Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Special Spy Report: Council At-Large

The County Council At-Large race may be the most unpredictable primary in the county. Over and over again, we have consulted our spy network for insights into how it will play out. But this time we are checking in with a truly special group of informants:

State legislative candidates.

Why are we asking them, do you ask?

First, perhaps even more than the council candidates, the folks running for state legislature are on the doors. They see who has signs up. They see what literature has been dropped. They attend many of the same events at which the council candidates show up – or don’t show up. And they hear who is being talked about and what is said. In the years between elections, the delegation and the council don’t know very much about each other. But right now, the political radar is up.

Second, politicians know politics. They can size up other candidates – their message, their logistical capabilities, their knack for the game – a lot better than can lay people. Asking politicians about other politicians is like asking bank robbers about lock picks.

Third, while some of the state legislative candidates have endorsed one or more council candidates, they are not truly invested in those choices. They are far enough removed to have a more impartial point of view of the council election than the council candidates or their supporters. Frankly, the delegation members assume that the council will be dysfunctional regardless of who gets elected!

That said, most of the state legislative candidates we asked about the council at-large race did not venture an opinion. They are QUITE busy now, as you might expect. But twelve of them did give us their take on a super-confidential basis. Some are incumbents and some are not. They come from all over the county. Here’s what they told us about which council at-large candidates will be elected.

State Spy #1:

Probably the four incumbents. The reason: the dead weight of inertia. If an incumbent loses I would say it would be Duchy. Hans is in the best position to take advantage of an opening because he comes from vote-rich District 20.

State Spy #2:

1st place will be Marc Elrich - for his caring, astute, in-depth analysis of every issue, he knows more about the issues before them than any other member. 2nd Nancy Floreen - President of the Council can’t hurt and she has worked with the community continually since on the council. 3rd George Leventhal - knows how to reach a consensus with Executive and council. 4th Becky Wagner - She was 5th until the NOW issue is forcing Duchy to the back of the pack. Becky is sharp, understands what is needed and how to get it.

State Spy #3:

I think right now that it’s Leventhal, Elrich, Riemer, Trachtenberg, in that order. Leventhal and Elrich have had good all-around campaigns, though Leventhal is weak on field and Elrich on mail. Riemer’s campaign has been strong all around, and he has rolled up a lot of vital endorsements. Trachtenberg squeaks in on incumbency and the Jewish vote, though for someone with as much money as her the campaign has been lackluster to say the least. My two cents: I think she’s so confident of re-election that she is saving her money for an Exec race in four years. There is no end to that woman’s ego...

State Spy #4:

1. George Leventhal - Has maximized incumbency to his advantage. High visibility over his 8 years in office and corresponding high name ID matters in low turnout races.

2. Marc Elrich - Won in 2006 without much institutional support. Marc has broadened his appeal over the past 4 years and has key institutional support this time around, including both the Post and the Apple Ballot.

3. Hans Riemer - The general dissatisfaction with the current Council will cause one incumbent to go down. With the Post and Apple Ballot endorsements and what looks like the best field operation/campaign amongst all the challengers, Riemer appears best positioned to capitalize.

4. Nancy Floreen - Stumbles to the finish line on the strength of high visibility serving this year as Council President and the other inherent advantages associated with having been an incumbent for 8 years.

State Spy #5:

Leventhal, Elrich, Riemer, Trachtenberg. As much of a tool as Leventhal is, he has a lot of support and it is pretty clear he is going to be first. Elrich also has a lot of support, as he has spent a lot of time in the last four years building grassroots support so that it would not take a lot of money to run for re-election. Riemer is a force of nature this year and frankly deserves it. I’m just guessing on the last one, but I don’t see Wagner knocking off Duchy, as much as I wouldn’t mind it.

State Spy #6:

George Leventhal - He publicly admitted regret about spending which is refreshing because voters don’t hear too often elected officials understanding their mistakes. Despite the “throw the bums out” feeling in the electorate, the challengers are a little lackluster. The Community Conversations over the summer were fairly popular and having mail in mailboxes before everyone else made him standout.

Marc Elrich - Has built the broadest coalition in the entire county. Not easy to do in a bad economy. When the teachers union, Post, developers and environmental groups support you, there's really no one else to go against you. People pay attention that he is everywhere in the county and genuinely listens to every point of view. Despite some disagreeing with his conclusions about various issues, everyone knows that his thought process is untainted.

Nancy Floreen - Knows how to consistently come in the top four. Her creative mailers get a few seconds of hesitation before they end up in the recycling.

Hans Riemer - The voters are going to want at least one new person. Becky Wagner is significantly more qualified and would be a great councilmember, but she’s a first time candidate going against some real pros. He is going to win because so many groups and elected officials are supporting his campaign and he has the field organization and mail plan to let every voting Democrat know it.

State Spy #7:

I would say Leventhal, Trachtenberg, Elrich, and it will be a close race for 4th between Wagner, Riemer, and Floreen. Definitely too close to call but I would say that Riemer pulls it out based on ground game.

I think that Trachtenberg and Leventhal win because of their incumbent status/name recognition. And though he has not sent many, Elrich’s mail is by far the best I have seen over here.

State Spy #8:

My two cents (which is all this is worth), is that Nancy, George and Marc will likely be reelected. I think the fourth will be Hans or Becky -- with an edge to Hans. Nancy is generally well liked and is seen on the “news” often -- so, despite the negative website and signs about her, I think she’ll be fine. For whatever reason, people like George and he campaigns very hard. He’s not my choice but he’s in touch with voters and I believe he’ll be reelected. I think Marc appeals to many people --- he comes across as honest and sincere, despite some recent criticism. As a newcomer, Hans is campaigning hard and is connecting with people. But I think Becky has come a long way in the past three weeks and has some traction.

State Spy #9:

The incumbents, because despite the anger towards and discontent in Rockville, I don’t think the voter anger is directed in a single direction. However, Duchy seems to be sitting on her huge campaign account and not sending out much mail. So, though I would bet a few dollars on the incumbents, I wouldn’t be too shocked if Riemer wins and Duchy loses.

State Spy #10:

Marc Elrich, because he’s calm and usually level-headed and may be the only grown-up on the Council

George Leventhal, because he’s everywhere--nobody loves his explosive personality but everybody respects his commitment

Duchy Trachtenberg--a serious legislator with a good sense of how to run and win, may finish 4th because of a late start

There will be a photo-finish recount between

Nancy Floreen--ubiquitous on the campaign trail but grating


Hans Riemer--who has targeted MoCo seniors very effectively with non-stop calls and mail about his AARP work which make him a real force in the race despite his failure to win the hearts of many local political activists

Leading to victory of Hans….

State Spy #11:

Being a pragmatist, I expect all four incumbents to return. All of them have significant bases of support and frankly no one has angered any of their base. While Duchy is sometimes irrational, the general public does not see it and they have no reason to vote against her. I was offended by her piece which bragged about how she beat up on the unions about the budget, but some people probably liked it.

Hans has run a fantastic campaign and he certainly has a great deal of support. If anyone can pull off an upset I think it is he, but I still think that it is a long shot.

State Spy #12:

Hans Riemer. Great field. Good mail. Has broad endorsements.

Becky Wagner. Has teachers and she is prominent in their mailers. Undercurrent of voter frustration against current council. She has tapped it.

Marc Elrich. No enemies. Has endorsements. For four years, has gone to events in all corners of the County. Of all at-large council members, I have seen him the most at various events. Has not really alienated business, has labor support, has environmental and civic group support. Will be low turnout election and many of his constituencies vote.

Slight edge to Leventhal over Floreen. I think both are seen as emblematic of problems with current council on multiple fronts. Though they have varying and good mix of endorsements, I have seen lack-luster campaigns that rely predominantly on mail and existing name recognition.

Duchy Trachtenberg is not going to win. Lackluster mail. Hardly at events throughout the county. She’ll do well in her corner of the county, but not very well in the rest of the county. I think she could have won had she run a stronger campaign. She did not frame for voters why she should get another 4 years. If her message is fiscal responsibility, no one knows it’s her message.

Our spies’ tally:

George Leventhal: 12 (unanimous)
Marc Elrich: 12 (unanimous)
Hans Riemer: 8
Nancy Floreen: 7
Duchy Trachtenberg: 7
Becky Wagner: 2