District 18 Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher and challenger Max Socol Credit: File photo

Editor’s note: With early voting starting July 7, Bethesda Beat will be running election wrap-ups of the races for Montgomery County offices and the General Assembly. Today we focus on the race for state Senate District 18.

State Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher has spent this election season trying to beat back a Democratic primary challenger who is casting himself as a more progressive — and perhaps more effective — alternative to the incumbent.

In the high-profile race for Montgomery County’s District 18, challenger Max Socol has drawn endorsements from the Democratic Socialists of America and CASA in Action, as well as from former state lawmakers Ana Sol Gutiérrez and Sharon Grosfeld. 

Socol, a 36-year-old community organizer from Silver Spring, said he’s running because he’s been dismayed by some of Waldstreicher’s positions on police reform, renters’ rights and Beltway expansion plans. And he’s vowing that if elected, he’ll be an unmitigated champion of progressive policies, from rent stabilization to universal health care. 

But while he has a long history of political engagement, Socol does not have any prior experience in elected office — unlike the incumbent, who’s spent 15 years representing county residents in the state legislature in Annapolis. 

Waldstreicher, 42, of Kensington, was first elected as a state delegate in 2007 and served in that position until 2019, when he won election to the Maryland Senate. 

During the campaign, the incumbent has remained largely silent against attacks accusing him of not being progressive enough, preferring to focus on the policies he has advanced during his time in office.

He has pointed to his work on the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022, legislation that sets goals for reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions and his support for banning “ghost guns,” or untraceable firearms

In terms of campaign funding, the incumbent has the clear advantage: Though Socol has far outraised Waldstreicher this year, the senator entered the race with a substantial war chest and earlier this month reported a cash balance of about $330,000. Socol’s cash balance stood at about $82,000, according to recent campaign finance reports. 

Waldstreicher also has his own slate of powerful supporters, with endorsements from the Montgomery County Education Association, the Sierra Club and SEIU Local 500. 

Voters on July 19 will pick a Democratic nominee for the Senate seat in District 18, which includes Kensington, Wheaton, most of Chevy Chase and parts of Rockville, Silver Spring and Bethesda.

[For more information on candidates for local, state and federal races, check out the Bethesda Beat voters guide.]

Waldstreicher, an attorney, grew up in Silver Spring, attended Montgomery County public schools and is married with three children. 

His opponent, Socol, is originally from North Carolina but says he’s lived most of his adult life in Washington, D.C., or Maryland. He bought a home in Silver Spring more than three years ago and is married with two children. 

Until recently, he worked as a senior national organizer with Bend the Arc, a Jewish organization that says it is “focused exclusively on progressive social change in the United States,” according to its website.

According to Socol, his dismay at the way Waldstreicher handled the police reform debate in the Maryland legislature was what inspired him to enter this year’s race. 

Waldstreicher, the vice chair of the powerful Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, faced criticism last year after reform activists and officials accused him of helping water down the Maryland Police Accountability Act.

The Maryland senator has said that despite the criticism, he’s proud of the finished police reform package, which restricts “no-knock” warrants and rolled back the state’s law enforcement bill of rights. 

If re-elected, Waldstreicher said he would continue pushing for gun safety laws, such as one that would make gun manufacturers liable for their firearms.

“It’s time to let the NRA, the MAGA crowd, and gun manufacturers know that we’re serious about cracking down on gun violence,” he wrote in Bethesda Beat’s voters guide. 

Socol says addressing economic inequalities would be one of his top priorities if he unseats Waldstreicher. 

During the campaign, he’s advocated for a statewide rent stabilization measure, strengthening renter protections and creating “social housing” programs. While public housing programs in the U.S. have typically focused on low-income units, the social housing model used in some European countries serves a range of income levels and helps prevent economic and racial segregation, Socol argues.  

“We have to deal with the high cost of living,” he wrote in his voters guide responses. “And the highest cost for most families is housing.”

The primary election is July 19. Early voting begins July 7. Mail-in ballots will be accepted as long as they are postmarked by 8 p.m. July 19 or are dropped into a ballot drop box by that time.

Bethany Rodgers is a freelance writer who formerly covered schools and development for Bethesda Beat.