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.
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.