A few days ago I, along with other Central Committee members and “interested parties,” received a memo from the Congressional campaign of Andy Harris. While the information I received probably isn’t public knowledge in its format, it is possible to find all of the facts provided through diligent searching and I believe revealing a little bit of it will help me to make a larger point.
In this memo, Harris outlines the “work (the campaign) did this cycle for candidates in Maryland and around the nation.” Just before the election we found out about A Great Maryland PAC and some of the assistance it gave in promoting candidates or pointing out flaws in the record of incumbent Democrats, but Harris did more – a lot more. As the memo explains:
On the Eastern Shore, maximum contributions through the Andy Harris campaign and Chesapeake PAC were made to delegate candidates Carl Anderton and Kevin Hornberger, both of whom defeated long-time Democrat stalwarts. Carl defeated 28 year incumbent Norm Conway, who also is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, in a Wicomico County based district. Kevin defeated 16 year incumbent David Rudolph, who is the Vice Chair of the Economic Matters Committee, in a Cecil County district. Every seat on the Shore other than the democratically drawn majority-minority district is now held by Republicans. The lone Democrat State Senator on the Shore, Jim Mathias, regrettably, barely held on to his seat despite investments of time and financial resources in the race. All three delegate seats in his State Senate district went Republican, but Mathias held on by the skin of his teeth.
Another big highlight on the Shore was the defeat of Democrat Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt by Republican Bob Culver. Congressman Harris donated significantly to Bob’s campaign, and Culver was able to pull it out. In addition to these Democrat-held seats, four candidates running in open seats and supported by Harris were able to put their races away with ease. Mary Beth Carozza (Worcester) won 74% in her single member district. Chris Adams (Wicomico) and Johnny Mautz (Talbot) each doubled the amount of votes received by their Democratic challengers. Jay Jacobs (Kent), Steve Arentz (Queen Anne’s) and Jeff Ghrist (Caroline) all ran strong victorious delegate campaigns. With the election of Jeff Ghrist, Caroline County has for the first time in decades a resident delegate.
Every Republican Delegate or Senate candidate who represents a part of the First District received some level of financial support from Congressman Harris.
A good illustration of the impact outside help can make is found with Anderton’s race. Throughout the campaign. incumbent Norm Conway’s bankroll fluctuated in a range of $75,000 to $100,000 on hand. With most candidates, it’s difficult to overcome that much of a financial disadvantage; indeed, it turned out Carl was outspent in the race by more than 4 to 1. While Anderton put in a tremendous amount of sweat equity, having the money to wage a little bit of a media campaign and not completely cede the airwaves made a big difference.
But another local race illustrates the problem a statewide minority party has. That “skin of the teeth” victory by Jim Mathias also was won at great cost – like Anderton, Republican challenger Mike McDermott was outspent by better than 4 to 1. For Mathias, though, the victory was won on the airwaves as he spent $268,850 over the last month at a company called Screen Strategies, which is a really big gun in that it’s worked for several statewide Democratic campaigns and leftist interest groups, including anti-traditional marriage and pro-abortion entities. On just that firm alone, Mathias spent 2.3 times what Mike McDermott spent on his entire campaign. And since it’s a more far-flung Senate district – as opposed to the relatively compact confines of House District 38B in the immediate Salisbury metro area – the impact of media is much greater because no candidate can be everywhere in three counties every day.
What the Maryland Republican Party needs is more people to pull in money like Harris does and spread it around. While Democrats have a registration majority of roughly 2 to 1 over Republicans and 56% of the overall electorate, they hold a margin larger than their proportion in the Maryland Senate and prior to this year’s election did the same in the House – and that’s not to mention their 9 to 1 advantage in Maryland’s Congressional delegation. When Jim Mathias and Norm Conway needed financial help, their party and interests were able to provide it. Unfortunately, it’s only because of Andy Harris that the First District is the one portion of the state where the GOP can counter this – the rest of the state exists more or less on its own. The loss of Dan Bongino in the Sixth Congressional District was troubling because that end of the state could have received the same assistance down the road.
One big, big problem with the Republican Party in Maryland is that they can’t fill out their ballot throughout the state, and even in certain county races. While Republicans have outdone their registration disadvantage in Wicomico County for the past several years, we still could not find candidates willing to go after two open seats, one for Delegate and one for County Council, in majority-minority districts. Granted, one only became open when the current Delegate withdrew at the last possible minute AFTER the filing deadline, but the GOP still could add a name to the ballot for a few days afterward. We tried, but no one would make that commitment. Now that people are becoming aware they could get at least a little financial help, though, that problem could be solved in 2018.
Though they have an uphill battle at best, those sacrificial lambs serve a noble purpose by making the Democrats spend money on their campaigns, money that they can’t send off to a vulnerable fellow candidate someplace else in the state – as many “safe” Democrats did to help Mathias. With few exceptions, Democrats found people willing to carry their banner in Republican-held areas so we had to pay some attention to them.
And there’s always the possibility of catching lightning in a bottle because once in awhile miracles happen – everyone and their brother thought District 38B was gerrymandered into a safe seat for Norm Conway, but the voters proved otherwise.
Those District 38B voters were better informed because they have a Congressman who’s willing to not just vote conservatively in Congress, but help in building a viable conservative movement in Maryland. In the meantime, state Republicans could stand some lessons from Carl on how to win an uphill battle.
The word came down last night from the victor himself:
I just received a call from the Governor’s office appointing me as the new Senator for District 36 – I am both thrilled and humbled by all the support I received during this appointment process. I am looking forward to serving the 36th District in this new role. Thank you again to all those that offered support, prayers and well wishes this was truly a humbling experience.
Steve Hershey wasn’t the longest shot, but going in he may not have been the favorite, either. Yet he secured the votes of two Central Committees in the four-county district and that was enough to forge a tie with fellow Delegate Michael Smigiel and throw the fate of the seat into the hands of Governor Martin O’Malley. Given Smigiel’s forceful opposition of O’Malley’s onerous gun law package this spring, you knew he would be punished by not getting the appointment he sought.
So Hershey gets the seat vacated by the resignation of former Minority Leader Senator E. J. Pipkin, who followed Rick Perry’s advice before the commercials even came out and moved to Texas. Now the scene shifts to the battle over Hershey’s vacated Delegate seat. As I recall, it cannot be filled by a resident of a county already represented in the district, so residents of Cecil County (Smigiel) and Kent County (Delegate Jay Jacobs, who did not seek the Senate post) would be excluded – but their Central Committees would have a vote.
Out of the original field of 14, all but three hailed from either Queen Anne’s County or Caroline County, which is the lone Maryland county without a resident Delegate. Not all of the remaining ten would seek the Delegate seat, but several probably would and they may be joined by a few others – one being Caroline County commissioner Jeff Ghrist, who made a lengthy plea on Facebook which I excerpt here:
Governor O’Malley will soon be selecting our new District 36 Senator and subsequently one of two House of Delegate seats will become available. This will require someone to fill a Delegate seat. Caroline County has been without a resident of our county representing us in Annapolis for nearly two decades. While I sincerely enjoy being a Commissioner in Caroline County…I would love to take my passion and experience for limited and efficient government to Annapolis.
The first goal is to build a concensus (sic) throughout the district that I am the best appointment for Delegate. Not only do I have a strong legislative and executive track record but Caroline County deserves resident representation.
Ghrist has been seeking higher office for awhile; he briefly campaigned for Congress in 2009 before withdrawing and endorsing Andy Harris.
So we will probably have much the same circus we did for the Senate seat, with the real possibility of another split vote and Martin O’Malley breaking the tie.
Meanwhile, Hershey’s tenure may be short-lived. Former Delegate Richard Sossi is actively planning a run for the seat, as is 2010 U.S. Senate nominee Eric Wargotz. The same sort of situation may occur in the District 36 Delegate race next year, with several jockeying for position to be the top vote-getter in a particular county.
Long-term, the solution to that issue may be to enact 141 separate House of Delegate districts, instead of the confusing mishmash of having some three-person districts as well as a handful which are split in a 2-1 configuration. But in the meantime, the political races on the Eastern Shore may be some of the most interesting in the state with the District 36 openings, a primary challenge to the incumbent in District 37A, the opening in District 37B thanks to the selection of Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio to the David Craig gubernatorial ticket, the forced move of Delegate Mike McDermott to a challenge for the District 38 Senate seat due to redistricting, and a brand new District 38C with no incumbent.