Despite overwhelming victories of the Democratic statewide candidates Tuesday, Republicans may be on the verge of flipping two key county governments – and helped build for the future by electing new county executives in two other important jurisdictions.
Most significantly, the GOP appears to have won the highly competitive race for Frederick County executive, a job held for the last eight years by Democrat Jan Gardner.
In Anne Arundel County, Councilmember Jessica Haire (R) was leading the Democratic incumbent, Steuart Pittman. But mail-in ballots have yet to be tallied in Maryland’s fifth largest jurisdiction, and strategists in both parties believe that race won’t be resolved for several days. The same is true of the narrowly divided Anne Arundel County Council.
Frederick has been trending Democratic in recent elections, but that shift seemed to have ground to a halt Tuesday, as Republican statewide contenders were all ahead of their Democratic opponents in Frederick County despite losing badly in the overall vote.
In the election for county executive, state Sen. Michael Hough (R) rode concerns about overdevelopment and the general national Republican wave to open what appears to be an insurmountable lead over County Councilmember Jessica Fitzwater (D). As of 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Hough had 44,495 votes for 55.34%, compared to 35,802 votes, or 44.53%, for Fitzwater. It is unlikely that Fitzwater can gain enough from mail-in votes to prevail.
Early in the campaign, Hough said that Frederick was in danger of becoming “Montgomery County North” — a phrase he returned to repeatedly — and largely blamed Gardner, a mentor and ally of Fitzwater’s, for the direction of the county.
Hough also soft-pedaled his conservative voting record and his work for U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), a House Freedom Caucus stalwart, and he benefited from some current and former Democratic state lawmakers’ endorsements.
Fitzwater, an educator and former teachers’ union activist, won a tough three-way Democratic primary in July but trailed Hough on the fundraising front throughout the general election. Unions spent at least $400,000 on her behalf — except for the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland, which is feuding with the Gardner administration — and U.S. Rep. David Trone’s heavy spending as he fought a tough reelection race, may also have accrued to Fitzwater’s benefit.
But it appears that was not enough to overcome pro-Republican tailwinds throughout the country and the county. If the results hold, Hough, 43, is poised to become one of the most prominent Republican officials in the state.
Haire, 39, could well join Hough on the bench of potential future statewide Republican stars, but the Anne Arundel race appears too close to call.
With all Election Day precincts reporting, Haire led Pittman, 53.51% to 46.3% – a margin of 10,863 raw votes.
But with a minimum of 42,000 mail-in ballots to be counted in Anne Arundel – and possibly thousands more that could arrive before the Nov. 18 deadline – Haire’s victory is by no means a foregone conclusion. Anne Arundel Democrats requested mail-in ballots at a far swifter clip than Republicans.
In the county, 69,891 voters requested mail-in ballots – 40,325 Democrats, 15,145 Republicans and 14,421 unaffiliated or third party voters. Through Monday, 41,918 ballots had been returned – from 25,251 Democrats, 9,087 Republicans and 7,580 “other” voters, and thousands more could roll in. Counting mail-in ballots will begin Thursday in Anne Arundel.
Although Democrats made strong gains in the politically changing county four years ago, Republicans did considerably better this time, even if Haire and a few other candidates eventually fall short. Rather than being damaged by her hard-fought Republican primary victory over former Del. Herb McMillan, who was closely aligned with GOP gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox and other conservative Republicans, Haire was able to use it to pivot to the center, seeking connections with voters by casting herself as a busy, problem-solving suburban mom.
Pittman, a horse farmer and former community organizer, was an activist county executive, raising taxes in his first term and trying to upend the county’s political order. Some voters admired his candor and his apparent lack of political finesse, but others found him too liberal.
Control of the Anne Arundel County Council, where Democrats have had a 4-3 edge for the past four years, will also come down to the count of mail-in ballots. Republicans claimed three seats on Tuesday night and Democrats claimed two. But while Republicans led in the other two districts, it’s conceivable that the mail-in count could propel Democrats to victory in both seats.
GOP victories in Harford and Wicomico
Two newly elected Republican county executives were celebrating their victories Tuesday night: Harford County Executive-elect Robert Cassilly (R), the outgoing state senator who easily won the race Tuesday to replace outgoing County Executive Barry Glassman (R), and Julie Giordano (R), a teacher and conservative activist who won a three-way race for Wicomico County executive on Tuesday.
Conservative activists are especially excited about Giordano, who comes from the Trumpiest wing of the state GOP. Giordano took 56.57% of the vote Tuesday, followed by County Councilmember Ernest Davis (D), with 37.72%, and 5.58% for Muir Boda, the Libertarian Party nominee who is a Salisbury city councilmember. Assuming those numbers hold – Wicomico election officials won’t begin counting mail-in ballots until Thursday – Giordano will replace acting County Executive John Psota, whom she defeated in the Republican primary.
But Cassilly, who took 68.72% of the vote, will also be a visible conservative leading a county government.
“My family has been a part of this beautiful county for over 200 years and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help shape its future as we chart a course that seeks to preserve Harford’s heritage and natural beauty, build on our many strengths, embrace our diversity, and meet the many challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing world,” Cassilly said in a statement late Tuesday.
It wasn’t all bad news for Democrats in countywide races Tuesday.
In Howard County, County Executive Calvin Ball (D) held off former County Executive Allan Kittleman (R) in their rematch from four years ago. Ball defeated Kittleman 56.49% to 43.38%, as Howard grows ever more Democratic – and that margin could widen after mail-in ballots are tallied. Kittleman, one of the last of the Republican moderates in the state, was likely hampered by Cox’s presence at the top of the ticket. Cox tallied just 29.63% in Howard.
Democrats are likely to maintain their 4-1 advantage on the Howard County Council.
In Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the three Democratic incumbent executives were easily reelected to second terms.
Baltimore County’s John Olszewski Jr. (D) defeated former Del. Pat McDonough (R), 58.67% to 41.1%. Montgomery County’s Marc Elrich (D) beat Republican Reardon “Sully” Sullivan, 71.4% to 28.04%. And Prince George’s County’s Angela Alsobrooks (D) was unopposed.
In most jurisdictions, the new and re-elected county executives will take office on Dec. 5.