swing back to the Republicans this cycle. Some GOP strategists are convinced that it will, but others aren’t so sure. Either way, Elfreth may prove to be secure.
- Previous cash on hand: $4,360
- Raised: $15,705
- Spent: $17,184
- Cash on hand: $2,881
MacDonald loaned her campaign $15,000 during the most recent reporting period. Her campaign committee is carrying $138,296 in debt.
- Previous: $326,006
- Raised: $33,320
- Spent: $12,996
- Cash: $346,329
- Democratic Senate Caucus Committee $28,481 (in-kind contribution)
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC $3,875
- Underwood & Associates, Annapolis $3,000
District 33 (Anne Arundel County)
Attorney Dawn Gile represents Senate Democrats’ best pickup hope this cycle, and she appears to be in a toss-up race with Del. Sid Saab (R) to replace Republican Sen. Ed Reilly, who is retiring. Saab has the fundraising advantage for now, but Gile seems to have some momentum, both politically and financially, and the district, once a Republican stronghold, is trending toward the Democrats.
Gile seems seems equipped to capitalize on abortion rights being a top issue in the general election. But Saab is a wily politician and proven vote-getter; this one will probably go down to the wire.
- Previous: $260,560
- Raised: $3,800
- Spent: $11,194
- Cash: $253,165
- Katcef Brothers, Annapolis $1,000
- WGL PAC $1,000
- Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s) $1,000
Saab’s campaign committee is carrying $43,700 in debt.
- Previous: $112,098
- Raised: $20,733
- Spent: $5,408
- Cash: $127,422
- Democratic Senate Caucus Committee $21,592 (in-kind contributions)
- IBEW PAC $3,000
- Steamfitters Local Union No. 602 $2,000
- Local 500 SEIU $2,000
District 34 (Harford County)
This is another open seat currently held by a Republican (Sen. Robert Cassilly, now favored to be elected Harford County executive) that Democrats dream of flipping. But the task will be tougher than in District 33.
Former Del. Mary-Dulany James (D) is making her third straight bid for the seat; she lost rather badly in 2014, a Republican year, and came achingly close four years ago — when the national trends favored Democrats — losing by 189 votes.
Former Del. Christian Miele (R), who represented Baltimore County in the House from 2015 to 2019, has a financial advantage and likely a political advantage at this stage. Attempts to paint him as a carpetbagger in the Republican primary fell flat; it remains to be seen whether James has the ability to succeed in advancing that narrative.
The Senate Democratic Caucus invested a lot in James’ campaign during the primary will probably have to prop her up financially again in the fall.
- Previous: $43,826
- Raised: $27,375
- Spent: $55,496
- Cash: $15,704
- Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) $6,000
- Kathy Miele, Manalapan, N.J. $5,000
- Baltimore County Councilmember David Marks (R) $3,000
- Previous: $5,183
- Raised: $5,080
- Spent: $3,619
- Cash: $6,643
- Democratic Senate Caucus Committee $6,475 (in-kind contributions)
- Maryland Association for Justice PAC $1,000
James’ campaign committee is carrying $101,453 in debt from the 2014 campaign.
District 9A (Howard and Montgomery counties)
Just as Hester has been aided by the new political maps, Democrats have a chance of flipping one or two House Seats in this newly drawn subdistrict.
Del. Trent Kittleman, a Republican with a formidable family name in Howard County, is the only incumbent on the ballot. Democrats have Natalie Ziegler, a local businesswoman and farmer and Chao Wu, a data scientist, running against Kittleman and Jianning Jenny Zeng, a software engineer. Fundraising has been pretty modest in this race.
- Previous: $16,363
- Raised: $6,140
- Spent: $7,048
- Cash: $15,454
- Chevy Chase Women’s Republican Club $750
Kittleman’s campaign reported carrying $14,327 in debt.
- Previous: $5,183
- Raised: $5,080
- Spent: $3,619
- Cash: $6,643
- Ping Jiang, College Station, Texas $5,000
- Bin Hu, San Jose, Calif. $546
- Previous: $28,183
- Raised: $3,971
- Spent: $13,971
- Cash: $18,857
- Andrea Chamblee, Silver Spring $1,000
The campaign is carrying $5,000 in debt.
- Previous: $6,909
- Raised: $14,190
- Spent: $1,348
- Cash: $19,750
- Andrea Chamblee, Silver Spring $4,000
The campaign reported $10,000 in debt.
District 12B (Anne Arundel County)
The race to replace retiring Del. Ned Carey, a rare conservative Democrat in what used to be known as District 31A, appears to be a pure tossup between two candidates who aren’t especially well known in the community and haven’t displayed much fundraising firepower. By the craziest coincidence, both the Republican, Ashley Arias, a bilingual case manager with the Anne Arundel County Department of Health, and Democrat Gary Simmons, a retired military law enforcement officer, won their respective primaries by 20 votes.
- Previous: $2,268
- Raised: $700
- Spent: $916
- Cash: $2,051
- Del. Mike Griffith (R-Cecil) $500
- Previous: $5,515
- Raised: $2,325
- Spent: $2,064
- Cash: $5,776
- U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) $2,000
District 29B (St. Mary’s County)
In conservative but swing-y territory, Del. Brian Crosby (D) and former Del. Deb Rey (R) are headed for a bare-knuckle rematch. He beat her four years ago after she ousted then-Del. John Bohannon, a rising star in Democratic politics, in 2018. Crosby is using his position as vice chair of the powerful House Economic Matters Committee, whose members often vacuum up high-dollar campaign donations, to great effect.
- Previous: $33,740
- Raised: $3,400
- Spent: $4,000
- Cash: $33,140
- John F. Yearick, Drayden $2,000
Rey’s campaign reported carrying $3,753 in debt.
- Previous: $95,423
- Raised: $13,894
- Spent: $9,009
- Cash: $100,307
- Patrick Casten, Humana Hospital $2,065
- Maryland Association of Justice PAC $2,000
District 30A (Anne Arundel County)
Like Elfreth, the senator they serve with, Dels. Shaneka Henson (D) and Dana Jones (D) are visible in the community and solid fundraisers and are probably in good shape politically. But they were both appointed to their seats over the past four years so this is their first legislative race (though Henson previously served on the Annapolis City Council) .
The district is old Mike Busch territory and the Republicans — firefighter and paramedic Doug Rathell and Rob Seyyferth, who has run for the House and for Congress before — appear to be badly outgunned, especially on the fundraising front (Seyyferth has so far raised and spent less than $1,000 and hasn’t filed a full campaign finance report). But it’s the kind of district that could give Democrats headaches if the political tide turns against them in November.
- Previous: $17,525
- Raised: $3,205
- Spent: $4,079
- Cash: $16,652
- Baltimore County Firefighters $2,000
- Previous: $62,043
- Raised $12,789
- Spent: $9,953
- Cash: $64,878
- Carol Sisco, Riva, $4,900
- District 30 Democratic Club $1,000
- Previous: $116,728
- Raised: $8,705
- Spent: $5,995
- Cash: $119,437
- Pamela Boyer, Lutherville $1,000
- John Hood, Owings $1,000
- William Jenkins, Bel Air $1,000
- Brian White, Halethorpe $1,000
District 33A (Anne Arundel County)
A one-time Republican stronghold, District 33 has become bluer, and the Democratic mapmakers have chopped it up in interesting ways. District 33A represents the Democrats’ best pick-up opportunity in the House, with term-limited Anne Arundel County Councilmember Andrew Pruski (D) a particularly strong candidate. But the Republican nominee, Kim Mills, a local Realtor, is no slouch and has fashioned a message that could appeal to suburban voters. Neither candidate has set the world on fire with their fundraising yet.
- Previous: $16,530
- Raised: $500
- Spent: $325
- Cash: $16,704
- Previous: $21,592
- Raised: $16,310
- Spent: $11,278
- Cash: $26,624
- Terry Lierman, former Maryland Democratic chair $3,000
- U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D) $2,000
District 33C (Anne Arundel County)
Del. Heather Bagnall (D) won her seat in an upset four years ago, and the mapmakers did not craft a particularly friendly district for her this time. But she’s still the slight favorite over Republican Kerry Gillespie, a media buyer and event planner and self-described “mama bear,” and has a big fundraising advantage over her challenger.
- Previous: $4,916
- Raised: $400
- Spent: $638
- Cash: $4,677
- Previous: $44,430
- Raised: $12,563
- Spent: $3,024
- Cash: $53,969
- Above the Best PAC (controlled by Rep. Anthony Brown) $3,000
- Maryland NOW PAC $1,000
District 34A (Harford County)
No one was more surprised than the Democrats themselves when they won both of this subdistrict’s seats in 2018, a good year for their party. Now the trick will be holding on to those seats in a trickier political environment.
Democrats are banking on a Johnson & Johnson ticket — that’s Del. Steve Johnson, who maintains a low profile in Annapolis, and Harford County Councilmember Andre Johnson. The Republicans are countering with former Del. Glen Glass, who lost the seat four years ago, and Teresa Walter. Nobody is raising a ton of money — and Glass traditionally has been one of the most indifferent fundraisers in the legislature. This race could go any number of ways.
- Previous: $62
- Raised: 0
- Spent: 0
- Cash: $62
- Previous: $16,380
- Raised: $950
- Spent: $3,089
- Cash: $14,240
- Previous: $12,709
- Raised: $1,850
- Spent: $1,666
- Cash: $12,893
- Erin Voss, Columbia $1,000
- Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D) $500
- Previous: $19,613
- Raised: $6,500
- Spent: $281
- Cash: $25,832
AFSCME Maryland Council 3 $3,500
Johnson’s campaign committee is carrying $900 in debt.
District 42B (Baltimore County)
Del. Michele Guyton’s (D) victory four years ago was a surprise to many, and she faces a potentially tough re-election fight in a district that isn’t entirely hospitable to Democrats. But she’s a skillful campaigner and determined fundraiser who has almost 60 times as much campaign cash as her challenger, former Baltimore County Councilmember Todd Huff. Huff emerged from a narrow Republican primary win over Jay Walton, whose vocal opposition to abortion rights would have helped power Guyton’s re-election bid. It’s still an issue Guyton can use to her advantage in the fall campaign.
- Previous: $2,410
- Raised: $700
- Spent: $9
- Cash: $3,100
Huff’s campaign reported debts of $8,877.
- Previous: $171,603
- Raised: $19,771
- Spent: $9,312
- Cash: $182,062
- U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) $2,000
- Mary Ellen Pease, Towson $1,500
Guyton is carrying a debt of $35,000.