Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Kagan Sweetens Up District 17

We don’t normally pay attention to many fundraisers. But this one is newsworthy since it is a harbinger of the most competitive Senate race in the county so far in this cycle.

Former Delegate Cheryl Kagan, who is challenging incumbent Senator Jennie Forehand, sent out this sugar-coated fundraising invitation. Check out the people on her 158-member host committee.

For us, the names that jump out are Montgomery County Council Members Nancy Floreen, Mike Knapp and Valerie Ervin, former Senator (and Forehand predecessor) Mary Boergers (D-17), former Delegate Gene Counihan (D-39), career Fire Fighters President John Sparks, Council Member George Leventhal’s Chief of Staff Patty Vitale, former (and perhaps future) County Council candidate Hans Riemer, former Board of Education Member (and former Republican) Steve Abrams, former MCDCC Chairman Stan Gildenhorn and Somerset Mayor Jeff Slavin, a major player in the GLBT community and a prominent supporter of Nancy Navarro. Absent are any sitting state legislators or current members of the Rockville or Gaithersburg City Councils, though few would expect them to take sides against an incumbent Senator. As for Valerie Ervin, we hear that she has given money to both Kagan and Forehand and is not endorsing either of them.

Last February, we ranked Senator Forehand as the Montgomery state legislator who most needed to do more to get ready for 2010. Kagan raised a net $20,634.69 last year – far more than any other potential challenger – and started 2009 with $44,224.76 in the bank. Forehand had $71,044.34 but only raised $4,705.66 net. Kagan is making it clear that she will have more than enough money to be competitive and has already assembled an impressive supporter list.

For weeks, one hot rumor held that Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-17) might also challenge Forehand, making this contest a three-way race. Our most recent information indicates that all four District 17 incumbents (Forehand, Simmons and Delegates Kumar Barve and Jim Gilchrist) will run as a slate. That is good news for Forehand, who will need help fending off her extraordinarily energetic challenger.

One observer who is closely watching the race offered this:

It's very interesting that certain high-profile electeds were willing to endorse her this early against a sitting Dem senator, particularly the County Council members (Knapp, Floreen, Ervin, etc.). It's no secret that many of us dislike Forehand and find her ineffectual, but it's suprising that they would say so publicly. To be fair, Forehand has generally voted the right way on most votes in Annapolis, unlike the Ida Ruben/Jamie Raskin race, where Ruben could be pegged as more conservative. And kicking her out would be a blow to MoCo's seniority in the Senate. If Cheryl can make this the next Ruben/Raskin race, she's in good shape, but I think she faces a different climate in a post-Bush world where Dems are generally running the show now, and change is already here. The "we need change" mantra rings a tad hollow after '06 and '08. It's sort of hopping on the bandwagon too late.

I would have thought that electeds would try to be cautious on this one. It's not clear that Cheryl can win. People need a reason to vote against Jennie. And Cheryl, despite being smart and organized, can really rub people the wrong way with her aggressive, brash style. So, all that being said, I am surprised so many electeds and certain well-known D-17 activists agreed to lend their names to this flyer -- especially when we are well over a year away from the primary. I think it bodes well for her that she has "locked them in" so early. But I don't know if it will translate into votes. We'll see. I also worry that Cheryl could "peak too early" at this rate, leaving little excitement and momentum left for summer 2010. On the other hand, this early show of strong support for Cheryl might cause Jennie to think twice about retirement (sort of another Len Teitelbaum situation), since Jennie surely isn't capable of performing well at debates or of doing any door-knocking. I am hearing that the unions will stick with Jennie because she is an incumbent, is reliable, and generally votes the right way.

I'd like to know what Knapp, Ervin, Floreen, and other bigwigs on the host committee have to say about why there are supporting Cheryl this early on.

Another thought - the demographics of D-17 have shifted dramatically in recent years. To the extent that Jennie has a voting bloc, it's the older voters. Of course, they are the ones most likely to turn out for a primary in 2010, but D-17 isn't the sleepy place it was 20 years ago, and Jennie hasn't had a challenger in many years.
And one of our most intelligent spies said this about Kagan’s fundraiser:

I think that it serves as a wake up call for Sen. Forehand to kick it into gear and not take Cheryl for granted. Before Cheryl gains any traction or momentum, Sen. Forehand needs to demonstrate that she still believes she has a lot to offer to her constituents and State of Maryland. I believe that Sen. Forehand does have a long list of accomplishments to point to and is generally well liked and regarded. But in politics, I think it is equally, if not more, important to talk about what you will do for your constituents and the state going forward in the future as well. This is something Sen. Forehand needs to effectively convey now - her vision and agenda going forward. And she needs to demonstrate a broad and deep base of support with a host committee of her own or by some other means, all of which I currently think she can do. There is still plenty of time to go!
Yes there is, folks. And you can bet we will be watching!