Category Archives: Marc Elrich

Could Ficker Win a Three-Way Race for Executive?

By Adam Pagnucco.

There is much condemnation of Council Member Nancy Floreen among Democratic activists for leaving the party and launching an independent run for Executive.  Some of the outrage is related to party loyalty.  Some of it is related to support for the apparent Democratic primary winner, Marc Elrich.  And some of it is related to Floreen’s record in office and historic support by the business community.  Those are all value judgments best left to the readers.  But one concern can actually be evaluated with data – the notion that a Floreen candidacy could enable GOP candidate Robin Ficker to come up the middle and squeak out a victory.  Could that actually happen?

Ficker, who has a long and infamous history in the county, has been running for office since the 1970s.  He was actually elected to a District 15 House of Delegates seat in 1978, a decision reversed by the voters four years later.  Since then, he has run for offices of all kinds and placed numerous charter amendments on the ballot.  Two of his charter amendments – a property tax limitation measure in 2008 and a term limits measure in 2016 – were passed by county voters.

Robin Ficker’s official House of Delegates picture from 1978.  Forty years later, could he be headed to elected office again?

First, let’s look at Ficker’s electoral history since the 1990s.  He has run ten times and lost on every occasion.  In every race, he has been a Republican except for 2006, when he ran as an independent for County Executive.  (Twelve years later, that’s what Nancy Floreen is doing.)

Besides all the losing, the thing that stands out here is Ficker’s unpopularity in the Republican Party.  He has entered six contested GOP primaries since 1994 and lost five of them.  The only time he had opposition and won was when he ran in the 2009 County Council District 4 special election and defeated two no-name Republicans who barely campaigned.  The lesson here is that when Republicans have an alternative to Ficker who is not a Democrat, they tend to vote for someone else.

Even Republicans are reluctant to buy what Ficker is selling.  Photo credit: Getty Images, John W. McDonough.

Cathedral wedding Veil

When he did make it to general elections, Ficker earned vote percentages ranging from 34% to 41%.  But most of those elections occurred in Upcounty districts where Republicans are a much larger percentage of the electorate than the county as a whole.

Now let’s look at the performances of GOP candidates for County Executive over the last five general elections.

One of the untold stories in MoCo elections is the recent decline in electoral performance by Democratic nominees in MoCo Executive general elections.  From 1998 through 2006, the Republican nominee did not crack 30%.  In the last two elections, the Republican got 34% of the vote.  For the most part, these were protest votes as the Republican candidates had no money, did not campaign and were not expected by anyone to win.  Another thing to note is that the only one of these elections that had an independent candidate was 2006, when Ficker ran against Ike Leggett and GOP nominee Chuck Floyd.  Ficker got just 9% of the vote, another sign of his unpopularity with both Republicans and independents.

Finally, let’s consider turnout by party in MoCo mid-term general elections.

Over the years, Democratic turnout percentage has edged up gradually, independent turnout has increased and Republican turnout has collapsed.  At some point, it’s reasonable to expect that independent turnout might exceed the GOP.

For Ficker to win, he would need to hold onto all the GOP votes, win more than 70% of independents and have Floreen and Elrich split everyone else exactly down the middle.  That would result in Ficker getting 34% of the vote and Floreen and Elrich each getting 33%.  That’s extremely unlikely for two reasons.  First, as detailed above, Ficker is weak among GOP voters and Republicans and independents would have a viable alternative in Floreen.  Second, for this scenario to work, almost half of all Democrats would have to vote against their own party’s nominee to keep Elrich at 33%.  It’s easier to see a path to victory for Floreen, who could win by getting half the Republicans, all the independents and roughly 28% of the Democrats.

Just to be clear, we are skeptical that anyone can defeat a Democratic nominee in a MoCo countywide election.  But whatever the ramifications of a possible Floreen independent run, we’re pretty sure that one of them will not be a victory by Robin Ficker.

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MoCo Democrats Reveal Preferred Directions for the County

By Adam Pagnucco.

Lots of attention has been paid to who will win the MoCo Democratic Primary for Executive.  At this point, it appears to be Council Member Marc Elrich.  But much less attention has been paid to something equally important: the voice of the voters.  In this primary, MoCo Democrats spoke out loud and clear about their preferred directions for the future of the county.

The Executive race is like no other in MoCo.  The office may not be as powerful as the County Council on paper, but its holder is THE leader and spokesman for the county and sets the tone and direction of the county going forward.  Voters understand that.  And they scrutinize the message and vision of the Executive candidates to a much greater extent than others running for local office.

In this primary, there were six candidates for Executive.  Each had enough resources to be heard.  And as a group, they sent three kinds of messages to the voters.  By choosing between these three messages, the voters indicated their preferred directions for the county’s future.

Status Quo (23% of the vote)

Council Members Roger Berliner and George Leventhal ran on their records in office and argued that they merited a promotion to Executive.  Berliner and Leventhal were arguably the two most effective legislators on the County Council.  Both showed substantial skill at passing a large variety of bills, including difficult ones like Berliner’s bill to protect street trees and Leventhal’s bill to prevent unilateral sales of county property by the Executive.  The two served a combined twenty-four years as committee chairs and each was elected Council President twice.  Their records were not just their own, but were also essentially those of the council itself.  Boiled down to its basic nature, their message was, “I’m an experienced leader and you can count on me to continue the county’s success.”

Berliner and Leventhal ran on their records as Council Members in their mail.

In many years, this kind of strategy would have worked.  MoCo Democrats tend to respect effective elected service.  But this was not one of those years as Berliner and Leventhal combined to get 23% of the vote.  More than three-quarters of Democrats opted for change of one kind or another.

Progressive Plus Anti-Developer Direction (29% of the vote)

Despite being in elected office continuously for 31 years, Council Member Marc Elrich ran as a change candidate.  He argued that the county needed a more progressive social justice direction that would help renters, vulnerable people and those living in and close to poverty.  He was especially focused on closing the achievement gap in public schools and instituting the most progressive environmental standards in the nation.  At the same time, he lambasted developers as “the special interest with too much influence over the government” and vowed to “hold developers accountable for providing the resources necessary to maintain our quality of life.”

Elrich’s comments about developers on his website and in email are in line with the message he has used for decades.

This wasn’t just Elrich’s campaign; almost the entire progressive movement in MoCo lined up behind him and did everything they could to get him elected.  The result was 29% of the vote.

Competitive Direction (48% of the vote)

The three non-Council Members – businessman David Blair, former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow and Delegate Bill Frick – had very different biographies but they had similar campaign messages, especially on the economy.  All three agreed that the county’s economic competitiveness is slipping and must be restored to fund the kinds of progressive priorities favored by all the candidates, and most of the voters.

Blair, Krasnow and Frick made economic competitiveness the focus of their campaigns in their mail and websites.

Blair, Krasnow and Frick combined to receive 48% of the vote with essentially the same message on the economy.  The Executive election revealed that the group of voters wanting economic competitiveness and tax restraint is the largest faction in the county’s Democratic Party.  The competitive direction candidates did not win because there were too many of them and they split up each other’s support, allowing Elrich to squeak in by 80 votes.

Combine the competitive direction Democrats with the roughly 40% of registered voters who are unaffiliated or Republicans and you get 70% of the general electorate – the exact percentage who voted for term limits.  These numbers are not a coincidence.

The Executive election is not quite finished yet.  Council Member Nancy Floreen is trying to get on the ballot as an independent, which we believe is an uphill battle, and a general election awaits.  But through their votes on candidate messages, MoCo Democrats have spoken about where they would like the county to go.  Elected officials would be wise to heed them.

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Post Editorial Board Goes After Elrich… Again

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Washington Post has published an editorial branding Council Member Marc Elrich, who is currently leading in the Democratic primary for Executive, as “an outlier who proudly positioned himself on the ideological extreme left” and “the most insistently anti-business and anti-development member of the Montgomery County Council for more than a decade.”  Those who are interested in the Post’s opinion can read it here.

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Does Blair Have a Chance?

By Adam Pagnucco.

With early votes and election day votes counted, Marc Elrich leads David Blair by 452 votes to win the Democratic County Executive nomination.  This would be a close margin in a House of Delegates race but it’s incredibly close for a county-wide race.  The final outcome will now be decided by absentee and provisional ballots.  Does Blair have a chance or will Elrich hold on to win?

According to Bethesda Magazine, the county’s Board of Elections received 4,900 Democratic absentee ballots as of Monday.  In addition, 3,614 provisional ballots were cast but that total includes all parties.  For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that 2,500 of those provisional ballots came from Democrats.  If there are only 5,000 Democratic absentee ballots received, that is 7,500 outstanding votes.  A higher end assumption would be that 7,500 Democratic absentee ballots come in, resulting in 10,000 outstanding votes.

Let’s do a math exercise on the final outcome of the absentee and provisional votes.  In the first scenario, let’s assume that the percentages of three categories – Blair’s percentage, Elrich’s percentage and the percentage of all the other candidates – exactly match the shares recorded during early and election day voting.  In this scenario, Elrich picks up between 30 and 40 votes more than Blair and he would win.

Now let’s do a scenario in which Blair wins.  Since Blair and Elrich are the top two and no one else is even close, it’s the margin between them that will determine the victor.  In this second scenario, we will hold the percentage of all the other candidates constant and merely adjust the totals for Blair and Elrich.  Adding 3.3 points to Blair and subtracting 3.3 points from Elrich produces a net gain for Blair of 465 votes in a 7,500 vote universe, enough to win.  That margin would go up to 620 votes in a 10,000 vote universe.  But note that this scenario requires Blair to lead Elrich by 6.2 points among these groups, a very different result than Elrich’s 0.4 point lead in early and election day votes.

We adjusted the percentage for the other candidates up and down and didn’t find much change in the margin Blair needs, which is more than six points over Elrich.  Again, this is a departure from the cumulative early vote and election day totals.

Will it happen?  Readers, you tell us!

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Marc Elrich’s 80-Hour Appeal

By Adam Pagnucco.

Marc Elrich’s blast email below summarizes his message and rallies his troops for the final hours of the campaign.

*****

Your help in the next 80 hours will be critical

Friends,

I’m running for County Executive because we have an important choice in this election. On one side are developers and their allies, who have long had too much influence in county government (I’m the only County Councilmember, and only County Executive candidate, to never take their campaign money). They’re spreading misinformation and opposing my candidacy because they know I’ll make them pay their fair share for schools, transit, and green space.

On the other side are teachers, nurses, firefighters, environmentalists, labor unions, progressives, and twenty other organizations who have endorsed me because they know I’ll always stand with you. I would be honored to have your support as well.

With a little less than three days left before polls open on election day, my campaign is working around the clock and could use your help with the items below. Whether you can give money or time, anything you can do could be the difference between a win and a loss. Here’s what we need:

1) Donations. $2,945 in small donations this weekend is what we need to finish this election strong. If you haven’t given the $150 individual maximum yet, please contribute now. If you have already given the $150 maximum, please ask a family member or friend to contribute.

2) Volunteers. If you can door knock, phone bank, staff a polling location, or drive materials to people who need it, please let us know.

3) An Appeal. Your neighbors and colleagues trust you more than anyone – please send them an email or put out a message on social media letting them know why you’re voting for me and asking them to do so, too.

I also hope you’ll join me at the Barking Dog to watch the election results come in on Tuesday night. With your help, I think we’ll have a lot to celebrate.

Thanks,

Marc

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What Will Term Limits Voters Do?

By Adam Pagnucco.

MoCo Democrats are not monolithic.  There are several segments of them.  There are the 40,000 or so Super Democrats, the ones who vote in every mid-term primary.  Then there are the sixty percent of MoCo Dems who are women.  There are the voters who live in the Democratic Crescent – the area from Takoma Park over to Bethesda and Cabin John – who disproportionately turn out to vote.  And of course there are people over age 60, who account for a majority of regular voters.  Candidates are aware of all of these groups and target their communications to them.  But there’s one group – potentially a big one – which few people are talking about.

Term limits voters.

In the 2016 general election, 70% of voters approved term limits.  We know that a majority of the Democrats who voted in that election supported term limits because of simple mathematics.  In that election, 62% of the voters were Democrats.  If all 38% of the voters who were Republicans, third party members or independents voted yes, then the other 32% must have come from the Dems.  Divide 32% by 62% and you get 52% of Dems voting for term limits.  If a few of the non-Dems voted no, the Dem percentage goes up.

The other thing we know about term limits voters is where they live.  Every part of the county voted for term limits except Takoma Park.  In most Downcounty areas, term limits support ranged from 60% to 70%.  Upcounty areas were more supportive with term limits getting 80% or more of the vote in Clarksburg, Damascus, Derwood, Laytonsville, North Potomac and Poolesville.  Upcounty areas have greater concentrations of Republicans than elsewhere.  We ran a correlation coefficient between Republican voter percentage and term limits vote percentage at the precinct level and it worked out to 0.6 – meaning that partisan status was associated with most, but not all, of term limits variability.  In other words, other things were at work too.

That’s about all we know about term limits voters from public data.  There’s a whole lot we don’t know, including:

How many people who voted for term limits in that general election are going to be voting in this mid-term primary?

We have said it before and we will say it again: MoCo Dem primary voters are not the same people as MoCo general election voters.  Just because a majority of presidential general election Dems voted for term limits does not mean that a majority of this year’s mid-term primary Dems will have voted for them.  In fact, we bet it will be a lot less purely because the 40,000 or so Super Dems will be somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of this year’s electorate and we are skeptical that they disproportionately voted for term limits.  That said, the number of term limits voters this year won’t be zero – they are definitely out there.  Even if you split the difference and assume that a quarter of this year’s Dem primary voters supported term limits, that’s a big enough chunk to swing an election.

Why did people vote for term limits?

This is another question to which there is no answer outside of polling.  We tend to agree with former Council Member Steve Silverman, who told Bethesda Magazine, “It was a combination of interests that created the perfect storm that led to the passage of term limits.”  In other words, there were many factors that drove those votes: anger with the nine percent property tax hike, concerns over land use, unhappiness with traffic and cost of living or maybe a simple desire for change, however nebulous that might be.  While we believe that the Dem primary electorate is indeed different from the general electorate of two years ago, we don’t believe those concerns have gone away.

Who will they support this time?

That’s an easier question.  Whatever the reason, it’s hard to interpret the vote for term limits as anything other than a call for change of some kind.  The current Democratic field for Executive contains three term-limited Council Members and three people who are not term-limited Council Members.  That’s a little simplistic – Marc Elrich is running as a progressive change candidate despite his 31-year history of elected office.  But since Takoma Park is Elrich’s home base and that is the only area in the county which voted against term limits, we are hesitant to believe that many term limits supporters are Elrich voters.  Rather, we believe they will lean to the three outsiders – Delegate Bill Frick (D-16), former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow and businessman David Blair.  And of those three, Blair has by far the most resources with which to communicate with them.

Speaking of Blair, we found his recent exchange with Washington Post reporter Jennifer Barrios fascinating.

When asked about his political base, David Blair considers the question then poses one of his own.

“My political base,” he says after a pause. “So does that mean who’s going to come out and support me?”…

“The people that tend to gravitate to me are the ones that believe Montgomery County is a great place to live but we’re slipping,” Blair said. “And there’s a level of frustration, and it could be related to transportation, schools, social services and this — why can’t a county with this level of wealth pay for the services that we need? — and a recognition that a healthy community needs a vibrant, growing business community.”

Those people sound like term limits voters and they have the makings of a political base.  Marc Elrich knows exactly who his base is: progressives, development opponents and people who live in and around Takoma Park.  Elrich’s messaging smartly concentrates on those voter segments.  His troops’ ability to get out those votes is a major reason why he might be the next Executive.

Term limits voters won’t be a majority of the Democratic mid-term primary electorate.  But they might be large enough in numbers to rival the size of Elrich’s base.  If Blair can organize them – and if there are enough of them – we might be staying up late on election night.

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Riemer Takes on Elrich

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Hans Riemer has used Facebook to weigh in on his colleague, Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive.  Riemer and Elrich have cooperated on numerous progressive priorities like Elrich’s $15 minimum wage bill, Riemer’s bill to restore the county’s earned income tax credit, protecting Ten Mile Creek and instituting paid leave, but the two have occasionally disagreed on land use issues.  Other than Nancy Floreen, who has endorsed Rose Krasnow, the other incumbent Council Members who aren’t running for Executive themselves have been quiet on the Executive race.  We reprint Riemer’s Facebook post below.  (Disclosure: your author was Riemer’s Chief of Staff from 2010 through 2014.)

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Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, June 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

The June campaign finance reports are in and they will be the last ones available prior to the primary. Today, we’ll look at the County Executive race.  A note on methodology.  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Third, for publicly financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in the column entitled “Cash Balance With Requested Public Contributions.”  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

Below is our fundraising summary for the County Executive candidates.  The numbers for Robin Ficker presume he has qualified for public matching funds but we have not heard definitively whether he has.

It’s official: David Blair has broken Steve Silverman’s 2006 spending record of $2 million in an Executive race.  (Sorry Steve but you knew it wouldn’t last forever!)  Blair’s $3 million in spending, mostly self-financed, exceeds the $2.1 million combined total so far reported by the other candidates.

Marc Elrich has excelled in public financing and has also had the good fortune to see the second-best financed candidate (Roger Berliner) going negative in TV and mail against the best-financed candidate (Blair).  Combine that with the attack strategy of Progressive Maryland and Elrich can use his own money to promote himself and let others do the dirty work of bringing Blair down.  It couldn’t get any better for Elrich.

Speaking of the attacks on Blair, the scale of them is becoming clear.  Berliner has spent $51,048 on mail and $391,234 on TV, all of which had negative messaging about Blair.  The Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC has so far raised $100,000, most of it in union money, to oppose Blair.  The combined amount between the two – $542,282 – is likely the most money ever spent on attacking a candidate for County Executive and the race is not over.  To our knowledge, none of the other Executive candidates has been targeted by negative TV commercials or negative mail.

The other three Democratic candidates – George Leventhal, Rose Krasnow and Bill Frick – are struggling to compete with limited resources.  Leventhal has had money problems for the entire campaign but he is working his heart out.  That plus his longevity and diverse base of supporters get him into the mix but he is still a long shot to win.

Rumors have swirled for weeks about labor polling and MCGEO President Gino Renne confirmed them to Bethesda Magazine on Friday.  Renne said that Elrich and Blair were “neck and neck” in a number of polls and said, “When you combine all the different polls, it’s a good solid snapshot of what’s going on… I would say it’s statistically insignificant [between Elrich and Blair]. It’s all about who can get their voters to the polls. If the election were today, I’d have to call it a toss-up.”

We have written about Elrich’s base before: it’s a combination of anti-development activists, progressives and people living in and near Takoma Park.  But Blair is developing a base too by consolidating those who want a different direction in county government.  Frick and Krasnow have a similar message but they don’t have the money to make it stick like Blair does.  And so this election is turning into a contest between different visions of change: a move towards greater progressivism or a move away from tax hikes and towards more economic development.

Who knows which side will win?

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