An early voting update

If you subscribe to the theory that the most motivated voters will be there with bells on when early voting starts, it appears that statewide Republicans are slightly more enthused than Democrats. I’m going to update this daily, so the post will be stuck to the top.

Update, Saturday 10/25: The GOP extended its lead in the state to 2.56% – 2.47% partly on the strength of solid gains on the lower Shore. All four of these counties added to Republican gains, with the raw number of Republicans actually exceeding Democrats on Friday by a 750-697 count. New totals:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 3.11%, Democrats 2.57%
  • Somerset: Republicans 3.66%, Democrats 3.32%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 3.15%, Democrats 2.69%
  • Worcester: Republicans 4.17%, Democrats 3.30%

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1.34% of GOP voters statewide made it to early voting compared to 1.31% of Democrats, but this marks the first time Republican turnout as a percentage outstripped Democrat turnout on the first day of balloting in a general election. In the Presidential election of 2012, 2.56% of Democrats came out compared to 1.68% of Republicans, and that advantage grew greater with each passing day. Meanwhile, 2010 saw Democrats edge Republicans on the first day by 1.04% to 1% on their way to an overall advantage of just under 1 percent. So a Republican advantage at this juncture could spell good news for their candidates.

However, on the Lower Shore Republicans have a distinct advantage in turnout percentage and nearly eclipsed the Democrats – who hold a registration advantage in all four counties – in terms of raw numbers. Democrats held a slight 939-892 advantage in first-day turnout. (For the four counties overall, Democrats lead in registration 56,462 to 46,862.)

  • Dorchester: Republicans 1.66%, Democrats 1.49%
  • Somerset: Republicans 2.37%, Democrats 2.17%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 1.54%, Democrats 1.49%
  • Worcester: Republicans 2.39%, Democrats 1.86%

The turnout is brisk in legislative District 38C, where 2.02% of voters turned out on the first day and made it the fourth-best rate in the state. In Wicomico County, District 38B leads the way with 1.62% while, ironically, District 38C performs the worst at 0.82% – perhaps due to distance from the county’s lone early voting polling place in Salisbury. Reportedly, candidates from both parties are hitting this Wicomico County location hard and the Republicans are set up there with a table.

But on a state and local basis, this has to be encouraging to Republicans who didn’t adopt early voting originally but have been encouraged by party brass to take advantage of it to make sure their votes were cast in this important election. If Republicans can hang with Democrats in terms of percentage of early voters, it may be their Election Day turnout will push them to a better overall showing than expected, making the turnout models pollsters use overly optimistic toward Democrats.

Update, Saturday 10/25: The GOP extended its lead in the state to 2.56% – 2.47% partly on the strength of solid gains on the lower Shore. All four of these counties added to Republican gains, with the raw number of Republicans actually exceeding Democrats on Friday by a 750-697 count.

Time to do the deed

Today is the day that tiny percentage of Maryland registered voters who actually do this begin going to the polls for early voting. I know some of my party cohorts will be out at the Civic Center campaigning for the Republican ticket, and needless to say it’s a straight R year for me.

But there are races I’m much more passionate about than others, so let’s go through the list and I’ll tell you what I think. That IS why you come here, isn’t it? If my number 16 race doesn’t come out I won’t be all that upset, but if the top half-dozen or so go the wrong way I’ll be pissed. These are the 16 items on my specimen ballot – I live in House District 38B and Wicomico County Council District 3, which is one of only two of the five districts to have a contested race.

  1. Carl Anderton, Jr. for Delegate, District 38B. I am really tired of my poor representation in Annapolis from Norm Conway. He votes for every bloated budget, (almost) every conformity with Obamacare, every accommodation to Big Labor, and a number of other dreadful things as well: in 2011 he voted for the Congressional redistricting that made our state a laughingstock but in committee he helped kill provisions to allow referendums on tax increases and proof of lawful presence before collecting benefits. In 2012 he voted to saddle new homeowners with the added expense of sprinklers, but he saddled the rest of us with the rain tax, tier maps, and the key to getting around our county’s revenue cap by mandating maintenance of effort spending. Granted, once in awhile he votes the right way but why lose on three or four issues to gain one? Republicans and pro-Wicomico Democrats: don’t fall for the hype of potentially losing a committee chair – even though Norm is a fairly nice guy, if he were all that powerful we would be the richest county in the state and we are far from that. It’s definitely time for some new blood to get us back to work. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  2. Mike McDermott for Senate, District 38. Really, this should be 1-a but my function won’t let me do that. Jim Mathias may vote a little better than Norm Conway, but I would rather have someone who’s a thorn in the side of the current Annapolis majority – who went out of their way to lump him into a district with another sitting Delegate – than a backbencher. What better way to thumb your nose at those who believe the Eastern Shore is the state’s “shithouse” (in more ways than one) than to foil their political intentions? If I can pick up 60 points on the monoblogue Accountability Project by changing my representation, you know the answer is yes. This is another race where conservatives need to come home and not cross the aisle, because Jim’s few blind squirrel votes aren’t worth the overall pain. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  3. Bob Culver for County Executive.  Our county has stumbled and staggered through this so-called recovery with the incumbent Rick Pollitt, a self-described bureaucrat, in charge. Don’t forget that Rick whined about the revenue cap for the first three years in office and promised a zero-based budget I haven’t seen yet. After eight years, it’s time for a change in tactics and Bob can be a fresh set of eyes to address our declining number of employed. I know Bob may rub some the wrong way but I’m willing to overlook that because, to me, re-electing Rick Pollitt is the definition of insanity for Wicomico County. Chances of success: I would say about 40-50 percent.
  4. M.J. Caldwell for Circuit Court Judge. To me, this is a perplexing case. Here you have an experienced attorney who knows his way around a courtroom taking on a person whose claim to fame is his last name – if it were Swartz, he’d still be at his old firm. But because people still know the Sarbanes name in this area, the newly-appointed “incumbent” got the gig. I was extremely disappointed and somewhat disgusted to see that Caldwell only won the Republican primary with 57 percent of the vote – people, do your homework! Caldwell would be a good judge. Chances of success: about 1 in 3 unless Republicans shape up.
  5. William Campbell for Comptroller. You’ll notice Peter Franchot has played up his fiscal watchdog tendencies in this campaign, but I think that if Larry Hogan becomes governor we need Bill to keep him grounded and make the Board of Public Works work in a conservative direction for the first time in…well, ever. Unfortunately, Bill has little money to get his message out and Franchot’s too scared to debate him. One problem with Larry Hogan taking public financing is that the Maryland GOP is spending maximum time and effort fundraising for Larry instead of helping these downballot races. Chances of success: alas, probably less than 1 percent.
  6. Larry Hogan for Governor. All politics is local, so I think the state race can take care of itself. But I hope that Hogan has enough coattails to bring in a dozen Delegates and half-dozen new Senators, including the two mentioned above. While I hated his primary campaign, I have to admit Hogan’s done a good job in the general election round. But will it be enough? Polls suggest it might. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  7. Larry Dodd for District 3 Council. The thing that bothers me about his opponent is that, for all his “aw, shucks” demeanor, he’s been exposed to a large number of anti-property rights zealots. He worked for Joan Carter Conway, the Senate’s EHEA Chair, and not only does she have a lifetime mAP rating of 4 (yes, that’s really bad) but she has passed a lot of bad legislation through her committee over the last several years – something Josh fails to mention. But I will give Josh Hastings his due: he’s campaigning hard, knocked on my door and has worked harder for the seat than Dodd has. It would be a shame to succeed a good, conservative Councilwoman in Gail Bartkovich with a liberal who may have grown up on a farm but has spent his politically formative years more readily influenced by Baltimore City and Annapolis. Chances of success: about 35 to 40 percent.
  8. John Cannon for at-large County Council. While his voting record has often been a disappointment, he was one of the two who got through the primary. I have more hope for him becoming a conservative stalwart, though, than I do for his fellow Republican. Chances of success: around 60 percent.
  9. Voting against Question 1. I’ve stated my reasons for opposition before, but most of the money is backing it and referendum items rarely fail. Chances of success: less than 10 percent.
  10. Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. We are really in trouble, folks. We could have had one of our good county state’s attorneys (or my personal favorite, Jim Rutledge) step up but instead we got Pritzker, who I have never met. When I see prominent conservative-leaning bloggers backing the Libertarian in the race, it can’t be much of a campaign. That’s a shame, because there’s more to the campaign than legalizing pot. And losing this seat means the gun-grabbing Brian Frosh will be our Attorney General. Chances of success: even less than Campbell’s sub-1 percent shot.
  11. Matt Holloway for at-large County Council. There are many holes in his voting record as well, but winning the primary makes him the odds-on favorite to not be third on November 4. So I guess I’ll have to wonder how often he’ll cave for another four years. Chances of success: over 80 percent.
  12. Andy Harris for Congress. No muss, no fuss. Have you heard a word about Bill Tilghman? The one thing you can say about Bill is that at least we haven’t caught him voting twice. This race is perhaps the closest thing to an automatic win for our side – when even the Daily Times has to endorse you, it’s a good sign. Chances of success: over 95 percent.
  13. Voting against Andrea Leahy as a Special Appeals Judge. Similar to the election involving Jimmy Sarbanes, Judge Leahy is up for election because she was appointed by Martin O’Malley in March. I looked at her profile and wasn’t impressed, but it’s rare a judge is tossed out. I would love to see who Larry Hogan would appoint, but if Leahy lost Martin O’Malley would rush another appointee through – and he or she would sit until 2016. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  14. Voting against Kevin Arthur as a Special Appeals Judge. His profile is better than Leahy’s but, still, he is an O’Malley appointee. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  15. Grover Cantwell for Orphan’s Court Judge. I have never met the guy, yet he wants my vote. This is a part of the ballot where those who get listed first (the Democrats) have the advantage because they’ve all been on the ballot before. Chances of success: perhaps 1 in 3.
  16. Voting for Question 2. I can get behind this proposal, which allows charter counties like Wicomico the option to have special elections to fill County Council seats. Having gone through the process of filling such a vacancy, I think it should be opened up despite the risk of losing a GOP seat to a Democrat. Chances of success: over 90 percent.

So this is how I think my local election will go. As for some other contested county races I’m supporting, in order of likelihood of success:

  • Addie Eckardt for Senate, District 37. The hard part for her was winning the primary. Sure, there may be some diehard Colburn supporters out there but their other choice is a guy he beat by 20 points last time around. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Mary Beth Carozza for Delegate, District 38C. Having an opponent who wears a “Ban Assault Weapons” t-shirt to an Andy Harris townhall event provides an immediate advantage in this area. But Mary Beth has been working since the summer of 2013 on this race, and that hard work is on the verge of paying off. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Marc Kilmer for District 2 Council. When your opponent threatens to go to court for winning, you know you’re in good shape. But Marc has taken nothing for granted, works hard, and has a fairly solid Republican district. Chances of success: at least 80 percent.
  • Christopher Adams for Delegate, District 37B. He wasn’t the top vote-getter in any county, but he’s run a solid campaign and the dynamics of the race give him a better path to victory than fellow Republican contender Johnny Mautz. Chances of success: a solid 75 percent.
  • Johnny Mautz for Delegate, District 37B. By far the top primary vote-getter, the one drawback is that he has to finish ahead of Keasha Haythe because both hail from Talbot County and there’s a limit of one per county. If he were second to her in the overall voting, he would lose and the third-place finisher moves up. With that in mind, I give him just ever-so-slightly less favorable odds. Chances of success: a solid 74.9 percent.

My advice to every contender in the last two weeks: run like you are five points behind. See you at the polls!

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 3: District 38

Since I’ve now covered the county and District 37 races, it’s time to focus on the last political subdivision involved, District 38. The turnout for this one was disappointing because they failed to get the two Senate candidates, nor did they cover District 38C (although Democrat contender Judy Davis was in the audience.) On the other hand, District 38A received part of the billing despite the fact the district no longer covers Wicomico County.

So there were just four candidates to deal with: Delegate Charles Otto and former Crisfield mayor P.J. Purnell in District 38A and Delegate Norm Conway and Delmar, Maryland mayor Carl Anderton, Jr. in District 38B. I’ll start with the race that pits Otto, who was elected in 2010 after surviving a four-way Republican primary and rolling up 62% of the general election vote, against Purnell, who served as Crisfield’s mayor for the last eight years before not seeking re-election this year.

Their initial question concerned the wind turbine farm slated for Somerset County, but placed in jeopardy for a time due to objections from the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, who was concerned about effects on their radar equipment from the spinning blades. Otto said he had committed to the developers about being neutral toward the project although he objected to the renewable energy portfolio. He believed, though, the project was sited in an “appropriate place” to alleviate health concerns, and would rather see wind turbines than solar panels that directly affect the environment.

Purnell spoke about his experience with wind turbines in Crisfield, where he secured a $4 million “green grant” to build a 750 kilowatt turbine to service the town’s sewage treatment plant. “If it doesn’t work it will be Purnell’s Folly,” he said. But he felt the electricity savings would benefit the city by allowing other items to be funded.

It led into a question on unemployment, and Purnell stated the obvious: “Unemployment is tough.” But he looked for anything he could to create jobs, including grants. “Economic development is a tough process,” said Purnell, who added that we needed to be prepared.

Otto used the aborted Walmart distribution center to point out how the state’s business climate affects job creation – on the very day Somerset County was to reopen discussions with Walmart about the site, the state passed its minimum wage law. Minimum wage and tax structure were the cause of many of our job creation problems, although the toll increase which makes it $1 per mile from the Bay Bridge to Salisbury for a truck doesn’t help either.

In terms of helping the realty industry, Otto blasted the Septic Bill he opposed as part of the “war on rural Maryland.” He vowed, “I’ll continue to defend property rights” in Annapolis.

On the other hand, Purnell believed “sustainability is the root of all our problems on the Eastern Shore.” He predicted we won’t be able to build in five to ten years.

In his closing statement, Purnell pointed out he’d cut Crisfield’s workforce, and made the case he believed smaller government was the answer. Otto talked about the state’s increasing spending and told the gathering, “I was taught to pay for it when I bought it.”

Again, this was a case where the Democrat in the race tried to convince the audience he was just as conservative as the Republican. It wasn’t so much the case in the District 38B race, which places a Delegate who has represented the area in Annapolis since 1986 (and was a Salisbury City Council member for a dozen years before that) against a mayor elected in 2011, who spent six years before that as a member of their town commission.

I noted the other day in my initial report that Anderton apologized for a mailing which depicted Conway as a masked criminal. But Carl was critical when he was asked the question about what he would do differently than Norm.

“Communication is key,” said Carl, who gave the crowd his cell phone number as a way of promoting access. He also noted that “I haven’t seen my Delegate in my town hall” during his entire tenure in Delmar government, reinforcing his belief that “we’re such an underdog in representation.”

Unlike the other participants, Norm had a different question regarding highway user revenues. Conway said that the Transportation Trust Fund had been repaid, but as for the lost highway user revenues it was his claim that the approach was the preference of MACO (the advocacy group for Maryland’s counties.) But “no one knew” the depth of the recession or the extent of the cuts needed, argued Conway.

Norm was asked then about tuition costs, noting they’d maintained a 3% level of increase while other states had done far worse. But he also bemoaned the fact that many students take much longer than four years to graduate, accumulating more debt along the way.

Anderton was asked about how to bring job opportunities here, but pointed out that Wor-Wic Community College, the site of the debate, won’t have its funding restored to previous levels until 2023. “The things that go on in Annapolis have to change,” said Carl. “We have to be fundamentally different (and) we have to do better.”

Something Carl wanted to address for the realtors was the tax differential, although he also spoke helping to create the success of the Heron Ponds development. Conway agreed the differential needed a review or discussion, but felt that eventually Sussex County, Delaware, with its extremely low assessed rates, “will have to face reality.” Norm also praised those moving into downtown Salisbury, calling it “a real plus.”

In his closing statement, Norm talked about how he had always set goals for himself. But Anderton stressed a different approach: “it’s all about teamwork.”

This was an interesting part of the forum because the two candidates answered mostly different questions, which made it difficult to compare and contrast. Obviously Carl wouldn’t have the same voting record as Norm has, but one thing which stuck out at me was that both of Norm’s questions touched on appropriations – how much money it would take to hold tuition costs at 3% increases or how best to cut to fit a budget. Some of that was out of his hands, but I would have really loved to have Norm answer how he could create jobs when things have gone steadily south during his last couple terms. There are reasons Sussex County is so appealing at the moment and advantageous assessments is just one.

As I think I said in a previous rendition, I think this forum would have been far better spread out over a couple nights. It was also disappointing we didn’t get to hear the exchanges between Jim Mathias and Mike McDermott for the District 38 Senate seat or Judy Davis and Mary Beth Carozza for District 38C – which, ironically, is the district Wor-Wic lies in. It went on for over 2 1/2 hours, but with 15 participants there was only time for three questions apiece, plus the opening and closing statements.

Overall, I don’t think anyone crippled their chances for victory so we’ll have to hang on for another couple weeks to see how it goes.

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices

As I noted the other day when I broached the subject, more than a dozen candidates shared the stage for a forum sponsored in part by the Coastal Association of Realtors and the Salisbury Independent newspaper. In this first part, I’ll discuss some of what the county candidates said.

First, the contenders:

For County Executive, two-term incumbent Rick Pollitt faced off with challenger County Councilman Bob Culver. Pollitt was elected in 2006 as Wicomico County’s first County Executive and narrowly won re-election over Republican Joe Ollinger in 2010. Bob Culver lost in a three-way Republican primary in 2006 for County Executive to eventual nominee Ron Alessi and B.J. Corbin before rebounding to win an at-large County Council seat in 2010.

Culver’s seat is being sought by two who join Republican Matt Holloway in attempting to win one of the two at-large County Council posts. Holloway was elected to County Council in the same 2010 election that brought Culver back; ironically those seats opened up because the two incumbents decided not to continue. One of those two was John Cannon, who unsuccessfully ran for the General Assembly in 2010 after one term on the County Council from 2006-10. Now John seeks a return after a four-year hiatus, noting that being a Council member was his “lifeblood.”

The lone Democrat seeking one of the two at-large seats is current Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell. Mitchell has served on the City Council since being elected in 2011.

(While there are 7 contenders for the five district Council seats, the forum only covered the pair of countywide posts.)

In the County Executive race, the two contenders disagree on a lot but agree that they would have “stark contrasts” in their approaches to governing. For example, when asked what the most pressing issue was, Culver was blunt: it was the loss of jobs over the last 18 months. (In the July 2013-July 2014 period, BLS statistics show Wicomico County lost 429 jobs as its labor force fell by 649.)

On the other hand, Pollitt asserted we were still in a recession and pleaded that “we have to rebuild our community.” He went on to describe how the needed to “leverage assets” like Wallops Island, Virginia, the port of Salisbury, and the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development organization. It was part of a required overall strategy for the “new normal,” added Pollitt.

When it came to whether additional tax increases would be required, Pollitt pointed out that the property tax rates had to increase just to stay even – four cents of the five cent increase this year simply brought us back to constant yield, with the other penny being allowed under the revenue cap. Four of of six Republicans voted for this tax increase, which was the “only responsible thing” to do.

Culver wasn’t one of those Republicans, though. He contended the county needed to go back to zero-based budgeting and trim the fat one step at a time. “Right now the time is not for a tax increase,” said Bob. “We have to do it from a business aspect.”

Another bone of contention came in the question about how best to assist realtors. Culver argued that dropping the county’s impact fee had resulted in 54 new homes being built in Wicomico County, and pointed out that there was only 16% of the county’s land mass which could be developed and we had just 3 percent to go.

Pollitt shot back that the impact fee change was part of the overall budget Culver opposed, restated that government needs to provide services and reminded us that five of the seven Council members had been correct in voting for the budget.

Rick closed with a familiar theme of “building community,” noting as well his role as the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition legislative chair and in the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. The more plain-spoken Culver repeated his assertion that “I think Wicomico County government is broken.”

If you look at it stylistically, Pollitt is a sharper debater. But the approach he’s taken over the last few years has been pragmatic by circumstance rather than by choice. And since the zero-based budgeting Pollitt did as city manager of Fruitland and promised early on doesn’t appear to be the case now – because it’s a campaign issue – and he whined early on in his tenure about the voter-installed revenue cap,  one wonders what the budget and tax rate would be if not for the recession.

Rick Pollitt often talks about what he calls “quality of life” issues. But it has to be asked whether our quality of life is better when job numbers are going the wrong way.

The County Council members were asked a different set of questions. One of them was on how to take the good things happening in downtown Salisbury and jump start the area outside the metro core and the other dealt with thoughts on the comprehensive plan.

John Cannon got first shot at the former question, and he opened by praising the “refreshing” leadership of Salisbury City Council president Jake Day. But he believed the county had the responsibility to create its own environment for growth, and Cannon wanted to bring together the major players on a quarterly basis.

As far as tier maps went, John believed it was an argument of local vs. state control and was hoping for relief with the new administration, presumably a Larry Hogan one. He also advocated for enhanced transfer of development rights and perhaps even a wastewater treatment authority. He also noted that he had pushed for a reduction in impact fees six years ago when he was on County Council.

Matt Holloway outlined some of the accomplishments the county has achieved since he came on board: decoupling the personal property tax rate from the real property tax rate, phasing out the inventory tax, and making the manufacturer’s tax exemption automatic. He suggested a focus on public relations and enhancing our one-man economic development team.

Holloway also believed the comprehensive plan needed a “fresh set of eyes” with his goal being that of not impacting property values. But Matt cautioned that the state “has the trump card” under the law. They could help us with our septic issues, however.

Because she is on City Council, the initial question was right in Laura Mitchell’s wheelhouse: “That is why I’m running.” She wanted to translate Salisbury’s excitement to the county and talk about the positive things. She also thought the idea of an EDU bank, which allocates unused sewage capacity that developers donate back to the city, had merit on a countywide level.

Unfortunately, while it is “convoluted, to say the least,” Mitchell dropped the ball on even a rudimentary understanding of the tier maps. She advocated for infill development and sustainable growth, while addressing the double taxation and foreclosure issues in response to the realtors’ question.

Mitchell stressed her accounting background and budgeting experience as the key reasons to vote for her, portraying herself as sort of a budget nerd. But I found it interesting that the city budget had increased for three years in a row before finally declining this year. It’s still almost 7% higher than it was in FY2011, when she won election. (The first budget she would have approved would have been FY2012.)

And while you can’t expect expertise on every issue, her befuddlement on the tier maps was a bad sign.

It’s interesting that tier maps are an issue in this county, which now labors under the state’s default position that lots of any size can’t be subdivided into more than seven lots. Unfortunately, no county has found someone aggrieved enough by this terrible law that they could have standing to sue for the law’s nullification. (It’s doubtful the Democrats in the General Assembly would consider a repeal such as that tried in 2013.) Much as I’d love to force the state to pound sand, I’m not an injured party.

But there can be steps taken in the right direction. If we must have a tier map, the amount of land placed off-limits to development should be minimized because to do otherwise is an infringement on private property rights.

And while downtown development is indeed encouraging, the best way to replicate it isn’t to precisely duplicate it. While entertainment districts are nice, we need more industrial districts, more transportation hubs, and more encouragement of overall development. We shouldn’t shackle ourselves to one approach, either – if Chesapeake Shipbuilding, which isn’t exactly a glamorous company but a useful one that actually is seeking tradesmen, needs something to create another 150 jobs, that should take priority over yet another entertainment venue that may create 20 or 30.

Part 2 tomorrow will look at District 37 races.

Outside the forum

I’ll go a little more in-depth later about the Coastal Association of Realtors/Salisbury Independent candidate forum over the coming days, but there are two key takeaways involving Delegate Norm Conway.

The first is the public apology made by Carl Anderton to Conway regarding the recent release of a flyer depicting Conway in a ski mask. He devoted the main portion of this opening remarks to his mea culpa.

I had a great opening speech prepared – I thought about it all day driving in the rain, but I need to do something, need to correct a wrong and this is how I was raised: to do the right thing and put everything aside for what’s right.

And I want to apologize to you, Mister Conway for a mailer that was sent out, apparently on behalf of me – if that was on behalf of me, I wish it would stop. It was tasteless, shameful, and disgusting and I apologize to you on behalf of whoever sent that.

Anderton went on to say that he had contacted the state Republican party and expressed his disappointment, as he was seeking to run a clean campaign based on the facts and issues.

But just a few hours after the debate, another photo came out.

The car has a House of Delegates plate on it and one can easily read the Conway sticker. Obviously there are a few possible explanations for this, but unless Mrs. Conway was there and needs the designation it’s pretty likely that the car was in a spot most people couldn’t take without a fine. Joe Steffen came to his own conclusion.

Without going too deeply into the content of the forum, though, I wanted to pass along some of my observations.

For one thing, the event lasted 2 1/2 hours and featured a total of 15 candidates – six from District 37, four from District 38, and five in Wicomico County at-large races. Notably missing were the two District 38C candidates (although Judy Davis was in attendance) and the two running for Senate in District 38; on the other hand, both District 38A candidates were there despite the fact their district no longer covers Wicomico County. Regardless, the high number of candidates made for too few questions – I think the event should have played out over two nights as it did in 2010.

Maybe it was just me being tired, but to me I didn’t pick up a great deal of variety among the answers. Even the Democrats pretty much tried to sound conservative, but we know better how they will fare in Annapolis (or in county government.) I’ll still write up a summary on this, but the unusual nature of some of the questions made me scratch my head.

So look for that over the coming days as my plate is filling up. I just wanted to jot down some initial thoughts this morning.

Anderton among Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC endorsees

Yesterday the Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC announced seven endorsements for the 2014 campaign. All seven of these candidates are Republicans and they are seeking office in most corners of the state, so I will cover them in district order. As a hint to what they are up against, I’m featuring the lifetime monoblogue Accountability Project (mAP) score for incumbents.

  • Robin Grammer, District 6. This Baltimore County district elected three Democrats in 2010 but only Michael Weir, Jr. (mAP = 28), who is seeking his fourth term, decided to run again. (John Olszewski, Jr. decided to run for the Senate seat of retiring Senator Norman Stone and Joseph “Sonny” Minnick opted to retire.) So two of the seats are open in a district which has elected moderate Democrats and just might be amenable to the GOP alternative.
  • Gordon Bull, District 12. Sliced between Baltimore and Howard counties, this used to be a 2/1 split district. But all three incumbent Democrats, who had a combined 52 years in office, decided to get out so the opening is there. Not the easiest territory but hopefully the district’s conservative voters can unite and sneak Bull into the top three.
  • Michael Ostroff, District 14. Ostroff certainly has a tough race. All three incumbents are running again: Anne Kaiser (mAP = 3), Eric Luedtke (mAP = 2), and Craig Zucker (mAP = 3) are in the race. But for Luedtke and Zucker, this is their first bid for re-election so the jury could be out on them – Ostroff provides a conservative alternative for MoCo voters.
  • Philip Parenti, District 27B. Some could write this race off because it’s in Prince George’s County, but a significant part of the 27B district lies in Calvert County, much friendlier to Republicans. It’s the eastern half of the old two-member District 27A, but shifted even a little more eastward into Calvert. Moreover, Parenti is up against a newcomer rather than an incumbent – James Proctor, Jr. is running in adjacent District 27A while Joseph Vallario, Jr. was redistricted himself to District 23B. So this is a winnable race as well.
  • Deb Rey, District 29B. St. Mary’s County has been trending more Republican over the last four years and the opponent is 15-year veteran John Bohanon, Jr. (mAP = 6). True, her section of the 29th district at the southern tip of St. Mary’s County has a Democratic voter advantage – but so does Wicomico County and we see how Republicans do there. This is a case where the Delegate may be a mismatch for the district in terms of voting record.
  • Sid Saab, District 33. Saab is in the catbird seat among these contenders. Two of the three incumbents in the newly-restored District 33 (it was a split district) are Republicans who have represented Anne Arundel County well – Tony McConkey (mAP = 82) and Cathy Vitale (mAP = 80) decided to stay on, while Robert Costa (mAP = 44) opted to leave after three terms. It created the opening for Saab, who should hopefully score about as well as McConkey and Vitale, if not better.
  • Carl Anderton, Jr., District 38B. Most of my readers should be familiar with Anderton, who’s running against a 28-year incumbent in Norm Conway (mAP = 6.) State Democrats tried to assist Conway by excising most of the geography of his old district, removing Republican-heavy Worcester County entirely and centering it in the Salisbury metro area. Voter registration would suggest it’s a leaning-Democratic district but in terms of registered voters it’s also the third-smallest in the state – so the candidate who can motivate best has an advantage and Carl is working extremely hard.

While this PAC isn’t wealthy by any means, they can throw a few hundred dollars into the coffers of each of these candidates should they so choose. But it’s more important to spread the word about these worthy conservative alternatives – imagine what the General Assembly would be like if all six won and pushed the GOP numbers tantalizingly close to 50. Even getting to 47 would be a victory as they could get around the committee process if all stick together.

So those who bought raffle tickets from the group should be pleased with the results.

A million and four too many

I have a friend that’s tired of seeing this commercial for Jim Mathias because, as she said, “I feel like I’ve seen this same Jim Mathias commercial a million and four times already.” So it’s time for me to expand it and tell you what he’s really saying.

The ad cuts through a number of different scenes from around the area. Most of it is shot in a restaurant but there are stills from a number of outdoor scenes, inside a firehouse, and so forth.

The script is rather simple.

Mathias: Hi, I’m Jim Mathias, your Senator. In Annapolis, I make SURE we get heard and get results for the Eastern Shore. I fight for lower taxes and less regulation so our businesses thrive, make money, and hire more people.

When we need to repair a bridge like a Pocomoke, make our roads safer like Route 113, or improve our schools like James M. Bennett, I get the job done. I’m asking you for your vote so that we can continue to preserve our way of life on the Eastern Shore.

So let’s go through this a little at a time.

Hi, I’m Jim Mathias, your Senator.

Not by choice, and certainly not by voting record.

In Annapolis, I make SURE we get heard and get results for the Eastern Shore.

That can be taken any number of ways, but based on the fact we have higher unemployment and slower growth than the state as a whole, I’m not sure you’re getting them to listen or give us the desired results.

I fight for lower taxes and less regulation so our businesses thrive, make money, and hire more people.

Now wait a second. You’ve voted for 11 of the 12 total state funding items since you’ve become Senator – all four operating budgets, all four capital budgets, and three of the four BRFA bills – 2012 being the exception. In that year, you waited until the Special Session to vote for that BRFA, which was the one that shifted teacher pensions to the counties. Seeing as that the budgets you voted for were increases over the previous year, wouldn’t it follow that revenue had to come from somewhere?

It seems you don’t have a lot of influence on your party since they keep voting for the tax hikes and regulation, yet many of them give you campaign financing. And as I referenced above, when compared to other parts of the state, businesses aren’t hiring more people so it’s doubtful they’re thriving or making money.

When we need to repair a bridge like a Pocomoke…

Interesting you should bring that up. According to the SHA, the Pocomoke River bridge project was paid for by the gas tax increase you opposed, yet it’s been in the pipeline for a few years. From the minutes of the Somerset County Roads Commission, November 15, 2011:

Commissioner (Charles F.) Fisher then asked about the status of the Pocomoke River bridge. Mr. Drewer (Donnie Drewer, SHA district engineer) stated that the north bound side deck will be replaced and a latex overlay will be placed over the south bound lanes. The project is slated to be funded with FY2013-2014 funding.

FY2013 began July 1, 2012, so the project ended up being almost two years behind schedule.

It’s noted that Mathias was present at that Somerset County meeting so if he was fighting as hard as he states, wouldn’t that bridge be finished by now? Instead, the SHA added it to their FY2013-18 plan, which reveals that of the $17.2 million cost, the federal government covers almost $13.8 million. (Page 447 of this exceedingly large file shows it.) So maybe Andy Harris deserves more credit.

…make our roads safer like Route 113…

This is a project which has spanned decades, with original studies dating from the 1970s and off-and-on construction over the last 20 years. So there’s not much Mathias has really done for it. It’s actually been dedicated to the man Mathias was appointed to replace in the House, Bennett Bozman.

…or improve our schools like James M. Bennett, I get the job done.

Actually, much of the money for improving the Bennett Middle School – which I assume is the one he’s talking about since the high school was under construction when he became Senator – comes from Wicomico County taxpayers, who are the recipients of millions in debt to build the new school after two members of Wicomico County Council caved to a vocal support group and changed their initial vote against the bonds. The state money wasn’t coming until the Council bowed to the “Bennett babes.”

The job that was done was placing those children who will eventually attend the new BMS in debt.

I’m asking you for your vote so that we can continue to preserve our way of life on the Eastern Shore.

There are a lot of things worth preserving on the Eastern Shore. But for all the rhetoric, I come back to something I wrote four years ago when Mathias took advantage of the retirement of Republican Senator Lowell Stoltzfus to jump from the House to the Senate:

There’s a reason that I get day after day of mailings from Jim Mathias explaining how, despite his Baltimore roots, he’s an Eastern Shore conservative at heart (today it’s being against “liberals” and for the death penalty.) Annapolis Democrats wouldn’t be backing him if he weren’t useful to them – they know the score and the fact they need Republicans to have fewer than 19 Senate seats to keep them meaningless. He will be no such thing as a loose cannon.

In order for the state of Maryland to be a true two-party state and keep in check the appetite of the liberals who have been running our state into the ground for God knows how long, Republicans need to maintain at least 2/5 of the Senate, or 19 of the 47 seats. (Getting 19 Senate seats is paramount because that can sustain a filibuster.) The GOP got to 14 seats in 2006, only to lose two in 2010 – one of them being to Jim Mathias. Prior to that, the 38th District Senate seat had been Republican for nearly 30 years, which matched the conservative nature of the district.

I won’t deny that Jim Mathias has a more moderate voting record than most Democrats in Maryland, and on certain issues he will vote with Republicans, such as overt tax increases or the gun law. But these seem to be the exceptions to the rule, and now Jim is casting himself as someone who got pork for the district. Going along to get along, with the exception of votes where the hall pass to vote against the party line because the votes are already there, is one thing.

But in order to “preserve our way of life on the Eastern Shore” we need a reliable conservative voice to reflect the conservative area and that’s not Jim Mathias.

Stepping into the ring

Yesterday I pointed out the voting records of the two men who wish to represent those of us who live in Senate District 38, but another thing I alluded to was the disparity in amending bills. Granted, it’s rare that Democrats have to make floor motions because much of their work can be done as a collective at the subcommittee and committee level; moreover, Senator Jim Mathias sits on the Finance Committee and that committee reviewed the smallest number of bills among the four main committees in the Senate (Budget and Taxation; Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs; Finance; and Judicial Proceedings.) All but the Senate President serve on at least one of those committees. Some members also sit on either the Executive Nominations or Rules committees, but Mathias isn’t among that group.

As I pointed out, often the only way a member (particularly a Republican one) has to amend a bill going through a committee he’s not part of is via the floor and McDermott has done so on many occasions.

But another thing Mike does well is communicate with constituents, and he also has a good way of getting to the root of the issue. Take this recent example, part of a piece he wrote called “Politically Correct Farming”:

Farmers have always been the first conservationists, even though they are often the last one to get called to a “Round Table Discussion” when policy is being crafted. Those “Round Tables” are reserved for election years. Ask any farmer about fixing the Bay and they will first point to the Conowingo Dam. The next point will be to the metro core area septic plants. They would also point out that the farming community is way ahead of the mandated time lines already placed upon them by the government.

The fact is, we do not need any further mandates on the shore. We need action in the areas that are creating the problem! The areas of the Bay which receive the best environmental scores are those adjacent to the Eastern Shore; and they rest next to the shore county (Somerset) that has the highest number of poultry operations in Maryland. Go figure!

Our water does not travel from lower shore rivers into the upper Bay regions, rather it moves toward the Atlantic. In spite of the obvious, farmers are an easy lot to blame; and politicians often do so with food in their mouths.

It should be obvious that poor water quality at the Bay Bridge isn’t being caused by a Somerset County poultry farmer, but from an Annapolis point of view untreated chicken waste flows as if magnetized toward the otherwise-pristine waters of the Annapolis harbor.

Or how about another case, this regarding gambling. McDermott called this the “Capitulating vs. Negotiating” piece, from which I excerpt:

For several years, Worcester County and Ocean Downs Casino have been paying off Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. All of that money could (and should) have been utilized for local spending. When I was elected in 2010, I was keenly aware of this wealth transfer and I looked for a mechanism to bring it back home where it belonged.

That opportunity presented itself in 2012 during our 2nd Special Session when the expansion of gaming was being sought. The issue was no longer about whether or not we would have gambling, rather it was about allowing a 6th casino to be built in Prince George’s County at National Harbor. Gambling was no longer the issue.

This bill originated in the Senate and once again, I noticed that the payoffs to Baltimore City and Prince George’s County were still embedded in the legislation. There was no attempt by Mathias to remove these provisions from the bill.

When the bill arrived in the House, the Democrats were hunting for insurance votes to pass the bill. I took advantage of the situation and spoke to the leader on the bill about the possibility of my supporting it. My demand was straightforward: return the local impact money to the citizens where the casinos are located. Depending on revenues, this could amount to $2 million each year that would remain on the lower shore.

To our benefit, they agreed to amend the bill and cut out the funding for Baltimore City and Prince George’s County as soon as Baltimore’s casino was open for business. In turn, I cast a deciding vote for the National Harbor expansion. The amendment was introduced by Delegate Dave Rudolph (D-Cecil) whose county also benefited directly from these local impact grants staying on the Upper Shore in Cecil County.

I could not help but see the irony of these two separate votes from two Delegates representing the same area:

  • Mathias casts the deciding vote that brings gambling to Maryland, establishes a casino in Ocean City’s backyard, and agrees to give Baltimore City and Prince Georges County $2 million of our money every year.
  • I cast the deciding vote that expands gambling to Prince George’s County alone and only after seeing the bill amended to strip Baltimore City and Prince George’s County from receiving one dime of our local impact money (returning $2 million to the Eastern Shore.)

Let me state for the record that both voted for this bill, a stance with which I disagreed because it punted this responsibility to the voters instead of in the General Assembly where it belongs. One could argue that McDermott sold his vote, or it can be termed horsetrading. But what horsetrading have we received from Mathias?

I also wanted to see what those on the other side of the political spectrum think. This is from a blog called Seventh State, which is a liberal site. In handicapping the 38th District races, David Lublin wrote back in March:

Backed by Rep. Andy Harris, one of my Eastern Shore sources describes McDermott as “to the right of Genghis Khan” on both social and fiscal issues. No one would confuse comparatively moderate Mathias with a Western Shore liberal but the difference between him and McDermott cannot be missed.

Actually, I would pretty much confuse Mathias with a Western Shore liberal given the preponderance of his votes. But honestly I don’t think the 38th District at large would truly mind “to the right of Genghis Khan” because it’s a conservative district. (It’s also an interesting comparison given what we know about the Mongol ruler.) Ours is also a district which chafes at the influence of Annapolis in its affairs, and considering Mathias has received a large portion of his six-figure campaign account from PACs and out-of-area donors, you have to wonder which of these two would be fighting out of our corner.

In a recent PAC-14 interview, McDermott said, “(W)e need leaders from the shore to go up there and represent our values.” Having heard Mike McDermott speak on a number of occasions, I think he would be a great addition to the Senate because he has shown over the last four years that he does the better job of that than his opponent.

Jim Mathias is a nice guy, but in this instance nice guys should finish last.

The polling continues

October 7, 2014 · Posted in Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, Polling · Comment 

On Saturday I pointed out the Gonzales Poll Larry Hogan has cited as proof he’s within striking distance in the governor’s race. The news wasn’t quite as good in a more recent Washington Post poll, but it wasn’t as bad as previous polls in that newspaper.

But again it’s a question of turnout, and the Post simply replicated the pattern of registered voters in the state. If Republicans come out to a greater extent than Democrats – many of whom aren’t excited about Brown – that cuts into the Brown lead. Considering the Post poll is of randomly selected adults, I suspect the turnout model they’re using favors Brown in the poll.

So instead of the 15 to 18 points Brown has led by in previous polls, this poll by itself drove the RCP average down from 15 to 12 points.

But the breakdown on issues is interesting. Remember, this is a sample that is probably slightly oversampling Democrats, but the key issue is taxes. Yet on a number of other issues the only ones which reflect closely the partisan breakdown are social issues and public education. It’s hard to believe that fully half prefer Brown on the issue of health care considering how he botched the state’s website, but others like gun laws, job creation, and illegal immigration lean Hogan’s way in comparison to the partisan breakdown of the sample.

Given the crosstabs, though, the best way for Hogan to cut into Brown’s lead is to chip away at the Democrats on the issues that he’s closest to moving ahead on. It’s absolutely essential for Larry to somehow get to about 25 percent of Democrats going his way, with this polling suggesting he’s at about 14 percent. If Democrats get the 62% turnout this poll suggests (with Republicans at 65% and unaffiliated at 48%) that’s the only way he can win.

Somehow the case has to be made to the low-information crowd that a third term of Martin O’Malley is too much for the state to bear. Those of us who have a lick of common sense already know this, but too many people must actually think a poor economy is a good thing.

A satisfying Super Saturday

A couple months ago, the Maryland Republican Party designated yesterday as a Super Saturday for Wicomico County, a day where the MDGOP increased its emphasis on door-to-door and other voter contacts for local candidates. As a culmination to the day, the Eastern Shore Victory Headquarters was the setting for a fundraiser and appreciation party.

Among the state party luminaries who attended the after-party were state party Chair Diana Waterman and National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose.

Ambrose noted this area was one of a handful the state party was targeting this time around, with well over 1,000 voter contacts made on this day both from headquarters and door-to-door.

Introducing the candidate was the guy who took Anderton’s seat on the Delmar Commission when Anderton became mayor, Bunky Luffman. He told the crowd that Carl “builds consensus” for getting things done and reminded us that Anderton spoke to “chicken tax” sponsor Delegate Shane Robinson, leading to an eventual withdrawal of the House bill. Being Maryland Municipal League head gave Carl a measure of influence.

With that intro, Carl addressed the group.

Among the ideas Anderton spoke about were the prospect of addressing the tax differential, which would require enabling legislation that hasn’t been a priority for the incumbent. Another issue where Norm Conway was “a crutch” to keep it from happening is an elected school board. In short, Conway has “failed us miserably time and time again.”

He also noted Peter Franchot’s case that a large property tax increase will need to be made, blaming the massive debt increase Conway has supported over the years.

While it was his fundraiser, Carl yielded the floor to his special guest, Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio.

Jeannie recalled that the 2010 election saw House Republicans in Maryland gain six seats, or one for each committee. “We were starting to effect change,” she said, particularly on the sub-committees – so the Democrats started doing more work at the committee level where GOP strength was diluted. She added that our side wins the floor debates, but can’t win the votes – so having delegates like Carl would help in that regard.

Jeannie was also a popular photo subject. I got a couple as she posed with Muir Boda in the top photo and the host in the bottom.

Yet the work wasn’t done. Looking at Carl’s Facebook page, he noted that they were still hard at work building signs at 10:30 at night. To beat a well-funded incumbent, the workday is long.

More encouraging poll news

It goes without saying that Larry Hogan is excited about the most recent polling results and how they affect the perception of the race.

Everyone now knows this race is too close to call. This week, we told you about the Gonzales poll showing us within striking distance of Brown. Yesterday, the media validated these numbers. And today, the Cook Political Report has reclassified this race from “Solid Democrat” to “Leans Democrat”!

The Maryland governors race started as “Solid Democrat” and has moved TWO SPOTS to its current classification.

This varies from the Real Clear Politics version of the race, which hasn’t updated in the month since the YouGov poll that Hogan questioned. They still show the race as “Likely Dem” with a 15-point margin. So which is right?

In my opinion, the fact that Anthony Brown is trying to paint Larry as a TEA Party Republican by stressing the gun law and abortion rather than discussing the state’s moribund economy points to a tightening race. That seems to be the conventional wisdom of the Hogan camp and I’m inclined to agree.

Yet the tale will begin to be told with the debates that begin next week. One thing Marylanders really haven’t seen is how the two candidates perform on the stump to an audience which hasn’t been attuned to the race aside from thirty-second commercials. How will the two fare under the pressure of direct questioning and close media scrutiny? Elections aren’t won with debates, but they can be lost.

So what will be the strategies of the two participants? I would look for Brown to continue his recent line of attack on Hogan by stressing social issues and gun safety in an attempt to hold the female vote – you know, that whole thoroughly discredited War on Women meme. He’ll avoid direct questions on the lack of job creation by saying he has a plan to address it – which he does, all 17 pages of it –  but not go into the specifics of how it may affect Maryland workers.  For example, a “Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform” just means at least two more years of the status quo and inaction, not addressing the issue.

On the other hand, Hogan will stress the “most incompetent man in Maryland” theme for Brown, while sticking with his bread and butter issues of jobs, the middle class, and restoring the state’s economy. It’s carried him this far, so why stop now?

That task will likely be made more difficult by the questioning, which will probably cater more to Brown’s strategy of marginalizing Hogan than tough questions on how the state of the economy got to where it is under the O’Malley/Brown team.

I’m hoping to see a couple polls come out after the debate to gauge the true state of the race. In truth, I think it’s probably closer to the margin of error than the 15-point RCP average. It doesn’t mean Hogan has it in the bag, but we could have a far closer race than 2010′s blowout.

Engaging the students

As they have in previous election cycles, the Salisbury University campus group PACE involved themselves with a candidate meet and greet this afternoon on the SU campus. While it looked somewhat modest at first glance, the event seemed to draw plenty of attention in the end.

With participation from both major parties, and plenty of pizza to go around, students had a golden opportunity to interact with those who may be representing them in local and state government. Sadly, there was a disappointing lack of participation on their end, even with plenty of voter registration cards and absentee ballot forms available.

(I don’t know what can be read into this, but the Republicans had large boxes of Pat’s Pizza while the Democrats chose a number of smaller boxes from Pizza Hut. Just in my personal opinion – big win for the GOP, because Pizza Hut has taken Domino’s old slot of “ketchup on cardboard.”)

There was no shortage of signs, that’s for sure.

Nor was there a shortage of candidates. In the hour I spent over there, I spied Republicans Carl Anderton Jr., Addie Eckardt, Bob Culver, John Cannon, Mary Beth Carozza, and Christopher Adams. Democrats outnumbered them slightly, with Rick Pollitt, Laura Mitchell, Norm Conway, Keasha Haythe, Chris Robinson, Judy Davis, and Jim Mathias representing their team.

Addie Eckardt was the subject of this WBOC interviewer, but there was also SU press there, too.

So participation was very good, particularly on the Delegate level. One thing I like about this type of event is that I get to say hello to my friends across the aisle, so I spoke at some length to Rick Pollitt and Laura Mitchell, and got to meet Judy Davis, who I’d not met before. Of course, I spoke to a number of the Republicans, too.

In terms of generating awareness on campus, I’m hoping this was a success. I noticed a lot of people walking by somewhat oblivious to the scene, which is a shame. Thinking back to my days on campus, though, I was somewhat apolitical although I voted in every election – but I don’t recall having an opportunity such as this to connect with my state representatives when I was an undergrad at Miami. PACE should be commended for putting this event together, even with somewhat short notice.

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    Contested races only.

    First District - Congress

    Andy Harris (R)
    Bill Tilghman (D)

    ___

    Maryland General Assembly (local)

    Senate District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R)
    Chris Robinson (D)

    ___

    House District 37B

    Republican

    Christopher Adams (R)
    Johnny Mautz (R)
    Rodney Benjamin (D)
    Keasha Haythe (D)

    ___

    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

    ___

    House District 38A

    Charles Otto (R)
    Percy Purnell, Jr. (D)

    ___

    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

    ___

    House District 38C

    Mary Beth Carozza. (R)

    Judy Davis (D)

    ___

    Wicomico County

    County Executive

    Bob Culver (R)
    Rick Pollitt (D)

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    County Council at-large

    John Cannon (R)
    Matt Holloway (R)
    Laura Mitchell (D)

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    Council District 2

    Marc Kilmer (R)
    Kirby Travers (D)

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    Council District 3

    Larry Dodd (R)
    Josh Hastings (D)