In the face of an independent poll last week that showed Gov. Larry Hogan losing Montgomery County to Democratic opponent Ben Jealous by a better than 2-1 margin, county Republican Central Committee Chair Mark Uncapher on Friday said he remains confident that Hogan will do significantly better than that here in November.
“I was a little surprised by that number … I do think we’re doing better in Montgomery County,” Uncapher, of Bethesda, said of the poll. Conducted by Gonzales Research & Media Services, the survey showed Jealous leading Hogan by 60-25 percent in the county. “The voter contact we’re having seems to be more positive than what the Montgomery County internal [numbers] suggest in the Gonzales poll,” Uncapher said.
He said he sticks by his prediction of late last year that Hogan—who won 37 percent of the 2014 general election vote in Montgomery in winning statewide—would better that showing, and capture 40 percent to 45 percent of the county’s vote this November. “We’ve done a lot of voter contact in Montgomery County. It’s been very focused on independents and Democrats, and … those are the kinds of numbers that we’re getting,” Uncapher said.
Meanwhile, in a telephone interview that also touched on other state and local contests, Uncapher suggested that the entry of County Council member Nancy Floreen of Garrett Park into the county executive race as an independent “creates an interesting opportunity” for the Republican candidate, attorney Robin Ficker of Boyds. “It’s essentially a second primary with Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich,” Uncapher said of the contest, alluding to Elrich, a council member and Takoma Park resident who is the Democratic nominee, and Floreen, who served for 16 years on the council as a Democrat before switching her registration to unaffiliated.
With the exception of the Montgomery County numbers, last week’s Gonzales poll featured little but good news in terms of Hogan’s prospects for winning a second term in Annapolis.
The governor had a 16-point lead over Jealous statewide, according to the survey, and even in such Democratic strongholds as Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, Jealous led Hogan by relatively narrow margins—44-38 percent and 46-33 percent, respectively. Uncapher declined to say whether private Republican polling is showing margins in Montgomery County similar to the wide lead for Jealous in the Gonzales survey.
“I’m not going to comment on any internal polling, but I will say that, based on responses we have in reaching out to independents and Democrats, we’re seeing about 25 percent of Democrats leaning towards Hogan,” Uncapher said.
And while the Gonzales survey of 831 registered voters has an error margin of just 3.5 points, Uncapher noted that sub-categories of the statewide polling samples can be less reliable—because their lower number of voters translates into higher error margin. “Sometimes the challenge [is] that while the statewide numbers are statistically accurate, the internals for Montgomery County presumably are one-fifth of the overall sample,” Uncapher noted. Montgomery County is home to 18 percent of Maryland voters—between one-fifth and one-sixth of the state’s total electorate.
“I think the overall poll seems to be very consistent with just about every other survey that’s out there,” Uncapher said of the Gonzales survey. An internal Jealous campaign poll, released to the media a week earlier, showed Hogan with a 9-point statewide lead.
Montgomery was one of only four of the state’s 24 major jurisdictions that Hogan lost in 2014 on his way to his surprise win over Democrat Anthony Brown—and, for his first two years in office, the governor made less than a half-dozen public appearances in the county, according to available records. By comparison, Hogan’s public schedule showed five Montgomery County appearances in the first two weeks of this month alone.
When asked if Hogan’s recent pace of appearances reflected data showing a need to shore up his support here, Uncapher said, “I think it’s a recognition that Montgomery County represents somewhere in the order of one-sixth of the overall state, so it’s a very important electorate.” While Democrats enjoy a voter registration edge of more than 3-1 in the county, there are more registered Republicans—113,000—residing in Montgomery than all but two other counties in the state. (There are 380,000 registered Democrats in Montgomery, second only in the state to the 450,000 in neighboring Prince George’s County, according to the latest state Board of Elections statistics.)
Discussing the other high-profile contest in the county this fall, Uncapher contended:
“Clearly the Republican base vote, that I think Robin Ficker can hold, and additional votes from independents and Democrats who supported the term limits [referendum in 2016], creates an opportunity for him in the county executive race.” Ficker circulated the petitions needed to get the 2016 measure on the ballot.
But, despite his successful sponsorship of the term limits proposal and a 2008 ballot measure on property tax limits, Ficker has been unsuccessful in repeated runs for elected office over the last four decades: The county executive contest is his sixth bid in just the past nine years. “Mr. Ficker is going to come in third, no matter what,” Floreen declared in filing earlier this month. “That’s a fact.”
Uncapher dismissed suggestions that Floreen’s pro-development views on the council might help her to attract Republican voters in the general election. “Nancy Floreen is not a candidate who has very much attraction with moderate voters, let alone Republican voters,” he contended. “The choice of voters two years ago to adopt term limits was as much directed at her as it was anyone else on the council.”
Declared Uncapher: “The developer community will do what the developer community will do, in terms of fundraising and financial support. But I think voters have a memory of what Nancy Floreen’s voting record has been for the last decade or so.” When asked for specifics, he replied, “Voting for tax increases”—a reference to Floreen joining in a unanimous council vote for an 8.7 percent property tax increase in 2016.
In other county-level races, Uncapher touted the prospects of council candidate Ed Amatetti in District 2, which encompasses much of the northern, more rural part of the county. Amatetti, running against Democratic incumbent Craig Rice, is bidding to become the first Republican elected to the council since 2002.
“With the results from the Democratic primary [and] the concentration of at-large candidates continuing to be from Silver Spring and Takoma Park … I think people are looking for stronger representation that is more focused on the upcounty,” Uncapher said. “And I think that’s resonating very strongly with Ed’s very aggressive, very active campaign.”
While the Republicans have filed candidates for all four at-large council seats in the fall election, Amatetti, a former teacher, is one of only two Republican candidates pursuing the five district seats—along with Richard Banach of Chevy Chase, a 20-year old college student, who is running in District 1.
Uncapher, who also headed the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee from 2008 to 2013, recaptured the post last November by narrowly ousting the prior chair, Dick Jurgena of Darnestown. While Uncapher’s current term runs through November’s election, he will have to step aside for a new chair after that: In the June 26 primary, Uncapher failed to win one of eight at-large seats on the GOP committee that takes office in November, finishing 10th out of 11 candidates.
Asked whether he attributed his loss to fallout from last year’s battle over the chairmanship, Uncapher said: “I’m sure—but it is what it is. I’m not really focused on that at all.”
At the time he sought election last November, “I made it clear that I really only wanted to be chairman for the election year,” said Uncapher, an attorney who has served as an executive of several information technology associations. He also has been secretary of the state Republican Party since 2016, “and I expect to be running for re-election” in December to that post, Uncapher added.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that Larry Hogan received 37 percent instead of 38 percent of the general election vote in Montgomery County in 2014.