County Council member Nancy Floreen’s potential independent candidacy for Montgomery County executive faces obstacles in becoming a reality, but could offer voters a moderate choice in the November general election if County Council member Marc Elrich ends up being the Democratic nominee, political observers said Wednesday.
On Monday afternoon, Floreen filed a declaration of intent with the county’s Board of Elections to set herself up to run as an independent for county executive. She would need to collect more than 6,000 signatures from residents by Aug. 6 to qualify for the ballot. And because she filed the declaration while still registered as a Democrat, there are legal questions about whether she is eligible to file to run as an independent. She said in documents filed Monday she plans to switch her party affiliation to unaffiliated on July 9, when she is legally allowed to do so.
In her statement, Floreen said she won’t make a final decision about whether she will run until the primary election results are certified, which must be done by July 9. That’s when the county will likely know whether Elrich or businessman David Blair is the Democratic nominee. The two Democrats are separated by less than 150 votes in the primary race with potentially more than 5,000 absentee and provisional ballots remaining to be counted later this week. Whoever loses may also demand a recount—a process that could play out over weeks and could generate legal challenges—that would further muddy the process of declaring the nominee.
Floreen also noted in her statement that whoever wins the Democratic primary will have been elected by less than 30 percent of Democratic primary voters and a small fraction of the county’s population. She declined to comment further on her potential candidacy.
Floreen made it clear in an interview with Bethesda Beat after the primary election that she doesn’t support Elrich.
“Elrich is not going to be an asset to Montgomery County,” Floreen said June 27. “We spend so long and so hard trying to improve the business environment, but Marc has the capacity, and he has demonstrated it for years, of saying no to business growth, no to the kind of jobs we need and looking at impediments to minimize business growth.”
She said the eventual winner of the county executive race needs to focus on growing the tax base. Otherwise, “we’ll have growing fiscal problems they’ll need to address.”
“If Marc wins, it will be devastating for Montgomery County,” Floreen said at the time.
Elrich did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning. Blair’s campaign spokeswoman, Laura Evans Manatos, declined to comment.
It’s unclear whether Floreen would be able to beat either candidate or be eligible to run as an independent against whoever wins the primary election.
“I think that there are a lot of hurdles for her to get over,” at-large Democratic County Council member George Leventhal said Tuesday. Leventhal finished fifth in the county executive Democratic primary. Leventhal, who has served on the council with Floreen since 2002, said that even if she qualifies for the ballot, she would face tough challenges from either Elrich or Blair.
Both men would have the major advantage of being the Democratic nominee in a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 3-to-1 margin. Blair, who spent about $2 million of his own money on his primary campaign, would be able to significantly outspend Floreen, Leventhal said. Meanwhile, Elrich could benefit from independent expenditures from progressive groups, such as from Progressive Maryland, that aided his primary campaign, according to Leventhal.
“I think we found out in the primary that voters were not that interested in the nuances between the candidates,” Leventhal said. “Money made all the difference.”
He said that Floreen may be able to raise money from the real estate community, but she would likely need to raise around $5 million to be competitive.
Former County Executive Doug Duncan, who served from 1994 to 2006, said Tuesday that Floreen could tap into frustration among women in the county about the lack of female elected officials.
If the Democratic nominees for County Council win in the general election, which is likely in the heavily Democratic county, only one of nine County Council members will be a woman—incumbent Nancy Navarro. No woman has ever been elected county executive.
“What sort of struck me is there was a lot of complaints after the primary about the lack of female candidates,” Duncan said. “She’s sort of perfectly aligned to tap into that frustration, not just from women, but from a lot of Democrats who think that we’re not treating women fairly when it comes to how we vote.”
Duncan said he doesn’t believe Floreen’s candidacy will help the Republican nominee, Boyds attorney Robin Ficker, if she enters the race as an independent.
“He’s a gadfly, he’s not a serious candidate,” Duncan said. “He’s not a person I really think people will trust running the county government.”
Former County Council member Mike Knapp, who served with Floreen from 2002 to 2010, said Floreen would likely get broad support from the county’s business community if Elrich is the Democratic nominee.
He said he had a good “working relationship” with Floreen and they still talk from time to time. He dismissed the idea that some political observers have espoused since Floreen filed yesterday that she should have run in the Democratic primary if she wanted to be county executive.
“I think there are probably those who will say, ‘Oh she skipped that process’,” Knapp said. “But that was not her calculus—I truly believe Nancy was ready to retire.”
He believes she has filed the intent to run because she truly believes Elrich would be harmful for the county if he were to win the post.
“I don’t think there are many people that could step in and run as an independent and not be dismissed out of hand,” Knapp said. “Nancy presents a unique candidate at a unique time.”
Floreen supported former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow in the Democratic county executive primary. Krasnow finished third. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday about Floreen’s potential candidacy.
Ficker noted in an interview Tuesday that he previously ran as an independent for county executive in 2006. He said he switched his political party to unaffiliated before filing his intent to run. Ficker finished third that year—with about 9 percent of the vote.
“To me there’s a legal question as to whether someone can file an intent to run as an independent when they’re not registered as an independent,” Ficker said. “The other point is she has to have sufficient valid signatures by Aug. 6 and it’s going to be difficult for her to do that.”
Ficker also doubted that a clear winner in the Democratic primary will be decided by Aug. 6 due to the possibility that Blair or Elrich may request a recount.
However, he encouraged her candidacy.
“I’m looking forward to debating her and hearing her defense of voting for the 9 percent property tax increase,” Ficker said, referring to the unanimous County Council vote in 2016 to raise property taxes by 8.7 percent. “We’ll see if we get that far—she hasn’t qualified for the ballot yet.”