D20 Delegate Race Analysis

D20

District 20’s two open seat primary for Delegate is possibly the most talked about state legislative primary in Maryland this year. The large field has settled into a four candidate top tier.

First, there is David Moon–a long time political operative, well-read state politics blogger and attorney. He has received endorsements from MCEA and the LCV. He had over $50,000 on hand for his January Report. His progressive politics fit the district well and he is presently the best bet to capture one of the two open seats. He has the best, most professionally run campaign of the bunch.

Then there is Will Jawando–a federal lobbyist, former Capitol Hill staffer and Obama appointee. He is also an attorney. Jawando had raised over $40,000 by January. While his fundraising has drastically underperformed expectations, he still has more non self-financed money than anyone else in the race. His lack of local ties and infrastructure hurts him with some activists. But precinct chairs make up a tiny percentage of Democratic primary voters, which many people seem to forget sometimes.

There is also Will Smith, an attorney, Homeland Security consultant and Obama appointee. He has a strong resume and has gotten endorsements from MCEA, the LCV and the Sierra Club. Smith has burned half of his $52,000 haul, leaving him with a paltry $28,000 cash on hand. This high burn rate is the sign of a badly mismanaged campaign. In the year before an election, candidates should be conserving their cash in order to maximize spending on paid communications in the weeks leading up to Election Day. From fundraising to field to communications to political, I have yet to hear anything positive about Will’s operation.

Rounding out the top tier is Jonathan Shurberg, a trial lawyer dogged by substantial ethical issues. His law license was (until recently) suspended over misappropriation of client funds. He has had multiple tax liens against his properties and has been sued for legal malpractice. Nevertheless, Shurberg does have access to substantial sums of money (my spies tell me they spring from a family oil and gas fortune). However, the campaign has burned through half of the initial $125,000 he loaned his campaign. Shurberg has three people on his staff–insane for a Maryland legislative race. He also has a litany of consultants on the payroll–some credible, some dubious. Lots of money has also gone to event sponsorships and other activities that do little to communicate his message to voters. The campaign has gotten universally bad reviews around the county. His ethical baggage and burn rate would normally doom his campaign. But if he keeps writing himself the checks, it’s possible he can pull it off.

There are a variety of other candidates: D’Juan Hopewell (an anti hunger advocate), Justin Chappell (a former Tom Harkin staffer and disability rights activist), Darian Unger (Howard University academic, volunteer firefighter and civic activist) and George Zokle (a litigation attorney). All would be threats in other districts but it would require a real shake up for any of them to break through in D20 on June 24th.

Sheila Hixson is a lock for reelection.

Ratings: Safe Hixson, Lean Moon, and Toss Up between Shurberg, Jawando and Smith for the third seat.

Note: Organization of a slate by popular Sen. Jamie Raskin and Del. Sheila Hixson could scramble these ratings.

Weekend Recap

This weekend on the Seventh State you may have missed:

The Hottest Senate Race in Maryland

D38Eastern Shore District 38

District 38 includes all of Somerset and Worcester Counties as well as much as Wicomico County. It is divided into three subdistricts and features some of the most interesting races in this election cycle. Unlike in much of the State, the general is the real show here on the south Shore.

The Senate race is probably the hottest general election contest in the State. Democratic Sen. Jim Mathias faces a tough challenge from Republican Del. Mike McDermott. This is a battle royale between two long successful politicians.

Mathias, a former mayor of Ocean City, served one term in the House before winning election to the Senate in 2010. McDermott is a former mayor of Pocomoke City and police chief in Snow Hill who won election to the House in 2010.

In January, campaign finance report filings revealed that McDermott had just $20K cash on hand compared to an impressive $208K for Mathias. He will need every bit of it. District 38 is red territory. Though Mathias won in the tough Democratic year in 2010, his margin over his GOP opponent was just 1.4%.

Somerset is the most Democratic county in the district–Obama carried it by 1.9% in 2012–but it only cast 16% of the district vote in 2010 and Mathias narrowly lost it. Worcester cast 46% of the vote but is more Republican–Romney won it by 18%. Nevertheless, Mathias who hails from Ocean City won it with 52% in 2010.

Portions of Wicomico comprise the remainder of the district. Wicomico is more narrowly Republican, as Romney won by just 5%. But the best Democratic precincts in Salisbury are in the neighboring black-majority District 37A. Mathias narrowly lost in Wicomico in 2010.

McDermott represents the same people as Mathias so any incumbency advantage is limited. Mathias will need all of his political skill as well as his mighty campaign war chest to beat the Republican lean of the district for a second time.

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.

This race will help shape both Senate caucuses in the future. McDermott’s election will drag the GOP further to the right, bad news for its long-term statewide viability. A loss by Mathias would also weaken the strength of Democratic centrists, pulling the caucus to the left and increasing party polarization.

I expect Senate President Miller to go all in to support Mathias in the general election. Can the Republicans do the same for McDermott? And can McDermott raise enough cash once the session ends to run a viable campaign of his own?

General Election Rating: Toss Up.

Health Care Exchange Tech Scrapped

The opening paragraph from this WaPo story is terrible news for the Brown campaign:

Maryland officials are set to replace the state’s online health-insurance exchange with technology from Connecticut’s insurance marketplace, according to two people familiar with the decision, an acknowledgment that a system that has cost at least $125.5 million is broken beyond repair.

That’s a lot of money down the drain on an initiative on which Lt. Gov. Brown had hoped to tout his leadership. Indeed, his placement at the head of the roll out seemed designed with that purpose.

The key question remains whether either AG Gansler or Del. Mizeur can capitalize on it. How do they attack Brown’s management skills without conflating it with a general attack on the President’s signature achievement?

Finding the way to craft a message successfully to pick that lock could well be the key to shifting voters in the fight for Democratic nomination. A further complication is how to make the attack without shifting voters to your other opponent.

If Brown wins the nomination, I expect that this issue will continue to feature in the general election. For a Republican, it’s a great way to rally the base and to attack Brown’s skills. In any case, he needs to get this problem fixed quickly so he can put it behind him.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Race Rating

greggbernsteinBaltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein

Gregg Bernstein pulled off the impossible in 2010. Bernstein, a wealthy white Jewish lawyer toppled an African-American State’s Attorney in a heavily African-American city–though less so than in the recent past–known for its racially charged politics.

His odds are much better this time around. He faces Marilyn Mosby, wife of rising star City Councilman Nick Mosby, in the primary and independent Russell Neaverdon in the general election. Mosby and Neaverdon are both African American.

The demographics of Baltimore City mean that Bernstein will have to run hard. With $350,000 in his account as of January 1st, he will have the resources to do so. He will also be aided by a team of sharp advisers, including Ann Beegle and SKDKnickerbocker.

Mosby will be competitive with $100,000 in her account,. Still, given his substantial cash advantage and formidable organization, Bernstein is favored in the primary. In heavily Democratic Baltimore it will be exceedingly difficult for Neaverdon to break through.

Primary Rating: Likely Bernstein
General Election Rating: Safe Bernstein

Duchy Flip Flops on Labor

BethesdaNow’s Aaron Kraut wrote a fascinating story about Duchy Trachtenberg’s kickoff event.

Duchy apologized for her previously poor relations with labor:

“Guess what guys, your employees deserve competitive pay and benefits for the excellent job that they do each and every day,” Trachtenberg said in a message addressed at the police, firefighter and county employee union representatives in the audience. “I pledged my support for this and I sincerely regret the breakdown of our working relationship a few years back. It should never have happened, given my union roots, and I really feel badly that it did.”

Nothing like receiving an apology four years later when someone wants your support because they’re running again. Apparently, Duchy not only wants mend fences but also to be the tribune for labor on the Council:

“That should have never happened and it didn’t happen when I was on the Council,” Trachtenberg said. “It’s going to be the first thing that I do and it’s the right thing to do because effects bargaining, binding arbitration and adequate pay and workers’ benefits are all essential workers’ rights.”

Two years ago, County residents voted by 58% to uphold the County Council’s decision on effects bargaining. Labor has many good arguments to make centered around pay and benefits but reviving this one is just tactically misguided. Fighting over the police chief’s control over the police places the unions on much weaker grounds than in almost any other debate.

Duchy is also trying to perform Ten Mile Creek jujitsu–claiming credit for having laid the groundwork to protect the area while simultaneously attacking her opponent for efforts to protect it:

Trachtenberg mentioned Berliner only once, and not by name, while discussing her environmental protection credentials. She recently got support from a group of developers unhappy with Berliner’s support of a move to limit development near Ten Mile Creek in Clarksburg.

Trachtenberg claimed she had plenty of support among environmental activists, and said a water quality work group she started with former Councilmember Mike Knapp laid the groundwork for the Ten Mile Creek debate today.

And Duchy is very effective:

“Despite being accused of being bossy, and that happens often, or that I’m too quick to cut to the chase, I do get things done,” Trachtenberg said. “I’m very effective and I know I am. I’m not bragging. I know it.”

I don’t know many effective people who feel it necessary to go around and pronounce themselves effective quite so emphatically. They just get things done.

I guess her arguments were effective in at least one sense. I plan to vote to reelect Roger Berliner.

 

Upended D16 Race Now a Tough Fight

District 16

How things have changed since David profiled this race.

Until filing day, it appeared that Marc Korman and Hrant Jamgochian would coast to victory in District 16. However, Bill Frick’s surprising decision to forgo the AG Race in favor of reelection has transformed it into what promises to be a hard fought, tough primary battle.

Marc Korman is an Attorney at the storied firm of Sidley Austin and a former Capitol Hill Staffer. He also serves on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee and is well respected and well liked throughout the County. Previously, Korman turned down several opportunities to take strong shots at this seat–twice for appointments and once in the 2010 primary.

He has hired Sean Sinclair of Sinclair Strategies–a well respected if small Boston based shop–as his general consultant. Korman’s fundraising has been exceptionally strong with $120,000 on hand in January. His campaign manager was the operations director on U.S. Rep. Rush Holt’s 2013 Senate bid in New Jersey.

Hrant Jamgochian is also an Attorney and internationally known health policy expert. He ran a strong campaign for this same seat in 2010. This year, he has retained the services of Bob Creamer to lead his consulting team. Creamer has been a national powerhouse for decades. He is also a convicted felon (check cashing fraud) which could be a line of attack in this well heeled district should the campaign turn negative. Jamgochian’s Campaign Manager was the Field Director on Nevada State Assembly Speaker John Oceagura’s congressional campaign. His campaign funds are roughly comparable to those of Korman.

Both can be expected to run strong, professional, and very well funded campaigns. Both are exceptionally well qualified to serve in the House of Delegates. Sadly, only one will be able to have the privilege of representing their neighbors in Annapolis, as the other two seats are held by two strong incumbents–Frick and Del. Ariana Kelly.

Several other candidates are also running in D16.

Gareth Murray is a minister, lobbyist and former state legislator. Although well pedigreed, he has failed to put together the requisite infrastructure to be successful in the modern era of campaigns. (Disclosure: Gareth Murray is a former client in my professional life.)

Jordan Cooper‘s campaign shows exceptional hustle. However, he has only raised $22K and his well-meaning effort nonetheless sometimes strikes people as too hard charging. Still, Cooper is working very hard and is really committed to this campaign.

Rating: Frick and Kelly have a straightforward path to reelection. Toss Up between Korman and Jamgochian for the open seat.