Many elections feature an incumbent facing a challenger, but the race for a state Senate seat from District 9 boasts a current Democratic senator waging a fierce battle against a Republican who confidently labels himself a future senator.
Katie Fry Hester, a moderate Democrat who ousted Republican Sen. Gail Bates four years ago in a conservative district, is hearing a lot of tough words from the candidate whose mailings bill him as “Future State Senator Reid Novotny.”
“Just a short 4 years ago, the far-left incumbent rode the blue wave into office by less than 1/2 of 1%,” reads a campaign email sent out by Novotny. “From there she continued to vote with the left 98% of the time and does not represent this area.”
Hester responded with the verbal equivalent of an eye roll.
“I stopped reading [Novotny’s] emails because most of them are full of lies and misrepresentations of the truth,” said Hester, who defeated Bates by 1.7% in 2018.
Hester has been sending out mail as well, differentiating herself from her opponent. According to a mailer sent out by Hester, Novotny refuses to defend democracy or support a women’s right to abortion, among other stances.
The intensity of the race is illustrated by the staggering pace of fundraising, and the two candidates combined have raised more than $200,000 over the past two months.
Hester began the latest campaign finance reporting period on Aug. 24 with $358,123 in the bank. She raised an additional $122,233 over the next two months, spent $355,306 during that time, and reported $125,089 in her campaign treasury on Oct. 23.
Novotny’s fundraising hasn’t been quite as impressive, but it’s still been steady. He started with $39,547 in the bank on Aug. 24, raised $85,334 over the next two months, spent $38,223 during that period, and had $86,658 on hand as of Oct. 23. Novotny also reported carrying a debt of $54,091, owed to himself.
Novotny: ‘You’re seeing an awakening at the local level’
Novotny, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates in 2021 after running unsuccessfully for Senate against Bates in the 2018 Republican primary, said his campaign has been “outstanding.” As he has been going door to door, he said that he has already started tallying votes.
“I’m getting people telling me not only I will vote for you, but I have already voted for you,” Novotny said in an interview. He added that he has been trying to emphasize three major issues throughout his campaign.
“The issues that I think are facing most Marylanders and most people in this area [are] to make an environment where families can pay their bills easier and feed their families, keep their community safe, and make sure that they have a great place to send their kids to school,” Novotny said.
Novotny, 44 said that he wants to combat inflation through tax relief, and introduced a bill last year to provide a rebate to taxpayers if the state has a budget surplus over a certain level. He was also sponsor of a Republican bill that would have frozen the state gasoline tax, which is indexed to inflation and increases every year.
The composition of District 9 has changed since the last election. It previously included Ellicott City, western Howard County and parts of Carroll County, but in this year’s redistricting process, legislative Democrats removed the Carroll County portion and included a slice of more liberal Montgomery County. But Novotny said it is still a similar constituency.
“When you drive over the border between Montgomery, Carroll, and Howard where we all meet together, you can’t tell those people apart,” said Novotny. “That area of the district is a very rural area, so switching that kind of stuff out is not a huge change.”
Nationally, Republicans are predicted to do better this election cycle than they did in 2018, and that could impact the outcome of the District 9 race.
“You’re seeing an awakening at the local level here in Howard and Montgomery County, that people just are involved, and they do realize that the decisions at the lowest level really make an impact on their lives,” Novotny said.
Hester: ‘I’ve passed over 25 pieces of legislation with bipartisan support’
Hester, who also predicts her campaign will be successful, is highlighting her record from her first four years in the Senate when talking to constituents.
“I’ve passed over 25 pieces of legislation with bipartisan support, really focused on schools and small business and community public safety,” she said.
Hester said she is most concerned about are the district’s economic and educational recovery from the pandemic. Specifically, she wants to focus on preparing high school students for life after they graduate.
“We need to make sure that we are making sure our kids are college and career ready to fill these labor shortages,” Hester said.
She also emphasized helping children recover from the pandemic, which has set kids back in school and increased mental and behavioral challenges for both children and adults.
Hester, 47, said she is excited for the addition of Montgomery County in the district but also does not think that it will change the electorate too much.
“A huge part of the new Montgomery County is the Agricultural Reserve and it’s very, very similar to Western Howard County,” she said.
Hester said that while the national political climate may be less favorable for Democrats than it was in 2018, she said that locally, she was focused on running a good campaign.
“I am confident that we have run an amazing campaign that we have a great platform to run on,” she said.
The changing District 9
Until Hester’s election four years ago, the District 9 Senate seat had been held by Republicans in the 16 years since it had been anchored in Howard County. The 9th District was based in Baltimore County before then.
The 2018 race was close, with Hester taking 50.8% compared to 49.1% for Bates, the one-term Republican incumbent. Hester won just under 4,000 more votes than Bates in the Howard County portion of the district, though in Carroll County, with a more historically Republican constituency, Bates received a little over 2,800 more votes than Hester.
“I did ride a blue wave in,” said Hester. “But the district in 2018 had never been won by a Democrat in 26 years, and so, I beat the odds.”
But not if Novotny can help it. He said that in Hester’s campaign literature, she describes herself as bipartisan and strong on crime, and pledges to support parents in education.
“I really think Katie Hester is describing the perfect candidate, which is me, not her,” he said.