Thursday, September 02, 2010

Primaries to Watch V, Part Four

By Marc Korman and Adam Pagnucco.

Here are races Four and Three!

4. District 17 State Senate
Previous Rank: #3

Shortly after Adam christened this race the “classiest” in Montgomery County, fireworks started to fly with Cheryl Kagan aggressively going after incumbent Jennie Forehand over a missed death penalty vote. The issue is a bit of a political trapeze act for Kagan (where exactly does she stand on the death penalty?), but absenteeism is an effective campaign tactic.

Forehand is out working now and if she can remind voters who she is and that they really have no issue with her, she could still be able to beat back a really aggressive challenge by Kagan. One potential twist I have heard, though from Forehand supporters, is that much of Kagan’s effort has been a mirage and she did not have nearly the head start in the field she claimed before the filing deadline. Even if that were true, she was definitely raising funds and meeting with lots of groups and individuals long before July.

Kagan has rolled the dice by sending out no fewer than three negative mailers hitting Forehand. The issues they discuss are fair game: missed votes and a bad vote to pass the hated computer tax. But Jennie “Grandma” Forehand is a difficult target for negative campaigning and this state legislative district has not seen negative mail before.

Here’s the case made by Forehand’s supporters. The district has no other contests of note – no County Council district race, no Delegate race and no top-of-the-ballot races. That means turnout will be very low and will consist mainly of long-time voters who have been supporting Forehand for decades. That is a bad environment for any challenger and gives Forehand a leg up. I was skeptical of that case given that for many months Forehand was running a non-campaign and Kagan was everywhere.

But Kagan’s negative mail changes the dynamic. She has given Forehand’s supporters a reason to get mad and come out. Whether they can be offset by a wave of new voters demanding the sort of activist representation that could be provided by Kagan is a big question. Kagan is a very bright candidate and she may well have decided to go negative because she had some evidence that Forehand would pull out a positive vs. positive campaign. There is a rumor floating around that a recent poll showed Forehand getting 60% support and perhaps that influenced Kagan’s thinking. One more factor is at play here: Forehand has the Apple Ballot and Kagan has the Post endorsement. Is that a wash or not?

A majority of our informants had been picking Kagan to win, but recent events have changed this race and the turnout argument on behalf of Forehand is a good one. I have changed my position from leaning towards Kagan to favoring her by the most narrow of margins.

3. Council At-Large
Previous Rank: #4

I think the only options here are for the four incumbents to return or Hans Riemer to knock one of them off. Beating incumbents is difficult and only Riemer seems to have the funds and organization right now to do it.

All of the incumbents, except maybe Marc Elrich, seem to have some block of voters or organized interest working against them. But instead of helping Riemer, that could just lead to all four coming back. The math is hard in a pick four race.

Full disclosure, I have donated to and volunteered for Hans Riemer.

Here’s an odd fact: since the current council configuration of five district seats and four at-large seats was established in 1990, the four at-large incumbents have never run for reelection. Every race since then has had at least one open seat. Two at-large incumbents have been defeated: freshman Blair Ewing in 2002, who was targeted by Doug Duncan’s End Gridlock slate, and five-term incumbent Mike Subin in 2006, who was excluded from the Apple Ballot and did not campaign. So there is no real precedent for what we are witnessing this year.

I’ve written a lot about this race. My picks are George Leventhal to finish first, Marc Elrich to finish second and Nancy Floreen to finish fourth. The wild cards are Duchy Trachtenberg, who has tons of money, few endorsements and no campaign expertise, and challenger Hans Riemer. Either of them could finish anywhere from third to fifth.

Riemer has a decent chance to win. Look at the ingredients of a successful campaign. Endorsements: he has plenty, including the Post and the Apple. Money: he has plenty. Ground game: his is the best in the field. Name recognition: nope, not yet, and that’s his problem. If low turnout emphasizes incumbent name recognition, then no previously little-known challenger can break through. But if campaign skill, endorsements, money and field operations mean anything, Riemer will go to Rockville.

So if he wins, who would he replace? I don’t think it will be Leventhal or Elrich. Trachtenberg has lots of problems and Floreen has a few of them. And many of our smartest spies are saying all the incumbents will come back.

Putting it all together, I think there is a 50% chance that all the incumbents will be reelected, a 30% chance that Riemer displaces Trachtenberg and a 20% chance that he displaces Floreen. Council at-large races have a history of tight finishes so this could all come down to a couple hundred votes.

We’ll have the Final Two tomorrow!