Most of the attention from a Washington Post article and poll released this morning regarding Maryland’s U.S. Senate race went to a pitched battle between two current members of Congress: Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen are fighting it out for the Democratic nomination, which the Post treats as the de facto election.
But the WaPo poll, conducted in conjunction with the University of Maryland, asked Republican respondents about their Senatorial preferences and the big winner – well over the staggering 7.5 point margin of error for the likely voters - was good old Mr. Undecided with 46 (!) percent. Yes, nearly half the voters are still hazy about their choice less than a month before the primary election.
In case you were wondering, these are the results from those who had made up their mind among likely voters:
- Kathy Szeliga – 15%
- Chrys Kefalas – 11%
- Richard Douglas – 9%
- Joe Hooe – 3%
I’m a little surprised that Dave Wallace or Greg Holmes were not included in the poll, as they both ran Congressional campaigns in 2014 and should have had a little name ID among Republicans. There were 1% who volunteered another name, which translates to 3 out of a sample of 283 likely voters. In that universe, Szeliga should have about 42.
However, among the 407 registered voters (margin of error 6%):
- Kathy Szeliga – 15%
- Chrys Kefalas – 10%
- Richard Douglas – 8%
- Joe Hooe – 5%
It’s obvious the Presidential race on the GOP side has sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the Senatorial race. You may be devoted to Cruz, Kasich, or Trump but not particular about any of these candidates because you haven’t heard of them. To change that on her part, according to social media, Szeliga is getting out a television ad in the next few days:
My granddaughter, Avery, definitely stole the spotlight while we were filming the first television ad for my US Senate campaign yesterday.
But I wonder about the runner-up’s math.
Perhaps within the margin of error is the new “tied.” Richard Douglas can say the same thing, and in theory I could too – I could have as much as 7.5% and Kathy Szeliga could have 7.5% among likely voters based on the MOE.
With such a huge pool of undecided voters this close to the election, I would be surprised if any of the candidates came to the Eastern Shore from here on out, at least more than once. Our local campaign will be waged on the airwaves and through volunteers because, quite frankly, the 115,635 Republicans scattered around the Eastern Shore are less suitable for retail politics via candidate appearance than those Republicans in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, or Montgomery counties – any of which have more GOP voters within their boundaries than the whole of the Eastern Shore. Pick any pair between Carroll, Frederick, Harford, and Howard counties and you will find the same. (All bets are off, of course, if we somehow get a local Presidential candidate appearance.)
So if a couple nice people come knocking on your door looking for your support, chances are it will be local volunteers for one of these downballot races. Name recognition will be the big push over the last three weeks.
Over the last couple weeks I have been trying to get a reading on who I would like to be my Senator from the great state of Maryland. (Spoiler alert: Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen ain’t going to cut it.) It’s been a process of trying to get questions answered, checking websites, and watching some of the debates in order to figure out who the best candidate for me would be.
There are 14 Republicans running for the Senate seat, a number which is unusually high. (In previous cycles, it was closer to 10 candidates.) Of course, with that many candidates in a statewide race it becomes apparent early on who has the most legitimate shot at winning. Granted, this has been helped somewhat by media perception, such as which hopefuls are invited to debates, but realistically only about half of those 14 candidates have any real shot – the rest are just ballot filler. In fact, when I asked the questions of candidates only 12 of the 14 had good e-mails, and two of those 12 have no website insofar as I can tell. (Another has a website with just a front page and no functionality). Sadly, the pair without websites are two of those who answered my questions – but the larger question is how you can beat someone who has $3.6 million in the bank like Chris Van Hollen does? You need money to get your message out.
By the time you separate the wheat from the chaff you get about a half-dozen somewhat serious candidates, with a couple on a lower tier that are running campaigns more suited to a Congressional level. Greg Holmes is one, with another being Anthony Seda, who has pointed out he’s not accepting contributions. Noble, but suicidal in the real world of politics. Let me repeat: you need money to get your message out.
So in my estimation, the race comes down to five: Richard Douglas, Joe Hooe, Chrys Kefalas, Kathy Szeliga, and Dave Wallace. In the last debate I watched there were only three participants as Hooe and Wallace were not invited. Another debate featured all but Wallace, while the Goucher College debate had Holmes, Hooe, and Wallace along with Douglas and Kefalas (Szeliga skipped this debate for a Maryland GOP event.)
So here is how I would categorize the contenders, in alphabetical order.
Richard Douglas is the only one of the five to have run a statewide campaign before, but I’m not seeing that pointed out as an advantage. He also has the benefit of experience working in the Senate, but in this topsy-turvy electoral year he’s forced to run more as an outsider because that’s the political mood. His campaign to me has been an intriguing concoction of a hawkish foreign policy combined with a populist economic outlook. He’s one of only two of the five who has answered my list of questions, and as one would expect I found his answers to be strongest on foreign policy, immigration, and to some extent the role of government. (I also know Richard has religious freedom bona fides.)
In 2012 when Richard ran for Senate and lost to Dan Bongino, I noted he would have been my 1A candidate after Bongino, who I endorsed. I would have been as comfortable with him winning as the eventual nominee, and at this point he’s done nothing to change that assessment given this field. Still, he speaks the language of an insider and that may hurt him.
Joe Hooe has made his key issue that of immigration, advocating for a paid guest worker program he claims will raise $80 billion. He claims it will make taxpayers out of illegal aliens, but my question is whether we could track such a program when we have no clue how many people are in the country illegally because they crossed the border and how many are illegal because they overstayed their visa. And if they refuse to pay to work, how will we enforce this new fee? If they are here illegally, then I doubt they’re suddenly going to have a “come to Jesus” moment and decide to follow a law that will cost them $1,000.
One thing I do like about Hooe is his advocacy for apprenticeship programs, but to me that is more of a state concern than a federal concern. Perhaps it’s the aspect of having to be elected by the people (which was not the original intent of the Founding Fathers) but I think all of these candidates conflate the roles of the federal and state governments to some degree. Education is one of many areas where there should be no government role.
Chrys Kefalas has a background that I think would serve him well, particularly since he’s involved with the manufacturing field. He does well on trade and job creation, but my question is whether he would be anything different than what we have now concerning the social issues leg of the Reaganesque three-legged conservative stool. Surely he (and some others) argue that Maryland has settled on its position regarding social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, but that doesn’t mean we should stop working toward Judeo-Christian values where life begins at conception and marriage is between one man and one woman. It’s not quite enough to keep me from voting for Chrys on a general election ballot but many thousands of voters realize a two-legged stool doesn’t work.
Maryland Republicans run into trouble when they try to out-liberal the Democrats on certain issues: if you’re a voter who’s going to vote based on the belief that the unborn is just a blob of tissue and no harm comes to society when anyone can marry anyone else they want – and why stop at one, right? – it’s not likely they’re going to be conservative everywhere else. Meanwhile, you just dispirit the percentage of GOP voters who have that passion for Judeo-Christian values. “I’m only voting for President,” they’ll say. It can be argued that Larry Hogan’s victory was an example of putting social issues on the back burner, but aside from Hogan getting the benefit of a depressed liberal Democrat turnout in 2014, ignoring social issues doesn’t play as well on a national race.
Kathy Szeliga is the “establishment” candidate trying desperately to portray herself as an everyday outsider. With the vast majority of Maryland’s General Assembly Republicans favoring her – mainly because she’s served as a Delegate for six years – she also has received the most attention and support in the race. Using my monoblogue Accountability Project as a guide, her lifetime score of 83 would put her in the upper third of those who have served with her over the years, although her score was more mediocre in 2015 (a 72 rating.) She’s also served as one of the faces of General Assembly Republicans - witness this video, one of a string she has done with fellow Delegate Susan Aumann:
Having said all that, there are two main things that disturb me about Szeliga’s campaign. For one, she has no “issues” page on her website, and I always subscribe to the theory that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. (The same is true for Kefalas.) However, she is reasonably good about answering questions and participating in debates.
But on that point you can tell she is a professional politician. Most of Kathy’s answers seem to be empty platitudes about her life and experiences being a mom, business owner, etc. rather than substantive discussions of the issue at hand. (On the other hand, Richard Douglas has a tendency to talk over the level of the average voter.) Not to be patronizing, but I suspect someone is telling Kathy women voters who would normally be afraid to vote Republican need to be addressed in a non-threatening way – never mind the Democrat who survives the primary will try and paint Szeliga (or any of the others, including the more socially moderate Kefalas) as a stereotypical Republican anyhow.
Dave Wallace, out of the five candidates, seems to be the most conservative. Having read a lengthy treatise of his, most of what he has to say makes sense on a policy level and for that reason I’m leaning his way at this point.
Yet having said that, we also know that Dave lost to a likely opponent by 22 points in a district which is, admittedly based on registration, a D+23 district as it currently stands. In that respect, though, it’s not as bad as the state at large (which is D+32.) We have seen this movie before: Dan Bongino lost by 30 in a 3-way race in 2012, Eric Wargotz by 26 in 2010, Michael Steele by 10 in 2006, E.J. Pipkin by 31 points in 2004, and so forth. I really don’t want a 30-point loss again; unfortunately, too many Maryland voters are stubborn like a mule in voting against their self-interest. (If they “got it,” the most conservative candidate would always win.)
Dave seems like a nice guy and a policy wonk, which I like. But the question is whether he can be a bulldog and attack the Democratic candidate for the failure of the last seven years.
This may not necessarily apply to Dave, although I’m using his space, but I don’t like talk about bipartisanship from any Republican hopeful because Democrats at a national level will nearly always take the hand you reach out to them with, twist your arm off, and proceed to beat you with it. Anyone remember “read my lips?” One of the reasons the bulk of Republicans are fed up with the political system is the lack of intestinal fortitude they see from the politicians they sent to Washington with the message “it’s always been done this way” is not cutting it anymore.
When the TEA Party wave in 2010 put the GOP back in charge of the House, the excuse was “we only control one half of one-third of the government.” Indeed, a do-nothing Senate was a problem. But when the do-nothing Senate was flipped to Republican control in 2014, we still heard excuses about why we couldn’t get anything done. If you want a reason for the rise of Donald Trump, you don’t need to look much further. (Never mind Trump’s not conservative and the bulk of his policy statements have the depth of a cookie sheet. He talks tough.)
If I were to rank my choices in this horserace at the moment, it would go Wallace and Douglas fairly close going into the final turn, with Kefalas a neck ahead of Szeliga for third on the outside and Hooe bringing up the rear. (The rest are chewing hay in the infield.) As it stands now, I will make my endorsement the second Sunday before the primary (April 17.)
In the coming days I will rank the three contenders for the First District Congressional seat. [Yes, there are four Republicans on the ballot but Jonathan Goff is such a strong Trump supporter that he is disqualified. (#NeverTrump strikes again.)] That race is a little different because the incumbent is a Republican so the question becomes whether we want a more straight-ahead conservative or someone who has the reputation of being more liberty-minded? I’ll do some research and hear from one of the three candidates in person in the coming days to help me decide.
Update: Want more? Here you go.
There are still a few days to the primary, but I’m using the occasion of Greg Holmes’s entry to the Republican U.S. Senate race and check how the field is shaping up. (And if you say “who?” you’re not alone – Holmes was one of the also-rans in 2014′s Fourth Congressional District primary.)
Having done this political thing for a few years, I know that there are usually 10 or so Republicans who run for U.S. Senate in any given cycle. My first election here was 2006, the year Michael Steele was the overwhelming choice of the state party (and accordingly won 87 percent of the vote.) Despite that, there were 10 people on the GOP primary ballot, nine of whom split the other 13 percent of the vote. (With an open seat, that was a scrum on the Democratic side – they had 18 running.)
As of this writing, though, we are only at eight running on the GOP side and Holmes would be nine – so we should be in the ballpark for an average election. On the other hand, the open seat on the Democratic side isn’t bringing out nearly as many – just nine have signed up for the Democrats, with at least four being the perennial candidates who rarely get more than 1% of the vote.
Of those nine Republicans, most have some sort of electoral history: Holmes and John Graziani both ran for the same Congressional seat in 2014, while Dave Wallace was the Republican nominee against Democrat Chris Van Hollen that same year. Richard Douglas was a Senate candidate in 2012 and Richard Shawver was in 2006, but Kathy Szeliga is the only one who’s won a legislative position as a Delegate in the Maryland General Assembly. It appears Chrys Kefalas, Lynn Richardson, and Anthony Seda are first-time candidates.
So while Szeliga probably has the greatest name recognition, followed by Douglas, it is a relatively wide open race. If someone were to do favorability numbers on the GOP side right now, I doubt any one of the candidates would be over 20% favorable, with the vast majority saying “never heard of them.” I myself didn’t know many of these people were in the race until I looked tonight.
Meanwhile, in looking at our First District, it’s still a four-person race on the GOP side where incumbent Andy Harris is joined by 2014 challenger Jonathan Goff, first-time candidate Sean Jackson, and former Delegate Mike Smigiel. Jim Ireton hasn’t filed yet, so Joe Werner (who ran for the seat in 2008) is the only candidate so far on the Democratic side.
I think there will be between one and three more in each of the aforementioned races by the time Wednesday’s filing deadline expires. But I am sort of surprised that we’re not seeing as many candidates up and down the ballot this year.
As many who read this space might be aware I took a pass on this year’s quadrennial Maryland GOP organizing convention, so I have Jackie Wellfonder to thank for this picture of our returning Chair.
It’s suitable for framing and sending to Mike Miller. Two years ahead of schedule, bro.
So while there weren’t as many on the ballot as there were for the very contentious 2010 organizing convention, this year still featured some interesting races with the results being perhaps slightly unexpected. But they could be considered a blow to the libertarian wing of the Maryland Republican Party, as the two candidates most directly tied to their effort both lost – Joe Fleckenstein falling far short against incumbent Secretary John Wafer and incumbent 1st Vice-Chair Collins Bailey losing decisively to Mary Burke-Russell by a weighted 298-249 vote, according to observer Dave Wissing. Bailey was the only incumbent to run and lose, while Burke-Russell wins a position she unsuccessfully sought last year in the wake of Diana Waterman’s ascension to Chair.
Meanwhile, the 2nd Vice-Chair race turned out as I expected, with Larry Helminiak easily winning another term over Greg Holmes.
Perhaps the most interesting dynamic was the 3rd Vice-Chair race, which went to a second ballot when none of the three contenders could garner a majority. On the opening ballot Rob Willoughby held on to a narrow lead over Eugene Craig III with Tommy Rodriguez bringing up the rear. Before the second round Rodriguez dropped out and endorsed Craig, enabling him to come from behind.
Since it may have been that endorsement that made the difference, I asked Tommy Rodriguez why he backed Eugene Craig:
I had great respect for Eugene coming into this race, and I am personally familiar with his charisma and willingness to help our party grow. His Young Guns initiative is exactly the kind of innovative thinking that will help grow the Republican bench and make our party more appealing to young voters.
It was a good enough reason to propel Craig to the victory.
As the party hierarchy preached unity to the convention, though, there was one element which couldn’t resist its sack dance:
— Brian Griffiths (@BrianGriffiths) December 6, 2014
Stay classy, guys. I don’t think Collins Bailey will be going away anytime soon, and the libertarian wing of the party may be more feisty than ever during the General Assembly session.
Now that we’ve made it through the convention in a more or less united fashion, the party can begin planning strategy for the aforementioned session. But perhaps the best news of all that came out of the convention was that the party can apparently finally retire its long-term debt. It was something which always concerned me during my tenure on the Central Committee and now that we’ve finally broken into the black we can more easily continue painting Maryland red in 2016 and 2018.
So, to borrow a term from my incoming Delegate, let’s get back to work!
Tomorrow, unless some last-second nomination is made from the floor and somehow gathers enough support to prevail, Diana Waterman will be elected to a full two-year term as Maryland Republican Party Chair. It would be the first re-election of a Chair in my eight years of involvement, and proves that hard work and success is its own reward. Her tenure has been successful enough to scare off any opposition, so she joins party Treasurer Chris Rosenthal as Executive Board members who presumably have an unopposed re-election.
It’s worth noting that Third Vice-Chair Eric Grannon is the only incumbent taking a pass on another term, and his seat has the most competition with three contenders: Eugene Craig III, Tommy Rodriguez, and Rob Willoughby are all trying for that position.
Each of the three comes at the position with different perspectives. Craig and Rodriguez were most active in the 2014 campaign, as Craig ran for Baltimore County Clerk of the Court and Rodriguez was the campaign manager for the Ron George for Governor bid. Willoughby, on the other hand, comes from a more traditional route as he is the Chair of the Caroline County Republican Central Committee and as such has the longest list of endorsements.
All three are active in social media, with Rodriguez stating his priorities as:
We have an unprecedented opportunity as Maryland Republicans to restore prosperity, accountability and personal liberty to the Free State. As your Vice Chair, I will commit my time and talent towards recruiting the next generation of conservative leaders and building a statewide network of donors and grassroots volunteers who will help them towards victory. Together, we can build a Republican Party committed to growing the middle class, reining in big government and providing the best array of education opportunities in the nation.
Craig has the biggest endorsement in Dan Bongino, a blog post by Jason Boisvert explaining Eugene’s thoughts on priorities, and may have the largest brush with fame of the three candidates. Craig was the first one in the race but both he and Rodriguez may have a difficult time against Willoughby as he is familiar to many more potential voters.
Another intriguing race is the one for Secretary, where incumbent John Wafer has a challenge from Joe Fleckenstein.
While it’s not quite as simple as a description as I’ll give it, basically the job of a secretary is to take notes. (It’s why I do a similar function in two organizations because I also have that mindset as an outgrowth of this gig.) But it also has a vote on the Executive Committee because we changed the bylaws in 2013 to allow this. (I recall it was my former Chair Dave Parker who introduced this as an amendment to a bylaws proposal to also grant the YRs and College Republicans an Executive Committee vote.) Fleckenstein is a steering committee member in the Harford County Campaign for Liberty, reflecting a push by the pro-liberty forces in Maryland to have more of a say in the state party.
In the race for Second Vice-Chair, incumbent Larry Helminiak faces a challenge from Greg Holmes, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress from the Fourth Congressional District this year, losing in the primary. Of the three Vice-Chair races this seems to the the most low-key one.
On the other hand, I am being bombarded by e-mails in support of re-electing Collins Bailey to the First Vice-Chair position, So far here is a list of e-mailers from whom I’ve received Bailey endorsements:
- Christina Trotta, Harford County (and a Campaign for Liberty member)
- Larry Helminiak (current Second Vice-Chair)
- Gordon Bull, Baltimore County (ran for Delegate in District 12)
- Tyler Harwood, Wicomico County (a Republican activist)
- Mark Crawford, Charles County
- Grant Helvey, Worcester County Chair
- Gary Clark, Howard County
- Carol Frazier, Worcester County Vice-Chair
- Richard Rothschild, Carroll County Commissioner
- Kellee Kennett, Worcester County Tea Party
- Republican Liberty Caucus of Maryland
The list of endorsements for Mary Burke-Russell isn’t as long, but it does include former gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar. She also has the backhanded support of Red Maryland‘s Brian Griffiths, who wrote a scathing piece on Collins Bailey yesterday. Griffiths’ piece comes off as remaining sour grapes from the ill-fated Chair campaign of Greg Kline, but Burke-Russell already appears to be one of the “establishment” choices against the pro-liberty insurgency which you can put Bailey, Fleckenstein, and arguably Eugene Craig into. If all three win the MDGOP may be a more activist vehicle during the General Assembly sessions – perhaps they should be.
Without speaking to any of the candidates personally – and not having a vote in the matter since I chose not to take a proxy offered to me – I’m not going to make any official endorsements in the race. I’m on record as supporting Diana now although at the time I preferred Collins Bailey be the Chair. Larry Helminiak has also done a fine job.
I will say, though, that I believe those who have been in office by and large deserve re-election but the voters would still be served well by the challengers. And given certain winners the Maryland GOP would be far more diverse in all respects than its Democratic counterpart, which seems to try and balance based on external characteristics and not diversity of thought.