Four Takeaways From the Montgomery County Democratic Primary Election

The different coalitions of Blair and Elrich; several publicly financed candidates won; Trone spent more than $ 400 of his own money per vote


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Signs at the early voting location in Chevy Chase

Andrew Metcalf

1. Marc Elrich and David Blair cobbled together different coalitions to best their four other opponents – We likely won’t know until next week whether Potomac businessman David Blair or County Council member Marc Elrich of Takoma Park won the Democratic primary for county executive.

But we do know they used different approaches to attract voters. Blair spent about $3 million of his own money to promote his business experience as the CEO of the pharmacy benefit management company Catalyst Health Solutions as well as his plans to kickstart the county’s economy. His messaging was able to overwhelm the efforts of other pro-growth candidates such as council member Roger Berliner and former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow, both experienced politicians. Blair, a first-time politician, previously told The Washington Post he identifies his base as residents who recognize “that a healthy community needs a vibrant, growing business community.”

Elrich meanwhile focused on the county’s need to upgrade infrastructure as it develops to handle an influx of families and traffic. He 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. His votes against several county master plans—including the recently approved Downtown Bethesda Plan—earned him criticism from smart-growth advocates, but support from residents who believe the county is overdeveloping at a rapid rate.

 

2. Public campaign financing played a major role in county races – The county’s public campaign financing system helped several candidates win races this year. All four Democratic at-large County Council nominees—Hans Riemer, Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Gabe Albornoz—used the system to win the Democratic primary, as did incumbent district council members Sidney Katz and Nancy Navarro. Elrich also used the system to fund his campaign.

Public financing requires candidates to accept contributions of $150 or less that are later matched with multiples of county funds. In the council races, the publicly funded candidates were mostly able to outraise their opponents who used traditional financing and could accept contributions up to $6,000 from each individual.

Public financing also prevented the candidates who opted to use the voluntary system from accepting money from candidate committees, PACs or businesses.

Phil Andrews, the former council member who spent more than a decade working to put the system in place before it was finally approved in 2014, said he believes the system worked to reduce the amount of money from special interest in county campaigns. He also said it has transformed how county candidates campaign by forcing them to spend more time with more residents to try to land more small-dollar donations—rather than extended time with one special interest to land one big donation.

“I think public financing is off to a good start in terms of the use of it by many candidates and the success of many candidates who used it,” Andrews said. He noted that a majority of the council, as long as the Democratic nominees can fend off Republican challengers in the general election, will have used the system and are likely to support it in the future.

As of the beginning of June, candidates received about $3.3 million in public campaign funds, out of the $11 million budgeted for the 2018 election cycle. Candidates who used the system in the primary can restart and use it again in the general election, which may add another $2 million or so to the total cost of public financing in the election, Andrews estimated.

 

3. It was not the year of the woman in Montgomery County – Besides incumbent district council member Nancy Navarro, no other woman won a race for County Council this year. That means the next council will be composed of eight men and one woman.

Marilyn Balcombe, who finished fifth, topped the field of 11 Democratic women that were among the field of 33 vying for four at-large seats on the council in the primary.

In the Democratic county executive primary, Rose Krasnow, who emphasized her gender during campaign forums and when she kicked off her campaign, finished third. She did, however, garner more votes than three of her male opponents—Roger Berliner, George Leventhal and Bill Frick.

In the District 1 County Council race, Andrew Friedson beat out a field that included three politically experienced women—Meredith Wellington, Ana Sol Gutierrez and Reggie Oldak.

At-large council member Nancy Floreen, who must step down due to term limits and along with Navarro is one of two women who served the past four years on the council, said the results for women candidates were “terrible.”

“It’s obvious the women in Montgomery County aren’t on the same team,” Floreen said. “We’re going to have a council now with just one woman on it—that’s a real step backward for us.”

 

4. Trone spent about $450 per vote to win the Democratic Congressional District 6 primary – Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone won the Democratic nomination for Rep. John Delaney’s District 6 seat, but it cost him. Trone had contributed about $10.3 million to his campaign as of mid-June and netted about 22,800 votes—about 5,500 more than second-place finisher state Del. Aruna Miller (D-Darnestown). That works out to Trone spending about $450 per vote to win.

The businessman also spent $13.3 million on his losing effort to win the District 8 Congressional primary in 2016, when Rep. Jamie Raskin prevailed. That amount set a new record for the top self-funded House candidate in history. He may top that, however, this year once more campaign spending reports are filed and reveal his spending in the final days of the primary.

Trone won partly by generating support from counties in northern and western Maryland. Miller drew more votes than him in Montgomery County—13,497 to his 12,546—but he outpaced her by about 6,000 votes in Allegany, Frederick, Garrett and Washington counties. Trone now faces Republican Amie Hoeber in the general election.

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