Blair spends more than $195,000 during first week of over-the-air paid ad spots

Businessman David Blair — who began buying ads on county cable systems in mid-May — has expanded his televised appeals to more expensive broadcast channels in the Washington, D.C., market, as he seeks to capture the Democratic nomination for county executive.

So far, Blair has both the TV airwaves and local cable systems to himself: His two major rivals in the July 19 primary, incumbent Marc Elrich and County Council Member Hans Riemer, as of the beginning of this week had yet to purchase TV time, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Inspection File (https://publicfiles.fcc.gov/)

During the week immediately following Memorial Day, Blair spent just under $195,400 for 212 30-spots on four network-affiliated broadcast stations in the D.C. market. Filings on the FCC website indicate the Blair campaign paid $63,500 for 65 ad spots on ABC affiliate WJLA; $61,667 for 53 spots on NBC affiliate WRC; $36,103 for 38 spots on Fox affiliate WTTG; and $34,127 for 56 spots on CBS affiliate WUSA. 

At the same time, the FCC site shows Blair paying a total of slightly under $59,000 for three weeks of ads on county cable TV systems — less than one-third of his spending for a week on the area’s broadcast stations. While delivering more viewers than cable channels, the flip side for local candidates advertising on over-the-air TV is that many of viewers live outside Montgomery County — and therefore aren’t eligible to vote.

Blair’s 30-second spots on cable TV are running on CNN and MSNBC. His ads on broadcast stations, while targeted frequently to appear with local news programming, are also running adjacent to game shows such as Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, according to the FCC site.

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Blair is a multimillionaire who spent a record $5.7 million — all but $300,000 from his own pocket — on a 2018 bid for executive. Elrich — who defeated Blair by only 77 votes in the primary four years ago — and Riemer are relying on the county’s public campaign funding system.

Under that system, a county executive candidate is eligible for up to $750,000 in public funds per election, in return for limiting private contributions to no more than $250 from any individual donor. As of the end of May, Riemer has received just under $357,500 in public funding, while Elrich had qualified for nearly $407,000, according to the county Department of Finance.

The Elrich and Riemer campaigns have been sending out a steady stream of emails, appealing for private contributions that can be matched by additional public funds with six weeks until the July 19. An up-to-date look at the finances of the Blair, Elrich and Riemer campaigns will be available next week, when the first of two pre-primary disclosure reports are due to be filed with the state Board of Elections.

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Louis Peck

As Roe v. Wade decision looms, Pro-Choice Maryland weighs in on county contests

With just weeks to go until the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce whether it will overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Pro-Choice Maryland — which until recently was affiliated with the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) — late last week weighed in on this year’s primary election contest for county executive and County Council.

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Pro-Choice Maryland endorsed County Executive Marc Elrich — seeking the Democratic nomination for a second term against three opponents. In the wake of a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion last month suggesting the high court was getting ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, Elrich announced he would allocate $1 million to help nonprofit providers and other organizations provide abortion and reproductive health services in the county. 

His move came hours after the council unanimously approved a resolution voicing support for reproductive and abortion services. Pro-Choice Maryland’s endorsements include three of those council members: Evan Glass, Tom Hucker, and Will Jawando. Glass and Jawando are seeking re-election to the at-large council seats they now hold; Hucker, who has represented Silver Spring-based District 5 since 2014, is seeking an at-large slot this year.

Pro-Choice Maryland also endorsed former Gaithersburg City Council Member Laurie-Anne Sayles in the eight-way Democratic primary for four at-large nominations.

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For the council’s seven district seats, Pro-Choice Maryland endorsed attorney and former congressional aide Will Roberts in the three-candidate Democratic primary in District 2; Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart in the five-way Democratic contest in District 4; attorney Fatmata Barrie in the eight-person Democratic race in District 5; and former state Del. Marice Morales in the six-candidate Democratic primary in District 6.

Pro-Choice Maryland opted to make no endorsements in District 1, where County Council Member Andrew Friedson has no primary opposition in his bid for a second term, or in District 3, where Council Member Sidney Katz is seeking a third term against two Democratic primary opponents. The candidates in the District 3 contest did not respond to questionnaires sent out by Pro-Choice Maryland, according to the group’s executive director, Lily Bolourian.

In newly created Upcounty District 7, Pro-Choice Maryland’s board deadlocked over who to endorse. The board may meet again to try to overcome the deadlock, but it is uncertain whether an endorsement in that seven-way Democratic primary will ultimately be issued.

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Pro-Choice Maryland was formerly among 11 state affiliates of NARAL Pro-Choice America until all the state affiliates were spun off from the national group this past Jan. 1. Pro-Choice Maryland endorsements for state legislative seats in Montgomery County and other jurisdictions will be announced soon, Bolourian said.

Louis Peck

Elrich, Navarro spar in wake of her endorsement of Blair for county executive

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County Executive Marc Elrich didn’t respond to a request for comment in late May when it was disclosed that County Council Member Nancy Navarro who served on the council with Elrich for nearly a decade had decided to endorse businessman David Blair in this year’s county executive race. 

But the often-blunt incumbent was not reticent when the subject of the Navarro endorsement was raised during an appearance last Friday on WAMU’s “The Politics Hour With Kojo Nnamdi”.

About midway through a 24-minute segment with Elrich, the show’s resident analyst, veteran journalist Tom Sherwood, asked about the endorsement by Navarro who is leaving the council due to term limits, and is currently the lieutenant gubernatorial running mate of former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker in the Democratic primary for governor.

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“She says she thinks David Blair has more of the executive temperament to run the county. That’s a pretty strong thing for a colleague of yours to say,” Sherwood told Elrich.

“Not when the colleague never supports you it’s kind of what you’d expect from somebody like that,” Elrich replied in taking a jab at Navarro, who as council president in 2019, the first year of Elrich’s current term publicly differed with the executive on matters relating to policy and management procedure.

Then, delivering the verbal counterpart to a left hook, Elrich suggested Navarro’s endorsement of Blair was motivated by personal self-interest. “Maybe it’s because she knows [Rushern Baker] is not going to win the governorship and maybe she can get a job with David Blair,” he gibed.

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“That’s a pretty tough answer,” observed Sherwood, before Nnamdi moved to switch the subject to the recent controversy over the county’s proposed Thrive 2050 plan.

With about a minute remaining in the show, Nnamdi informed listeners that Navarro had called in. “I want to start a quick fight here,” he wisecracked, before Navarro came out swinging.

“…I just wanted to say that as somebody who served quite a long term on the County Council been president twice and really cares about this county, I have endorsed David Blair because I do believe that Montgomery County absolutely will not…move forward under the leadership of Marc Elrich,” Navarro declared, adding: “I take offense at the fact that he would even say that the reason why I’m endorsing David Blair is because I need a job.”

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Elrich shot back: “This county is moving forward, and the budget we submitted this year is a clear indication that this county is moving forward. It’s a clear indication that without a tax increase, our tax base is growing. It’s growing because businesses are coming back, we’re getting new businesses here.

“The initiatives I’ve taken are worlds apart from what we’ve done in the past,” Elrich asserted before he was cut off by Nnamdi announcing, “That’s all the time we have.”

Louis Peck

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Poll shows Elrich in lead in county executive race, but many voters undecided

A poll by a left-wing think tank has County Executive Marc Elrich leading his Democratic opponents as he seeks re-election, but many county voters remain undecided.

The poll, done by Data for Progress, was conducted from May 19 to 23 and surveyed 529 “likely Democratic primary voters.” Voters were asked who they would vote for in the Montgomery County executive race: Elrich, businessman David Blair, County Council Member Hans Riemer or tech CEO Peter James, or if they were undecided.

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According to the poll results, Elrich led with 33%, followed by Blair and Riemer, who got 14% each, and James, who got 1%. Another 38% of voters said they were not sure who they would vote for. The poll also focused on asking voters what they thought about county issues, ranging from planning to the response to the coronavirus pandemic and public safety.

Unlike traditional pollsters who call voters, Data for Progress conducted its poll using text messages and web panel respondents.

Jonathan Robinson, an adviser to Data for Progress, and McKenzie Wilson, the think tank’s communications director, said that polling methodology has changed substantially in the last 10 years or so, and that more pollsters are using text messages, web links and other similar methods to contact voters instead of calling them. 

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A memo by Data for Progress indicates that the think tank has been working on updating its methodology in order to ensure its polls are as accurate as possible. According to the memo. that includes but is not limited to lessening the number of Democrat activists polled, engaging hard-to reach populations and running surveys that focus on a variety of partian, geographic and demographic factors.

Robinson and Wilson said one of the challenges of traditional polling is that it can be expensive — upwards of $100,000 for traditional polls, for example. They wouldn’t say how much the Data for Progress poll cost to produce, but did say it was much cheaper than that.

It’s possible that Data for Progress will do another poll closer to the primary election, which is scheduled for July 19, Robinson said.

“Generally speaking, there’s an Elrich vote and an anti-Elrich vote,” Robinson said about the county executive race. “Marc is in a good place…but I wouldn’t say it seems like he has the strongest grip on things.”

Steve Bohnel

Louis Peck can be reached at lou.peck@bethesdamagazine.com. Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com