Thursday, December 10, 2009

Primaries to Watch Update, Part Three

By Marc Korman and Adam Pagnucco.

And now, the top three primaries in MoCo!

3. County Council At-Large
Prior rank: Fifth

This race is still largely unformed, but so far Becky Wagner, Guled Kassim, and Jane DeWinter have taken definitive steps towards running. One person who slipped through Adam’s survey of potential at-large candidates was former State Senator Ida Ruben. There are persistent rumors of her making a return to elected life with an at-large run.

There’s no question that the unions are shopping for at least one at-large challenger, with Duchy Trachtenberg the popular target. Becky Wagner appears to have broad teacher support based on some of the folks supporting and working for her, which given MCEA’s influence could be helpful.

It is worth noting that new Council President Nancy Floreen is an at-large member. She was the lowest winning vote getter in the 2006 primary (and the top vote getter in the general). The Council President is a high profile job and she obtained it in a high profile way. But given the budget deficit and difficult challenges ahead, her position may actually have a negative effect on her reelection. That said, at this point she is still a safe bet for re-election.

This race was at #5 in September. With stepped up activity by challengers, it has moved up the list in interest.

I heard rumors about Ida Ruben running for an at-large seat back in May while I was writing the Whispers of the At-Large Race series. But the spies said such mean things about her that I didn’t have the heart to print their remarks in the series. (And you know I’ve printed some pretty rough commentary from the spies in the past!) Even though the Gazette talked to Ruben in October, I see no evidence of an actual campaign going on. And I have heard no additional information about AFL-CIO Director of Civil Rights Roz Pelles, Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman, Delegate Ben Kramer or former District 4 candidates Cary Lamari and Chris Paladino. Robin Ficker is running for council, but he has not said whether he will run in District 4 or at-large.

The incumbents understand something that I’m not convinced all the challengers get: winning an at-large election in Montgomery County is extremely difficult. It takes vast sums of money just to build name recognition. All of the incumbents had attention-getting positions prior to their joining the council, and two of them (Marc Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg) ran unsuccessfully prior to getting elected. If you want to have a shot in this kind of race, you really need to bring it – especially since all four incumbents are running again.

Here’s a tidbit: I am hearing persistent rumors of a movement to draft former District 5 candidate Hans Riemer for an at-large run. Riemer, an Obama campaign staffer who has also served as a Board Member of Action Committee for Transit, received mostly favorable reviews from our informants in June. If he got in, he would be able to raise some national money, capitalize on both local and national campaign experience and likely run on a smart-growth platform. A Riemer candidacy could be a game-changer in the at-large race.

2. Congress District 4: Edwards vs. Taylor vs. Ivey
Prior rank: Sixth

Donna Edwards stormed into the 4th Congressional District primary in 2006 and won the hearts and minds of many active progressives. She brought that energy back and more in 2008 and cleaned the clock of incumbent Al Wynn. But something has gone sour and many people have grumbled about Edwards. In September, I referred to these as below the radar complaints and lots of flack from pro-business and pro-Israel interests. From my conversations, dissatisfaction with Edwards has grown among her constituents.

That dissatisfaction has led not only Delegate Herman Taylor to run against her, but also encouraged Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey to “explore” the race. That squeezes the incumbent in both counties she represents, though it could also mean the anti-Edwards vote is divided. A key indicator of how seriously Congresswoman Edwards takes these challenges may be her next campaign finance report. Last quarter she raised less than $40,000 and had just $55,000 cash on hand, anemic numbers for a House incumbent.

This race was on the list in September as #6, mentioned as Edwards vs. Taylor. With Delegate Taylor in the race and State’s Attorney Ivey moving in that direction, it has grown more interesting and moved up the list.

I have two questions about this contest.

1. How many votes can Glenn Ivey get in Montgomery County? In 2008, MoCo accounted for 32% of all votes cast in the District 4 Democratic primary. Edwards received 67% of the vote in MoCo and 55% of the vote in Prince George’s. It is impossible to overstate the strong dislike that most MoCo voters have for the Prince George’s County government and any politicians who are associated with it. The jailhouse killing scandal may be more damaging to Ivey in MoCo than it is in Prince George’s, which is where it occurred.

2. I have yet to find anyone who believes that Herman Taylor will win this seat, but which of the other candidates does his presence hurt more? Will he split the anti-Edwards vote with Ivey? Or will he take away MoCo votes from Edwards? He may not do much of either if he is unable to raise enough money to be competitive.

One more fact to consider is that the Democratic primary vote in Prince George’s is over 60% female. That is bound to help Edwards in a contest against two men.

1. District 17 State Senate
Prior rank: First

This remains the most visible challenge in the county. Cheryl Kagan is running hard against longtime incumbent Jennie Forehand. Kagan is running so hard compared to Forehand that some people do not even realize they are running against each other. Forehand is, by all accounts, organizing her most serious campaign ever and not showing any signs of withdrawing. But it is difficult for anyone to match Kagan’s energy and intensity. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what contrasts Kagan draws with the incumbent and how much money she has raised come January. Forehand has a long record with the voters and should have institutional support from Annapolis that will provide lots of resources.

Jennie Forehand has three problems. First, no one out-hops the Energizer Bunny. That is not knocking Forehand – it’s just that any rival would have problems keeping up with Kagan’s go-everywhere-at-all-times work ethic. Second, Forehand doesn’t know how to run a modern campaign. She has not had a quality challenger since she was a Delegate and her team edged out Luiz Simmons in 1986 and Susan Hoffmann in 1990. Forehand has never defeated a high-caliber opponent one-on-one – an unusual fact for a politician with such a long history. (Of course, Kagan has never run in a one-on-one race.) Third, if no challengers to the District 17 Delegates show up, are they really going to knock on doors all summer for Forehand? Something tells me that a character like Kumar “Bad Boy” Barve would be more likely to be found downing margaritas at the beach!

That said, Forehand has a decades-old base inside the district and an incumbent’s advantages can never be discounted. This remains a marquee contest that could go either way.

We’re not done yet. We have one small item of business left for later today!