Monday, June 08, 2009

Whispers of the At-Large Race, Part One

Just like the rest of you, we are finished with District 4 and ready to move on to the mother of all MoCo races: County Council at-large. Who’s running? Who may be running? Who could win? Who shouldn’t bother? We asked our immense spy network and boy, were they willing to dish it!

The County Council at-large race is fascinating for several reasons. First, it is the only race along with County Executive that covers the entire county. Not even Congressional candidates have to run in that much territory. Second, since there are four at-large County Council Members, voters can pick up to four candidates. The sort of conventional calculations of candidates taking votes away from each other don’t always work out the way they do in a one-seat race. The winning candidates often attract support from different groups in the county and can have vigorous disagreements after they take office. Third, the resources needed to run at-large draw in all of the county’s political factions: business, labor, civic activists, immigrants, municipal and state officials and more. Everybody gets sucked into the at-large race whether they want to be or not!

We believe all four incumbents are running for re-election. In February, we ranked their chances and have seen nothing to change our opinion since then.

George Leventhal

Leventhal finished first in the 2006 Democratic primary, had a greater cash balance than any other at-large incumbent and has been raising money ever since. He is supported by a broad coalition of business, labor, non-profit, immigrant and civic groups and increased his visibility by working to get Nancy Navarro elected. We still believe Leventhal will finish first in 2010.

Nancy Floreen

Floreen was left off the Apple Ballot in 2006 and finished fourth in the primary. Since then, she has rebuilt her ties to labor and has maintained her business base. She is raising money and also gave substantial aid to Navarro, which should give her additional support. Floreen is a dogged campaigner who should not be underestimated. We are picking her second.

Marc Elrich

Elrich finally won in his fifth County Council race as an Apple Ballot insurgent. His recipe for success combined his Downcounty base, labor support, civic support and backing from the slow-growth movement that was very active in 2006. Elrich has maintained his civic constituency but has not raised any money and has had ups and downs with labor. We believe he must pick up his fundraising and renew his ties with the public employee unions or he will face a challenging race for re-election. One complication for his finances is that he refuses all developer contributions.

Duchy Trachtenberg

Trachtenberg ran as a slow-growth, pro-labor progressive and rode the Apple Ballot to victory last time. She has five big problems. First, the slow-growth movement is not what it once was. Second, her labor record has probably burned away most of her union support. Third, she has not been raising money. Fourth, other than the GLBT community (which she helped as the champion of the transgender anti-discrimination law), no powerful faction in the county has an incentive to work hard for her re-election. Fifth, her hard work for Ben Kramer in the 2009 District 4 special election will not be forgotten by some progressives. She is the most vulnerable incumbent.

Incumbents usually don’t go down easy. But they do go down. In 2002, at-large Council Member Ike Leggett vacated his seat to become Chairman of the state Democratic Party. A ruthless onslaught by then-County Executive Doug Duncan and the business community ousted at-large incumbent Blair Ewing from office, producing two freshmen (Floreen and Leventhal). Four years later, at-large Council Member Steve Silverman left his seat to run unsuccessfully for County Executive. The slow-growth climate and MCEA’s decision to leave Floreen and incumbent Mike Subin off the Apple Ballot combined to again produce an incumbent loss (by Subin) and two freshmen (Elrich and Trachtenberg).

We believe that one or perhaps two at-large seats may turn over next year. And so we tapped our underground informant organization to evaluate the actual, potential and even the improbable challengers. But first we have a number of questions about important factors in the next race. We’ll ask those questions in Part Two.