Thursday, July 15, 2010

Primaries to Watch IV, Part Four

By Marc Korman and Adam Pagnucco.

Here are races Four and Three!

4. Council At-Large
Previous Rank: #4

For a race with all four incumbents running, there is a lot of action here. With the filing deadline behind us, there are six challengers. Of the six, I would argue that at this point only two are serious contenders to knock off an incumbent: Hans Riemer and Becky Wagner. Both are running hard campaigns all around the County and secured the Apple Ballot. Riemer also nabbed the Post endorsement. Jane de Winter has also been running for fifteen months and working hard.

But the real question is whether any incumbent is actually vulnerable. Nancy Floreen was the loser in the Apple Ballot sweepstakes, but she has won without it twice before. Duchy Trachtenberg seems to be a popular target, but she has $350,000 which pays for a lot of mail. Marc Elrich will probably have the least money, but he has strong grassroots support and candidates in every race are praising his Bus Rapid Transit plan. The Apple Ballot and Post stamp of approval help his profile too. George Leventhal, the primary vote leader in 2006, seems to be the favorite for that slot again. Even the Washington Post gave him some praise while declining to endorse him, a courtesy they did not extend to many others they did not support.

There are some great challengers, but who are they going to beat?

Full disclosure, I am a public supporter of Hans Riemer.

The last assessment by the spies still mostly holds. There is a significant sentiment that all four incumbents will win. There are also those who think that Hans Riemer will beat one of them, although educated observers differ on whether Duchy Trachtenberg or Nancy Floreen is more vulnerable. Riemer is running the best campaign of any candidate and he is flying high because he and incumbent Marc Elrich are the only at-large contenders to get both the Apple Ballot and the Post endorsement. Becky Wagner has a lot of respect in some quarters of the county and still has an outside shot as long as she stays on message and avoids spats and rants. The Post is trying to pin all the county’s budget problems on incumbent George Leventhal, but the newspaper by itself cannot prevent him from coming back. We have noticed that the incumbents mainly bring their families or their council staffers to parades and other events, meaning that their ground games are not awesomely strong.

There are various phenomena operating just under the surface in the at-large campaign. They include:

1. The Possibility of Slates.
Last fall, many speculated that the Council Members who backed Nancy Floreen for President (Floreen, George Leventhal, Mike Knapp, Valerie Ervin and Nancy Navarro) might form a slate and try to knock out one of the other four. That idea was dashed by Ervin when she announced that challenger Hans Riemer was the only at-large candidate she would be backing. Now it seems more likely that at least some of the other four council incumbents – Roger Berliner, Phil Andrews, Duchy Trachtenberg and Marc Elrich – will be cooperating formally or informally. If they do, one of their priorities will be ensuring that Elrich, who refuses developer contributions, will have enough money to finance his mail. They may also choose to back an at-large challenger if they can find one who is both viable and politically acceptable.

2. Target: Floreen
Accordingly, some or all of the above four may go after Floreen. None of them agree with her on growth policy, none were impressed with her handling of the budget and all were unhappy at her successful wresting of the council presidency from Berliner. Now that she has been rejected by MCEA, some smell blood in the water. We have heard from multiple sources that there is a significant possibility that Floreen will be targeted by negative mail, either by a slate including one or more of the four who did not back her for the presidency or by an “independent” entity supported by them. Since Andrews has no opponent, Berliner is pulling away from Hopkins and Trachtenberg has more money than several regional banks, there is more than enough campaign cash to spare for a mailer or two against Floreen. Leventhal is not viewed as vulnerable enough for such tactics to have effect.

3. County Executive 2014
In part, the at-large race will be affected by the dynamics of the impending contest to succeed Ike Leggett in 2014. Leventhal is likely to run. Ervin would be foolish not to consider it, and she is no fool. There may be others. If Leventhal finishes first and Riemer does not win, Leventhal will project early strength for the Executive race. If Riemer wins with strong support from District 5 and non-white precincts, Ervin will look like a king-maker. If Riemer scores close to Leventhal or even outpolls him, Ervin will look even more formidable. But if Marc Elrich finishes first, his name will be bandied about. Trust us: all capable politicians think more than one step ahead, and the County Executive’s seat is a big step indeed.

3. District 17 State Senate
Previous Rank: #1

The rumor is that Jennie Forehand has begun to work, but what took her so long? Why let Cheryl Kagan get such a head start when the challenger has been open about her campaign for over a year? If Forehand loses, I think the post-mortem on her campaign will focus on the past year and Forehand’s failure to understand she was facing a serious threat. A similar scenario has unfolded in District 39. On the other hand, if Forehand pulls out a victory it will demonstrate the power of incumbency and slates.

Cheryl Kagan has the complete package for a candidate: smarts, savvy, charm, speaking ability, experience in campaigning and office-holding, work ethic and a methodical approach to the business of politicking. She is the kind of challenger that would pose problems for any incumbent and is running perhaps the best campaign in the county. But she has a conundrum to resolve: how to give voters a reason to get rid of Forehand. The incumbent is a pleasant, gracious and long-serving politician who has built up a base among regular, older voters who tend to dominate primaries with low turnout. Kagan has not tried to build a contrast with Forehand. It’s tricky given that the two have similar policy positions and no one wants to come across as beating up the nice grandmotherly lady next door.

If Forehand lets Kagan continue to hustle rings around her, she will lose. But if she picks it up, she could still survive.

We reveal the final two tomorrow!