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.