Editor’s Note: The views expressed in MoCo Politics are the writer’s and do not reflect those of Bethesda Beat staff.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is riding sky-high approval ratings and monster fundraising against underdog Democratic nominee Ben Jealous. In MoCo, voters have been voting against progressive positions on ballot questions for a decade and recently approved term limits by 40 points. Economic development emerged as a real issue in June’s Democratic primary for the first time in—well, ever— and a self-funding businessman who had never held office came within 77 votes of being the next county executive. And then there is the voters’ toxic reaction to the roughly 9 percent property tax hike in 2016, which could someday lead to another anti-tax charter amendment. You would figure that Montgomery County’s Republican Party could take advantage of all this and resurrect itself from irrelevancy, right?
Not so fast.
The GOP was once a factor in county politics. Many folks remember Connie Morella, the courtly and moderate Republican congresswoman from Bethesda who represented the 8th District from 1986 to 2002. Fewer folks remember that MoCo’s first executive, Jim Gleason, was a Republican who served in the 1970s. The county’s upcounty and rural areas often elected Republicans years ago. In the 1994-1998 term, a quarter of all state and county partisan elected officials in MoCo were Republicans. But the last two Republicans elected in the county, state Del. Jean Cryor and County Council member Howie Denis, were defeated in 2006—a terrible year for Republicans nationally—and the GOP has not been close to victory since.
The party doesn’t look any closer to victory this year. Just take a look at its fundraising. Below is the cash on hand for Republican county-level candidates as of Aug. 21.
No one has more than $30,000 on hand except county executive candidate Robin Ficker and council District 2 candidate Ed Amatetti, both of whom are receiving public campaign financing. Ficker applied for an additional $12,330 in matching funds in his report and Amatetti requested $4,250, so their totals will be higher when they come in. No one else has a pulse. The four council at-Large candidates each filed affidavits instead of campaign finance reports stating that they had less than $1,000 in contributions and expenditures, meaning you would need a microscope to locate their campaigns. Ironically, the county GOP was not crazy about public financing, but it’s the only thing keeping any of its county-level campaigns going.
Here is the cash on hand for Republican state legislature candidates as of Aug. 21.
Again, no one is close to being competitive. Of the races for 32 state legislative offices, the Republicans don’t have a candidate in 12 in them, have a candidate who filed an affidavit in six of them, and have no candidates with more than $30,000 in any of them. One candidate didn’t bother to file an August report and another one didn’t bother to start a campaign account.
It’s not like the Republicans have no issue opportunities here. Economic competitiveness, jobs, taxes, pockets of unhappiness with county services and the oppressive liquor monopoly are tailor-made for them to exploit. Amatetti, who is running against incumbent Democratic council member Craig Rice in District 2, is appealing to upcounty residents who feel neglected by county government, a long-standing theme. He is the one Republican who might have a shot, as unlikely as that is given the depredations of the current occupant of the Oval Office. As for Ficker, he has about as much a chance of winning as he does of hitting a free throw from the moon.
GOP success in MoCo may have to wait until President Trump is out of office. But for the party to have a shot at winning here, first it has to compete. And other than Amatetti’s campaign, that isn’t happening this year. If District 6 congressional candidate Amie Hoeber has a chance against David Trone, her Democratic opponent, it’s because of voters in western Maryland more than in MoCo. Two things that could help party candidates is the use of the county’s public campaign financing (which has helped Amatetti and even Ficker) and opening the party’s primaries to non-Republicans to encourage more voter participation. But until the GOP makes some changes, expect another all-Democratic MoCo in November.
Adam Pagnucco is a writer, researcher and consultant who is a former chief of staff at the County Council. He has worked in the labor movement and has had clients in labor, business and politics.