Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where are the District County Council Challengers?

We have written extensively about the At-Large County Council race. But what about the District County Council elections?

Sadly for us but happily for the incumbents, there’s not very much to report.

At first glance, it should be easier for challengers to overthrow County Council incumbents in the county’s five districts for one simple reason: it is cheaper to run in a district than at-large. But that has not helped recent district challengers. The only two district incumbents who were thrown out in the last two cycles were Republicans unseated by Democrats: District 1’s Howard Denis, who was defeated by Roger Berliner in 2006, and District 2’s Nancy Dacek, who was defeated by Mike Knapp in 2002. All of the Democratic incumbents who were challenged won.

Here are the Democratic primary statistics for all district seats held by Democratic incumbents from the last two cycles.

2006 Cycle

District 2 (Upcounty): Incumbent Mike Knapp vs. Sharon Dooley
Vote Percentage: Knapp 63.8%, Dooley 36.2%
Contributions: Knapp $213,547, Dooley $16,339

District 3 (Rockville/Gaithersburg): Incumbent Phil Andrews vs. Bob Dorsey
Vote Percentage: Andrews 75.9%, Dorsey 24.1%
Contributions: Andrews $98,298, Dorsey $25,570

District 4 (East County): Incumbent Marilyn Praisner vs. Mike Jones
Vote Percentage: Praisner 79.9%, Jones 20.1%
Contributions: Praisner $52,326, Jones filed no reports

District 5 (Silver Spring/Takoma Park/Kensington): Open Seat

2002 Cycle

District 3: Incumbent Phil Andrews vs. Bob Dorsey
Vote Percentage: Andrews 53.6%, Dorsey 46.4%
Contributions: Andrews $75,173, Dorsey $68,072

District 4: Incumbent Marilyn Praisner vs. Steve Joseph
Vote Percentage: Praisner 80.2%, Joseph 19.8%
Contributions: Praisner $27,739, Joseph $42,942

District 5: Open Seat

Averages, District County Council Seats Held by Democratic Incumbents, 2002 and 2006

Vote Percentage: Incumbents 70.7%, Challengers 29.3%
Contributions: Incumbents $93,417, Challengers $30,585

The only competitive district race in the last two cycles was incumbent Phil Andrews’ 2002 win over Bob Dorsey in District 3, which includes Rockville and Gaithersburg. Dorsey was a Rockville City Council Member who ran as part of County Executive Doug Duncan’s End Gridlock slate. Andrews survived twelve(!) pro-Dorsey mailings and numerous negative attacks in part because he was endorsed by MCEA. (My, how times change.) None of the other challengers had any significant institutional support. The only Democratic district incumbent to lose in 1998 was District 3’s Bill Hanna, who was driven out by none other than Andrews.

The winning recipe for district incumbents is straightforward: pay attention to constituent service, earn the support of community leaders around the district, wrap up important endorsements and raise more money than the opponent(s). All of that sucks up the oxygen needed by any challenger. At-large elections are more complicated since they are four-person round robins. Lots more factors count in those contests, including incumbent-on-incumbent rivalries. Both the 2002 and 2006 races featured one open at-large seat and one defeated incumbent, producing two at-large freshmen.

Currently, the district races do not look as interesting as the at-large contest. No incumbent has a confirmed challenger yet. Here’s what we are hearing.

District 1, Incumbent Roger Berliner
East Bethesda civic leader Ilaya Hopkins is exploring a challenge. We sized up this potential race last month.

District 2, Incumbent Mike Knapp
Knapp may not run for re-election. If he does, he may face civic activist Sharon Dooley again. Dooley lost to Knapp by 28 points in 2006. If Knapp does not seek to return, Gaithersburg/Germantown Chamber of Commerce CEO Marilyn Balcombe and Dooley seem certain to run, and there may be other candidates.

District 3
We reported rumors that former Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo was a possible candidate for this seat a year ago, but have heard nothing since. Phil Andrews may run unopposed.

District 4
Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) is still smarting from his special election loss to Nancy Navarro in the spring of 2009. Kramer never conceded the race and never endorsed Navarro against Republican Robin Ficker. He may seek to challenge Navarro again. If so, he will likely be supported by at-large incumbent Duchy Trachtenberg, who lost her chance to become Council Vice-President in 2010 and Council President in 2011 because of Navarro’s election. The last Navarro-Kramer contest was a bitter affair culminating in multiple negative mailers by Navarro against Kramer. A rematch would see no quarter given by either side.

District 5
Incumbent Valerie Ervin has no rivals on the horizon. She could very well be a kingmaker in the at-large race. Many suitors will no doubt seek her support.

If anything changes, we’ll be sure to let you know!