Elrich Squeezes Out Win in Democratic Primary for County Executive

Unofficial results put David Blair in second place by 80 votes

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Marc Elrich

Bethesda Beat file photo

County Council member Marc Elrich has pulled off a win in the Democratic primary for county executive, clinging to his slim lead as the final ballots in the race were counted Sunday

Potomac businessman David Blair had been whittling away at Elrich’s advantage over the past couple weeks, as election officials tallied up absentee and provisional ballots, but he ultimately failed to overtake the Takoma Park progressive.

Elrich and Blair finished 37,529 votes to 37,449, or 80 votes apart, according to the unofficial total.

Reached by phone Sunday night, Elrich attributed his first-place finish to his focus on the issues that are important to Montgomery County residents.

"I had a base you couldn’t buy. People know me. They know the work I do. I didn’t invent myself from poll results, and I ran a campaign that matched people’s concerns," Elrich said, who waited at Bar Louie in Wheaton for news of the election results.

About 30 minutes after the vote totals posted, Elrich said he hadn't heard from Blair.

In coming days, Blair will have the option of requesting a recount in the tight race; he did not immediately return a call requesting comment Sunday night.

His spokeswoman sent a statement after the results came out, noting that Blair had been gaining ground during the absentee and provisional canvasses. She said the campaign is still evaluating the effect of the Motor Vehicle Administration glitch that failed to update party affiliation or address information for about 83,000 voters statewide.

"There is more work to do in this process," Laura Evans Manatos wrote in a statement. "We are committed to seeing that the most credible possible outcome is finally reached. Our supporters and all Montgomery County residents, deserve nothing less."

Attention has been trained on Montgomery County’s vote count since the cliffhanger ending on primary election night, from which Elrich and Blair emerged thousands of votes ahead of the other four Democratic candidates but neck-and-neck with each other for first place. The win came down to the roughly 8,600 absentee ballots and about 2,300 provisional ballots cast in the county’s Democratic primary.

The final day of canvassing on Sunday focused on about 10 remaining absentee ballots and 970 provisional ballots that had been recommended for rejection, according to Marjorie Roher, board of elections spokeswoman. 

During the primary race, Elrich was buoyed by endorsements from labor unions and the support of county residents who harbor concerns that development is overwhelming local schools and transportation networks. 

Blair won The Washington Post’s backing and had the advantage of deep pockets, pouring nearly $3 million of his personal funds to the campaign. The former CEO of the pharmacy benefit management company Catalyst Health Solutions used the funds to promote his business acumen and ability to jump start the county’s economy if elected. 

On the other hand, Elrich chose to test the county’s new public campaign financing option. Under the system, candidates eschew donations from PACs, corporations and party committees in favor of individual contributions of $150 or less. The candidates then receive matching funds from the county. 

During the primary season, more than $600,000 in matching public funds flowed into Elrich’s campaign coffers.

While Blair entered the race as a first-time candidate, Elrich emphasized his progressive achievements – guiding the $15 minimum wage to approval in the county, providing tenants with more rights and fighting for the environment by protecting Ten Mile Creek.

The Democratic nominee for county executive will face Republican Robin Ficker in the general election to replace outgoing County Executive Ike Leggett, who is finishing his third term. 

While the Democratic primary usually decides the outcome in left-leaning Montgomery County, this general election season could have a twist — an independent run from County Council member Nancy Floreen. Last week, Floreen filed her intent to run for county executive, saying she wants to give voters a third option in November. 

She has been critical of both Democratic front-runners for the county executive post but has made particularly scathing comments about Elrich, whom she accused of an anti-business attitude. Following the primary, she told the Bethesda Beat that Elrich’s election as county executive would be “devastating for Montgomery County.”

If she does pursue a run, Floreen would need to gather more than 6,000 signatures by Aug. 6 to qualify for the ballot. As a registered Democrat, Floreen might also face questions about her eligibility to file paperwork laying the groundwork for an independent run. She has expressed her intent to switch her party to unaffiliated on July 9, when she’s legally allowed to do so.

She wrote in a text message Monday that she'll say more about her intentions Wednesday.

Another unknown is whether Blair will petition for a recount, an option he could exercise within three days of the vote certification expected for July 16. If he did, Montgomery County would join Baltimore County in waiting on a recount to finalize its Democratic nominee for county executive.

State Sen. Jim Brochin, a Baltimore County executive candidate, has already announced he wants a recount after former Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. topped him by nine votes in the primary, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Under state law, a recount in the Montgomery County executive race could end up costing Blair, since the 80-vote margin is more than 0.1 percent of the total votes cast for him and Elrich.

In the close race for the Democratic nomination for the third District 16 delegate seat, ACLU public policy director Sara Love finished Sunday with 11,294 votes, nine votes ahead of teacher Samir Paul. In this case, Paul would not have to pay for a recount, since the final margin is within the 0.1-percent range.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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