By Lou Peck
Despite a nationwide and statewide tide running in favor of the Republicans, Democrats maintained a lock on the 32-member Montgomery County state legislative delegation Tuesday – while turning back several Republican challengers who had been touted as upset possibilities.
In Bethesda-based District 16, the endorsement of the Washington Post and an aggressive fundraising effort failed to translate into an electoral breakthrough for Rose Li, a former National Institutes of Health official who now runs her own consulting firm. While Li was running ahead of two other District 16 GOP delegate contenders who mounted little more than token campaigns, she was trailing the members of the victorious Democratic ticket – incumbents Bill Frick and Ariana Kelly and newcomer Marc Korman – by more than a 3-2 margin with more than 80 percent of the vote reporting.
In District 14, which covers the eastern part of the county, businessman Frank Howard – who also had the Post endorsement against Democratic Sen. Karen Montgomery – was losing by a 58-42 percent margin despite an aggressive campaign effort. The same held true in Potomac-based District 15 for Ernest (Ed) Edmundson, a businessman and entrepreneur who poured nearly $40,000 into a largely self-funded campaign. Edmundson was running even with two other Republican delegate candidates, well behind the incumbent delegate slate of Democrats Kathleen Dumais, David Fraser-Hidalgo, and Aruna Miller.
Edmundson, Howard and Li all sought to borrow a page from the playbook of victorious GOP gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan – focusing on economic issues while putting distance between themselves and prevailing Republican orthodoxy on social issues. Li brought in Hogan, as well as former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, to help raise money for her campaign. While calling for corporate tax cuts to improve the business climate in Maryland, all three said they would have supported same sex marriage had they been in the General Assembly.
Li also echoed Democratic complaints that Montgomery County was getting only 20 cents for every dollar it sent to Annapolis, and argued this trend would not change with an all-Democratic county delegation.
The current delegation “doesn’t have credible political cover to say [to Democratic leaders in Annapolis] ‘Hey, if we don’t vote for our county, we could lose our seat’,” Li contended in an interview last month. “Nobody believes that -- because all the current delegation is Democratic.”
Overall, the 32-member Montgomery County delegation that is seated in Annapolis in January will feature seven new faces due to retirement or runs for higher office by their predecessors.
In District 16, veteran Del. Susan Lee easily defeated Republican Meyer Marks to move up the state Senate. She succeeds long-time Sen. Brian Frosh, elected as Maryland’s attorney general. Lee, who is Chinese-American, also will be the first minority group member ever to represent Montgomery County in the Maryland Senate.
In District 17, which covers Rockville and Gaithersburg, former Del. Cheryl Kagan dispensed of Republican Steve Zellers to return to Annapolis as a state senator; she served in the House of Delegates from 1994-2002. She succeeds veteran state Sen. Jennie Forehand, who is retiring.
In an odd twist, signs appeared around District 17 Tuesday promoting a write-in vote for Del. Luiz Simmons, who lost a bitter race for the Senate nomination to Kagan in the June primary. But, because the necessary certificate was not filed with the state Board of Elections by last week’s deadline for authorizing write-in campaigns, any write-in votes that Simmons receives will not factor into the official results, according to state and local election officials.
Sen. Brian Feldman, D-15, appointed last year to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of then-Sen. Rob Garagiola, defeated gadfly and perennial candidate Robin Ficker by a more than 3-2 margin to win a full Senate term. Feldman previously had been elected to three terms in the House of Delegates, beginning in 2002. Through mid-October, Ficker had pumped nearly $150,000 of his own money into the Fickers for 15 slate, an effort to not only elect him to the Senate but also to garner one of the district’s three delegate seats for his son, Flynn.
In addition to Feldman, Kagan, Lee and Montgomery, the county Senate delegation will include returning Sens. Richard Madaleno D-18, Roger Manno, D-19, Jamie Raskin, D-20, and Nancy King, D-39. Except for Manno, none of them had opponents on Tuesday’s ballot.
King, a Montgomery Village resident, is expected to be chosen this week as the new chair of the county’s Senate delegation, succeeding Raskin, who lives in Takoma Park. Raskin is hoping to be tapped in the coming weeks to chair the powerful Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, a post held by Frosh for more than a decade.
Besides Korman, the new faces on the county’s House of Delegates contingent will include former congressional aide Andrew Platt in District 17; Marice Morales, a former aide to Manno, in District 19; and long-time political operative David Moon and former Obama administration official Will Smith in District 20. The addition of Moon, Morales and Smith means that 10 members of the county’s new legislative delegation – nearly one-third – will be members of minority groups, including five Asian-Americans, three Hispanic-Americans, and two African-Americans.
In a county in which the Democrats enjoy a nearly 3-1 registration advantage, the Republicans had ceded many of the General Assembly contests as of the February filing deadline. The GOP failed to put up opponents for almost half – 14 – of the available slots. Another half-dozen Republicans mounted little more than nominal campaigns, filing affidavits with the state Board of Elections indicating they did not intend to raise or spend more than $1,000 on their campaigns.
In two jurisdictions, District 18 – extending from Chevy Chase through Kensington and Wheaton to Silver Spring – and Silver Spring/Takoma Park-based District 20, the Republicans did not file a single state legislative candidate. In those districts, Democrats enjoy registration advantages of 4-1 and 7-1, respectively.
By comparison, in Districts 14 and 15, extending across the more rural northern section of the county, the number of Democrats are roughly equaled by the combined registration of Republican and unaffiliated voters. The latter group has been regarded as receptive to Republican messages, particularly on the economy, but also have tended to vote more frequently in presidential elections than in off-year contests.
Going into Tuesday’s election, District 15, which stretches from the outskirts of Bethesda through Potomac north to the Frederick County line, was the last Montgomery County jurisdiction to elect a Republican to the state Legislature – in 2002. Since then, the Democrats have been bolstered in that district by a combination of demographic changes and redistricting.
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