Opinion: Five Takeaways from the General Election
County elections show blue wave, but governor’s race was immune
1) Maryland had a blue wave. It just didn’t affect the governor’s race.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s 14-point victory over Democrat Ben Jealous is the biggest margin by a Republican gubernatorial candidate since Theodore McKeldin’s 15-point win in 1950. Hogan also earned 45 percent of the vote in Montgomery County, the best performance by a gubernatorial Republican here since Spiro Agnew’s win in 1966.
But elsewhere in the state, the news was very good for Democrats. They limited GOP State Senate pickups to one or two seats when Hogan was trying hard to pick up five seats to sustain his vetoes. And the Democrats picked up at least five seats in the House of Delegates and may get two more. Most importantly for the future of Maryland politics, the Democrats defeated incumbent Republican County Executives in Anne Arundel and Howard Counties and held onto the executive seat in Frederick County.
Official turnout statistics will not be available for a while, but the nature of Maryland’s blue wave can be seen in votes cast in the governor’s race. The table below compares early votes and Election Day votes for governor by county between 2014 and 2018. The three jurisdictions seeing the biggest increases in votes for governor were Montgomery County (up 45 percent), Prince George’s County (42 percent) and Charles County (34 percent). MoCo and Prince George’s are the two biggest Democratic jurisdictions in the state while Charles has close to an African American majority. Baltimore city ranked eighth of 24 jurisdictions in the state with a 27 percent increase in gubernatorial voting. The bottom 10 jurisdictions are heavily Republican.
2) The margin of Hogan’s win was due to improved performance in blue counties.
In 2014, Hogan defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown by four points. This year, he beat Jealous by 14. The reason for his expanded margin is the number of votes he picked up in heavily Democratic counties. The table below compares Hogan’s early voting and Election Day voting totals by county between 2014 and 2018. His biggest vote total increases so far have been in Prince George’s County (up 172 percent), Baltimore city (82 percent) and Montgomery County (75 percent). Hogan’s performance in MoCo leads to a curious conclusion: there were likely thousands of voters who voted for BOTH Hogan and Democratic County Executive candidate Marc Elrich. Go figure!
3) The next gubernatorial election just got a lot more interesting.
Going into this cycle, the conventional wisdom was that Hogan would be reelected and Republicans would have an upper hand in electing his successor. That was because Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, all Republicans, would face off in a GOP primary and the winner would confront a supposedly weak Democratic nominee. Well, that didn’t work out! Schuh and Kittleman were both defeated. Democrats now hold the county executive seats in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel and Frederick counties, as well as the mayor’s seat in Baltimore city, while the GOP’s bench looks a lot weaker.
4) In MoCo, the primary election is the only election that matters. Period.
It has now been four straight cycles in which the Democrats have won every state legislative and county-level seat in Montgomery County. This time around – other than the governor’s race – the Republicans were annihilated in every single contest. (This was one of the easiest predictions I have ever made!) Nancy Floreen’s business supporters were foolish to invest more than $1.2 million in her general election campaign for county executive. If they had instead spent that money in the primary, David Blair would have won.
5) The county executive general election was a disaster for the business community.
This statement applies not just because Floreen lost to Elrich. Indeed, some segments of the business community were unenthusiastic about Floreen due to her support of several major tax increases and various bills they disliked. The Realtors even went so far as to endorse Elrich. It was the development community that really got behind Floreen, and fairly or not, few in MoCo make much of a distinction between developers and the rest of the business community.
The major reason why the general election was a setback is how the conversation changed from the primary. During the primary, the need for economic development became a major issue along with the traditional top two issues, transportation and education. Politicians including county executive candidates Blair, Rose Krasnow and Bill Frick; County Council candidates Andrew Friedson, Marilyn Balcombe and Bill Conway; and House of Delegates candidate Leslie Milano talked frequently about economic development. This was a unique event in the recent history of county politics, in which “development” is typically subsumed to land use. Blair’s use of the issue brought him to the razor’s edge of victory.
All of that was washed away in the general election, in which the conversation changed to the age-old topics of developer money and union influence in politics. That was inevitable in a Floreen vs. Elrich race, especially when developers opened a super PAC to send negative mail against Elrich. Issues from the past, like the Intercounty Connector and the redevelopment of Silver Spring, were once again the subjects of political warfare while talk of MoCo’s future economic competitiveness was left by the wayside. When the issue of developer money in politics gets more attention than the economic challenges facing the county, the broader business community loses out. And now, the topic of conversation is not Elrich’s 77-vote margin in the primary; it’s the fact that he received 64 percent of the general election vote, which is roughly equal to the percentage received by Ike County Executive Ike Leggett four years ago. Now Elrich is claiming a mandate. By surrendering the progress on economic issues made during the primary, the architects of Floreen’s campaign have done the greater business community a disservice.
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.