A look at our federal races

Finishing my book draft has opened up my calendar just in time for the local political races to begin heating up. If you consider the June 26 primary as the “November” of this particular campaign, that means we are at about the mid-August of the race. But I’m already seeing the yard signs pop up for some of the local contests, so I decided over the last couple days to take a pretty comprehensive look at our two federal races: the battle for Maryland’s U.S. Senate seat and our local First District Congressional contest.

On the Senate side, thus far most of the news has come from the entry of the former PFC Bradley Manning, who has transitioned in identity to the female Chelsea Manning. (Never mind he was convicted of espionage and released just a few years into a 35-year sentence, much of it spent in the process of indulging a case of gender dysphoria.) Aside from he/she/it, there are the usual complement of perennial candidates and those who decided their first try for office would be for a statewide post. There are a total of eight Democrats on the ballot, but the prohibitive favorite among them is incumbent Senator Ben Cardin. The primary field looks similar to that in 2012 when Cardin last ran, with Manning probably getting about the same share (15%) as the doomed Senatorial campaign of current State Senator C. Anthony Muse while Cardin should retain his 75% or so. (Because it’s a state election year, you don’t have the opportunity for some officeholders to “run from cover” for a higher office – they forfeit the one they have to run. However, in the Sixth Congressional District, which is an open seat due to the departure of John Delaney for a quixotic Presidential bid, there are a couple of current state officeholders vying for the opening.)

Since I’m not voting on the Democrat side, though, my interest in this case is the GOP battle. As usual, there are a number of prospective candidates on the ballot: 2018 brought 11 aspirants to the fore, many of whom have played this game multiple times. For example, in 2016 Chris Chaffee was the (distant) runner-up to GOP Senate nominee Kathy Szeliga, John Graziani was 8th in the 14-person field, and Blaine Taylor was 9th – out of 10 Democrats. (Maybe he’s a Trump Republican now?) Brian Vaeth previously ran for Senate in 2012 as well. (It’s possible he may have suspended his 2018 run, anyway.) Chaffee was a definite surprise given that he was never polled into the 2016 Senate race, but he beat more established candidates such as Richard Douglas and Chrys Kefalas.

Considering the incumbent Senator is well-funded, I thought the best place to begin culling the field was to see who had actually set up an FEC account, which is a must for candidates who want to fundraise beyond a certain point. (Despite the fantasy some have of running a completely grassroots effort to win a statewide office, that’s not happening.) It turns out the only one to actually have a report is Charles “Sam” Faddis, who decided not to follow through and file this time around. (Faddis was an unsuccessful Congressional challenger to Steny Hoyer a few years ago.) But four in the field have established FEC accounts earlier this year so their first quarterly report just came due: Chaffee, Tony Campbell, Christina Grigorian, and Albert Binyahmin Howard.

Out of that quartet, I’ve already discounted the chances of Chaffee and Howard. Why?

Well, if you look at Chaffee’s website, you’ll see that it’s a poorly-written one. Granted, we have a President who mangles the English language on a regular basis, but one thing that I’ve come to believe is that a good-looking website conveys a good impression. And it’s difficult to get past the generalities and platitudes that stand in for his issue positions. He would really have to sell me in a debate to have a chance at getting my vote, which is discouraging because I suspect he is rather conservative. Honestly, I think his second-place finish last time was by virtue of being first on the ballot since few people knew the players aside from Kathy Szeliga. Chaffee won’t have that leg up this time because Tony Campbell is listed first.

Even worse is the website for Howard, whose chief claim to fame seems to be that of being the founder of Hebrews for Trump. Okay, then.

So I’m down as of now to Campbell and Grigorian. Ladies first.

Christina has started off on the wrong foot with me in two respects: number one, her website is nice but insofar as issues go I see nothing but general platitudes of being an advocate for the state and assisting Governor Hogan in his efforts. Yet to be a Senator from Maryland in this current political reality is to be (hopefully) fortunate enough to take office as Hogan begins his second term because in order to save America the state of Maryland has to endure a world of hurt for a few years, and the GOP is going to take the blame to a point where 2022 local elections would be a bloodbath. This is because the state has foolishly put most of its economic and job creation eggs in the basket of an ever-expanding federal government when the real solution is rightsizing our federal bureaucracy to the extent it’s allowed to be by the Constitution. Hogan is best-equipped to solve that problem as a more or less business-friendly governor, albeit one who gets it seriously wrong on some good job-creation issues like fracking in Western Maryland.

My other issue with Grigorian is making her first issue-oriented video one of celebrating International Women’s Day as well as making the point Maryland has no female representation in Congress. Okay, I’m going to admit I’m a little biased on this, but making a case about being a female candidate is a little Hillary-esque. Maryland had a female Senator for three decades and all it did was set the country back a little bit. Certainly I know of a good share of women who would make great Senators or members of Congress, but the reason they would be so is because they don’t base their politics on their gender.

Grigorian is so far to me coming off as a moderate, based on her bland answers to key issues. We really don’t need a woman in the Senate if she’s a clone of Lisa Murkowski or Susan Collins, the bottom two Republicans as graded by Heritage Action. (A third woman, Shelley Capito, is in the bottom 5 – none of the five female GOP Senators are in their top ten.) She has a lot to sell me on, too.

What I will say about Tony Campbell is that he has manned up and apologized for a couple past mistakes, the chief one being part of Republicans for Obama. Tony’s not going to make me jump up and down in supporting him, but based on what I’ve learned about his positions I’m leaning his way. I think with a little bit of work he could be an effective, relatively conservative Senator. But he has to win first.

Now I’ll sharpen the focus a little bit to the First District race. You know, they keep talking on the Left about “flipping the First” but to do so would take the right candidate and electorate. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the right candidate for the job is the only one who hasn’t filed FEC paperwork and that would be “conservative Democrat” Erik Lane. (Even so, the “right electorate” went away when Martin O’Malley submitted his Congressional plan in 2011. That made the First a highly Republican district that even Donald Trump – he of the 34% statewide vote – won handily.) As for the rest, I tend to believe the “establishment” Democrats and media (but I repeat myself) would prefer to see Jesse Colvin win because that would immediately be portrayed as our version of the Conor Lamb race in Pennsylvania. (He has the most campaign cash to spend, too.) Perhaps their second choice would be Allison Galbraith, who is a single mom and rather spunky both in person and online – I know because I’ve sparred with her on several occasions.

But you also have the Eastern Shore factor, and two candidates hail from our side of the Bay – Michael Brown and Michael Pullen. So parochial voters may opt to elect them, too.

And then you have Andy Harris, who hasn’t had a primary where he’s unopposed since 2012. Then again, since first being nominated in 2008 in a surprise upset of longtime erstwhile moderate GOP Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (who will likely continue his semi-annual biennial tradition of endorsing the Democrat in the race) Harris has dispatched primary foes like King Kong swatting away airplanes while perched on a skyscraper: 68% against Rob Fisher in 2010, 78% against Jonathan Goff, Jr. in 2014, and the same 78% against a tag team of Goff, Sean Jackson, and former Delegate Michael Smigiel in 2016. Martin Elborn and Lamont Taylor may be nice guys, but they probably won’t do any better – nor should they. It would be the Democrats’ dream if one of these two somehow won the primary because they aren’t coming across to me as very serious candidates. That would be about the only way the Democrats could level the field in this district.

I’ve liked Andy Harris as a legislator since his days in the Maryland General Assembly – Andy was, for several years until 2016, the only Maryland legislator to achieve a perfect session score on the monoblogue Accountability Project., Admittedly, there have been a couple times I didn’t vote for him: come on, when your Libertarian friend is running for Congress, how can you not vote for him when you know the district is safely Republican? And I liked the last guy the LP had (Matt Beers), too – he was ready to shrink government more than Andy would, and that’s saying something.

But this year’s Libertarian model seems to be the left-libertarian type, so there’s no excuse for me not to vote to retain Andy Harris for another term in both the primary and general elections. It makes the town hall meetings that much more entertaining.

I really don’t need to go over the state races in much detail because all three GOP nominees are set; meanwhile, the only suspense on the Democrat side is whether Tweedledum x 5 or Tweedledee x 4 will win the nod for Governor. The early polling favorite is PG County Executive Rushern Baker. In fact, my ballot on the GOP side is very boring – I have no State Senator, Delegate, or county race to vote in except for the downballot Clerk of the Court and Central Committee races. So this is probably all the analysis you get.

But I’ll keep an eye on it nonetheless in case I’m moved to say more.

Would a Lamb be slaughtered here?

March 16, 2018 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on Would a Lamb be slaughtered here? 

Until a bridge collapsed in Miami, the main news item drawing attention was Democrat Conor Lamb’s upset win over Republican Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. Since I was assigned to write about Lamb’s victory in The Patriot Post this week, it got me to pondering if the Democrats’ bold local pronouncements about “flipping the First” are realistic.

So let’s begin with a little history. I’m working from my faulty memory here but I thought I read that the 18th was an R+11 district. According to our the latest voter registration numbers by district (which were just prior to the 2016 election, so perhaps a bit out of date) the First District was about R+9.5 or so. But where Trump won by 22 points in the 18th, he won by nearly 29 points in Maryland’s First. Thus, the question is whether those Democrats who “stayed home” and stuck with their party in Pennsylvania would do so here, or will they abandon the Democrat Party once again. (Case in point: while Democrats have always held a voter registration advantage over the GOP in Wicomico County, it hasn’t voted for a Democrat for governor or President since 1986.)

In doing my research, I found seven major “priorities” Lamb was running on:

  • The heroin crisis (and props to him for spelling “heroin” correctly, with one “e”)
  • Jobs and infrastructure
  • Affordable health care
  • Protecting Medicare and Social Security
  • Student loans
  • Union issues
  • Modern energy development

Here’s some of what he had to say for each:

On heroin:

We need to invest in prevention. We need to expand access to treatment and rehabilitation. And we need to crack down on the people who are fueling and profiting from this crisis. There are drug dealers on the street, in doctors’ offices, and in drug company boardrooms, and we need to pass legislation that guarantees every one of them will face justice for their crimes.

So in a nutshell, more federal money thrown at the problem and tougher drug laws.

For infrastructure, Lamb wants “a serious bill big enough to match the urgency of the situation,” with “investments” in job training that he claims companies want to have done through public schools and community colleges. He also wants companies to hire their trainees with “full-time, family-supporting jobs.”

On health care:

I believe that every American has a right to go see a doctor when they’re sick, and that means every American has a right to health insurance they can afford…I’ll work with anyone from either party who wants to help people with pre-existing conditions, improve the quality of care, and reduce premiums, out-of-pocket costs, and prescription drug prices.

In other words, Obamacare isn’t the problem.

Conor also goes after that old “third rail” of politics, making the shopworn claim that Republicans are out to gut entitlements and solemnly vowing to protect Medicare and Social Security. If only Republicans would actually threaten them.

I will give Lamb a little credit for this one, no pun intended:

We need to allow people to refinance their student loans, just as we do for corporations and credit card holders. And I believe we should let people pay at least some portion of their student loans with pre-tax dollars.

He also gets into the idea of paying them back through serving in underserved areas – think of the old TV series “Northern Exposure” and its plot of having a New York doctor practice in rural Alaska to pay off student loans.

With his district being heavily union, Lamb is a proponent of their causes. That’s a key difference between his district and ours, which is not infested much by Big Labor.

The other big difference:

I support robust and responsible energy development. Natural gas extraction is creating and supporting a lot of good, middle-class jobs in our region, and I want more of those jobs for our people.

Yes it is; unfortunately, we have a governor who foolishly and short-sightedly took the option off the table in our state.

That, then, is the (somewhat oversimplified) baseline for local Democrats. There are a total of six on the ballot but only four have FEC accounts (Michael Brown and Erik Lane do not – this is a shame because Lane is the one who’s claiming to be the “conservative Democrat” but he’s not set up the FEC account – which most likely means he has little to no money. I’m sorry but you can’t win an election without some money.)

Out of the other four, as of the end of last year, the cash on hand was as follows:

  1. Jesse Colvin – $186,101
  2. Steve Worton – $99,630 (most of which he loaned)
  3. Michael Pullen – $33,433 (he owes himself over $55,000)
  4. Allison Galbraith – $32,465

Just by comparison, Andy Harris is sitting on over $1.1 million. We pretty much know where he stands on issues as Harris tends to hew to the GOP line and it’s paid off: in three re-election campaigns since being elected in 2010 Andy has averaged 67% of the vote, which was the mark he hit in 2016.

So if we do the “Lamb test” for each of the four remaining candidates, let’s see how they stack up. Women and children first, we start with my sparring partner Allison Galbraith and her “priorities.” You get the sense after reading them that Galbraith would fail the Lamb test by being several steps to his left.

And then you have Michael Pullen, whose website plays heavily on his name by announcing he’s “Pullen for…” various policy items to occur. I read through them and was fascinated: by making Galbraith look centrist by comparison, Pullen truly flunks the Lamb test.

Steve Worton stakes out a number of positions on his key issues with a good, old-fashioned “trifold.” He’s closer to Lamb than the other two, but I believe that title will go to our next competitor.

If you look at the background and profile,, Jesse Colvin is very similar to Conor Lamb: just swap out military branches. He comes out of Democratic Central Casting: a war veteran who spouts more or less center-left talking points. (He and Lamb even have a scarily similar website setup.)

I think that if the powers-that-be in the Democrat Party had their choice it would come down to either Colvin or Galbraith. (They certainly wouldn’t want the conservative guy, who may well be the most appealing to district Democrats but has no money.) Colvin has a young family he can use as props (like Frank Kratovil did to some extent) but so does Galbraith and she’s not afraid to use them. But compared to Colvin she’s vastly underfunded.

Being three months out a lot can (and will) happen, and the race is tough to handicap because there are so many competing interests: Galbraith is the only woman in the race, but Pullen is the only major contender from the parochial Eastern Shore. If people hear about the conservative Democrat Erik Lane he may steal some votes from the more centrist Worton, who can ill afford to lose them.

But the bigger question is whether any of them can beat Andy Harris. Unlike the PA-18 race, which was an open seat, Harris is an incumbent that people seem to like well enough. Once June rolls around we will see how well the local Democrats embrace their choice.

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