Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Why Incumbents Lose, Part Three

What explains the handful of incumbent losses in Montgomery County since 1994? Here’s another reason that applies to some races.

Lazy Incumbents

Now we know that Annapolis is a great place to sit back and gain weight, but incumbents should not get fat and happy in their districts. Otherwise, they might wind up like these former officeholders.

Democratic Senator Larry Levitan (D-15), Defeated in 1994 by Republican Jean Roesser

Levitan was a five-term powerhouse in Annapolis. He thought that would help him coast to victory against a Republican challenger in a swing district. It didn’t.

Spy: While this outcome was no doubt primarily attributable to the Republican tidal wave of ‘94, the other reality is that Levitan didn’t do anything to help himself, including actually campaigning for the seat.

Spy: Like many powerful incumbents, Larry - who chaired the Budget & Taxation Committee - grew lazy and complacent and took his constituents for granted. 1994 was a watershed Republican year in which Newt Gingrich took control of the Congress and disappointment with the failed Clinton health plan made Democrats apathetic. District 15 has more Republican and Independent voters than most other districts and was ready for the Republican message of change.

Spy: Larry got lazy. Took the race for granted, despite a TON of us pleading with him. Thought B&T would protect him. It didn’t. He now makes $$$$ as a lobbyist.

Council Member William Hanna (D-3), Defeated in 1998 by Phil Andrews

Four-term incumbent Bill Hanna was Vice-President in an election year, about to become Council President for a record fourth time. But insurgent Phil Andrews had other ideas.

Spy: The young, hard working, door knocking challenger with the Common Cause background defeats the older, blustery, somewhat out of touch incumbent. This was a match-up of opposites in more sense than one: political philosophy (yes, Phil used to be more liberal), campaign style (Hanna didn’t campaign) and unions (in those days, Phil was a friend of the unions).

Spy: Tireless methodical campaigner beats grouchy old guy (who does not campaign at all). This is what would happen between Kagan and Forehand if Forehand does not door knock (she will door knock, however).

Delegate Leon Billings (D-18), Defeated in 2002

Billings was appointed to replace his wife shortly after she was re-elected in 1994. In 1998, he benefitted from a united incumbent slate that was challenged only by school board member Ana Sol Gutierrez, who finished a distant fourth. In 2002, Delegate Sharon Grosfeld ran for Senate, causing a ton of quality challengers to get in for the open seat. Billings, who had never won a tight race before, was knocked out by Gutierrez and county government staffer Rich Madaleno.

In addition to never being much of a campaigner, Billings was victimized by possibly the weirdest Apple Ballot ever. District 18 Delegate John Hurson was redistricted into District 20 and gained the teachers’ endorsement there. But Hurson was later put back into District 18, where the teachers had already endorsed Billings, Gutierrez and Madaleno. So the teachers named four Delegate candidates on their 2002 Apple Ballot, two of whom were challengers, and that deprived Billings of a critical incumbent advantage. He lost to Gutierrez by just 217 votes.

Spy: Leon didn’t campaign very hard. In politics, you take nothing for granted. Besides, Leon came across as mean, nasty and arrogant – not very endearing qualities in a local elected official.

Spy: Leon reportedly told his friends that if the voters of District 18 didn’t already know him, he sure wasn’t going to bother to remind them who he was. So he did no door-knocking, sent no mail and spent most of the summer at his Delaware beach house. It was one of the most striking “non-campaigns” in recent county political history.

Delegate Gareth Murray (D-20), Defeated in 2006

Murray benefitted from incumbent Dana Dembrow’s spectacular blowup in 2002 but did little in office and nothing during the following campaign. He was one of just two incumbent Delegates to not make the Apple Ballot in 2006. He finished seventh of seven in his re-election try, maybe the worst performance ever by a Montgomery County incumbent.

Spy: Gareth was a lackluster Delegate and a lackluster candidate who built no base, made few friends, had little visibility in his district, raised little money and hardly campaigned at all.

Spy: Gareth pulled a disappearing act. He pulled off a surprising win in 2002, didn’t work for his re-election, and during his term in office he didn’t do anything noteworthy. His re-election campaign was similar to a newcomer’s low budget, low effort campaign – and the result was the same.

Spy: If you raise no money, don’t put up one yard sign and never do any campaigning, it’s tough to win.

Why else do incumbents lose? We’ll see in Part Four.