Thirteen state legislators from Montgomery County hope to be chosen for a trip to this summer’s Democratic National Convention. A half-dozen of them filed with the State Board of Elections just hours before Friday night’s deadline.
The group comprises 41 percent of the county’s 32-member legislative delegation in Annapolis.
The 11th-hour filers included three state senators, each committed to a different candidate for their party’s presidential nomination:
- Sen. Nancy King of Montgomery Village is pledged to former Vice President Joe Biden
- Sen. Cheryl Kagan of Rockville is committed to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
- Sen. Will Smith of Silver Spring is committed to former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
The 10 members of the Maryland House of Delegates vying for election to seats at the Democratic convention in Milwaukee are likewise split among multiple presidential candidates:
- Dels. Lily Qi of Rockville, Kirill Reznik of Germantown and Jared Solomon of Silver Spring are running pledged to Buttigieg
- House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke of Ashton and Dels. Lorig Charkoudian of Takoma Park and David Moon and Jheanelle Wilkins, both of Silver Spring are backing U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
- Dels. Gabriel Acevero of Montgomery Village and Vaughn Stewart of Derwood are behind U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont
The remaining state legislator to file, Del. Emily Shetty of Kensington, submitted papers Friday to run uncommitted to a particular candidate.
Also filing last week as an uncommitted delegate was District 5 County Council Member Tom Hucker of Silver Spring, one of two members of the council running for convention slots. At-large Council Member Evan Glass of Silver Spring filed as committed to Warren.
Three elected members of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee seeking seats at the national convention are split three ways:
- Former Montgomery Democratic Chair Scott Goldberg of Silver Spring is behind Warren
- Committee member Mumin Barre of Gaithersburg is pledged to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
- Committee member Greg Wims of Boyds is pledged to Biden
Discussing his decision to run as an uncommitted delegate, Hucker cited concern about a repeat of 2016. He said divisions in the party in the wake of the nomination contest between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sanders helped elect President Donald Trump.
“I think we have multiple strong candidates. There are characteristics each one has that I like and admire,” Hucker said, adding: “I think the most important thing — given this existential threat to our democracy posed by the current occupant of the White House — is that the Democrats all need to get behind the winner strongly, and to avoid a lot of division that haunted us four years ago.”
Those running as uncommitted delegates often face an uphill climb, since presidential primary voters tend to make their choice based less on the identity of the delegate candidate than on who he or she is committed to back for the nomination.
“I think it’s a little more of a principled decision than a strategic decision,” Hucker said of his decision. “Everybody likes to win, but the important thing I think is to show some independence — and to make clear that you’re supporting all the candidates rather than just one.”
Perhaps none of the candidates for convention delegate is more emblematic of the current lack of consensus over the 2020 nominee than Smith, who announced his endorsement of Buttigieg on Friday shortly before filing.
“We’re relatively close in age and we have a lot of shared experiences,” the 37 year-old Smith explained later in a telephone interview. Both have been active in an organization called the NewDEAL, which describes itself on its website as “a national network of rising state and local elected leaders who are pro-growth progressives.” Smith said he became familiar with Buttigieg and his record through that group.
There’s also a more personal tie: Buttigieg, who turned 38 this month, and Smith are both Navy reservists who served tours of duty as intelligence officers in Afghanistan five years apart, with both working for the U.S. Combined Intelligence Operation Center.
“It sounds fancy, but it’s really a shack in Kabul,” said Smith, who returned from a six-month stint in Afghanistan in the fall. “So we were in the same space and did the same job.”
But Smith’s home space in Silver Spring is a political house divided: His wife, Annapolis-based lobbyist Camille Fesche, also filed for convention delegate last week — committed to Bloomberg.
“We’ve had some spirited debates,” Smith said with a chuckle. “But she has a long track record with Bloomberg, so that didn’t surprise me.” Fesche met Bloomberg while an undergraduate at John Hopkins University — of which he is a prominent alumnus — and later worked for Bloomberg while he was a mayoral candidate and once he was in office.
Smith shares representation of Silver Spring/Takoma Park-based Legislative District 20 with Charkoudian, Moon and Wilkins — all filed as Warren backers. Smith’s predecessor as the district’s state senator, now-U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park, formally endorsed Warren last week.
“Warren would be a fantastic president, and I look forward to supporting her if she gets the nomination,” Smith said. “But I really am invested in the next generation — and you can’t have more of a contrast between Mayor Pete and Donald Trump. I would love to see that debate and that discussion.”
Notwithstanding the current lack of consensus over the Democratic presidential nominee, the sheer number of those filing for delegate this year appears to bespeak the energy in the party aimed at denying Trump a second term.
In the Montgomery County-based 8th Congressional District, 122 delegate aspirants filed by Friday’s deadline. That is almost double the 62 who filed for convention delegate four years ago in the 8th.
But many who filed this year will not end up appearing on the April 28 primary ballot in either the 8th or the other congressional districts — the 3rd and the 6th — where other Montgomery County Democrats cast ballots.
Under delegate allocations approved by the state Democratic Party, primary voters in the 3rd and the 8th will elect four male and four female delegates; in the 6th, they will chose four male and three female delegates.
According to party rules, each presidential campaign must — by Feb. 3 — file a list of approved delegate candidates with the state Democratic chair. Delegate candidates not on the approved list will be removed from the ballot.
The intent is to avoid splintering the vote by allowing each presidential candidate to ensure that the number of his or her supporters on the ballot coincides with the number of delegate slots allocated to a congressional district.
In the 8th District, where eight delegate seats are up for grabs, 32 delegate candidates filed pledged to Warren and 26 filed committed to Buttigieg — meaning that many of those hoping to run could find themselves off the ballot. The Biden and Sanders campaigns, each with a total of 12 delegate candidates filing on their behalf in the 8th, face a similar predicament, to a lesser extent.
The two County Council members, Glass and Hucker, as well as six of the state legislators seeking delegate seats — Kagan, Charkoudian, Moon, Shetty, Solomon and Wilkins — filed in District 8, where about 55 percent of Montgomery County Democrats vote.
Others filing in the 8th included long-time Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin (committed to Bloomberg), former Rockville Mayor Susan Hoffmann (Biden), and former county Board of Education member Jill Ortman-Fouse of Silver Spring (Warren). Former Maryland Democratic Chair Susan Turnbull of Bethesda, the party’s 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor, filed as a Buttigieg delegate.
In the 6th Congressional District — which includes western sections of Montgomery County and is home to about one-third of the county’s registered Democrats — King has joined another state legislator, Del. Karen Lewis Young of neighboring Frederick County, in filing committed to Biden. Another four of the state legislators seeking convention delegate slots — Acevero, Qi, Reznik and Stewart — also reside in the 6th.
The 6th District’s favorite son of sorts, former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Potomac, did not attract the support of any of the elected officials filing for delegate. But three delegate aspirants filed with pledged to Delaney in the 6th, which he represented from 2012-2018, with another two filing in the 8th, where Delaney actually resides.
Delaney has remained in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination despite not having qualified to appear in the televised presidential debates since last summer. Recent polling shows him with less than 1 percent in next month’s Iowa caucuses.
The remaining two state legislators in the convention delegate hunt, Luedtke and Smith, are residents of the 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses territory in eastern Montgomery County and includes about 12 percent of the county’s Democratic voters.
In addition to Smith’s wife, Fesche, another state legislative spouse filed for one of the female delegate slots up for grabs there: Nancy Lineman, an attorney married to Del. Anne Kaiser of Silver Spring, is committed to Klobuchar.
Smith’s endorsement of Buttigieg is significant for the former mayor, who has struggled to appeal to the Democratic Party’s large bloc of black voters. Smith, recently named chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, is among the General Assembly’s most visible African-American members.
While Smith said he had not been formally courted by Buttigieg, his endorsement Friday culminated what he characterized as “about a month-long conversation going back and forth” with the Buttigieg camp. Soon after Smith posted his endorsement on Twitter, it was retweeted by Buttigieg declaring, “Honored to have the support of a fellow Afghanistan veteran…”
Asked if he was concerned about criticism of Buttigieg’s handling of race relations while mayor, Smith replied: “I think he’ll be the first to tell you he had a lot of work to do in South Bend. But he is one of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever encountered in politics — in terms of inclusivity and in term of race relations. I wouldn’t have endorsed him if I didn’t feel confident that he had an eye to making some improvement on that.”