Monday, July 12, 2010

Primaries to Watch IV, Part One

By Marc Korman and Adam Pagnucco.

Adam Pagnucco has been temporarily dragged out of retirement for another installment of Primaries to Watch. With the filing deadline behind us, the races are set for the September 14th primary.

Look folks, I am just as unhappy with the lack of mainstream media coverage of our council and state legislative primaries as you are, so I am going to help Marc with this series just this once. If there are any typos in my commentary, it means the Little Man has poured milk onto the keyboard. Off to the Top Ten most interesting primaries in MoCo!

Off the list:

District 39 Delegate Open Seat - There’s still plenty of action in District 39, but with Shane Robinson racking up endorsements, Bob Hydorn strong in Montgomery Village and the incumbents working hard, this is the calmest of the open Delegate seats. We only have ten slots and District 39 Delegate just does not make the cut.

10. Hopkins vs. Berliner
Prior Rank: #10

Ilaya Hopkins’ biggest coup since our last installment was securing the endorsement of Doug Duncan, still a strong name among Democratic primary voters. Berliner has taken Hopkins’ challenge seriously and they are both working the district hard. So far, the two have met for one debate which depending on who you talk to was a resounding victory for both candidates.

Berliner has done a good job of reminding folks about some of the good things he has done and has lined up lots of community support, got the Apple Ballot, and most recently was endorsed by the Washington Post. Hopkins has not needled Berliner as sharply as she probably needs to on some of his weak spots. She has the hot summer at door steps and at least two more debates to do so. As with most races, the next big milestone in this one will be the campaign finance reports. Hopkins is knocking on doors, but will she have the resources to compete with Berliner at the mailbox?

Full disclosure, I donated to Berliner in 2008 and serve on the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board with Hopkins.

Roger Berliner has run a classic incumbent campaign. First, he locked up a huge district resident supporter list a month before challenger Ilaya Hopkins announced. Next, he showed a cash balance of nearly $100,000 in his January campaign finance report. Then he began rolling out waves of endorsements. All of this persuaded MCEA to put him on the Apple Ballot because they figured he was going to win.

Ilaya Hopkins is not a bad candidate. To the contrary – she was one of the district’s most prominent civic activists and had a good deal of potential six months ago. But there’s nothing that most challengers can do when an incumbent without an obvious problem executes the above strategy as well as Berliner has. A challenger in Hopkins’ position has three choices: withdraw, run a polite campaign with an eye on the future, or go negative in a long shot to win. Hopkins appears to have picked the third option as she has hit Berliner again and again and even went after one of his supporters on her website. Adding to Hopkins’ problems is the impending mail barrage by District 16 Delegate candidates that will bury her literature under piles of other candidates’ pieces. Now that the Post has endorsed Berliner, this race is almost over.

9. Council District 2 Open Seat
Prior Rank: None

District 2 has seen a lot of action the past few weeks. The district went from a rematch between Sharon Dooley and Mike Knapp to a face-off between Delegate Craig Rice and Dooley, his former supporter. Now the race has been shaken up by the entry of two-time former Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson.

Each candidate has their strengths. Dooley has run for the seat before and knows the district well. Rice won a tough election in 2006 and picked up a lot of institutional support before Hanson got into the race, including the Apple Ballot. Hanson has some name ID, will have no trouble raising money, won the Post’s endorsement and will be an ace on development issues.

Now the weaknesses. Dooley may have topped out in the “slow growth” year of 2006 with around 35%. Rice won in 2006 on a Democratic wave and had poor fundraising. Hanson has not run for office since the 1960s and may not be prepared for a grassroots, door to door campaign.

Watching this one shake out will be great fun for political junkies all summer. One key issue will be whether Hanson comes off as a responsible, experienced voice or someone bitter and dismissive of his former bosses on the County Council.

Full disclosure, I donated to Rice’s Delegate campaign.

Royce Hanson is the most intriguing candidate in the county. He has not run for office since he lost to Charlie Gilchrist in the 1978 County Executive Democratic primary. Hanson is a living legend: the father of the Ag Reserve, the inventor of many of the county’s planning tests and procedures and arguably the leading advocate of smart growth (though some disagree over how that is defined). But there are so many questions. Will Hanson hit the doors? Where will his fundraising come from? What will his message be? What does he believe about non-land use issues? If he is elected, how will he get along with a County Executive and a County Council that he frequently disagreed with as Planning Chair? Will any of the county officials with whom he fought try to block him from being elected?

Delegate Craig Rice is a good campaigner with lots of endorsements. His state Legislative District (15) accounts for at least a third of Council District 2. But he is not a great fundraiser, does not know nearly as much about the county as Hanson and the candidacy of Poolesville Commission President Eddie Kuhlman could peel away some District 15 votes. Rice will have to work hard to beat Hanson. Sharon Dooley is a veteran civic activist who works hard for her community and on behalf of progressive causes. She has always had trouble raising money and now Hanson’s candidacy threatens to draw away a great deal of her environmentalist support.

More tomorrow!