The race between incumbent Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher and challenger Max Socol is one of the marquee races in Montgomery County this year. Waldstreicher was first elected to the House in 2006 and after three terms moved up to the Senate in 2018. Toppling an incumbent isn’t easy, but Socol sure is making him work for it.
Socol’s central argument is that Waldstreicher is too conservative and not enough of a fighter for progressive causes for District 18. Enough seem to agree to fuel Socol’s challenge, including former Sen. Sharon Grosfeld and former Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, who served with Jeff in the House for three terms and endorsed Socol.
This race first caught my eye when a crew of local activists whose backing I would have thought Waldstreicher nailed down years ago announced their support for his opponent. Some held fundraisers or meet-and-greets in their homes for him in past elections. So why is Waldstreicher facing this strong challenge?
Essentially, some see Waldstreicher as a cautious politician rather than a progressive champion or formidable tactician in the manner of former Sens. Chris Van Hollen, Sharon Grosfeld or Rich Madaleno. In the House, Waldstreicher developed a reputation as a chameleon and unreliable among his colleagues. Though tough fights are the ones in which you make tight friends and allies, he was reluctant to take positions on divisive issues.
Sources I respect tell me that Waldstreicher has grown in the Senate. He has become a strong ally of Senate President Bill Ferguson, including taking some tough votes, and his colleagues regard him well enough. He is currently the Vice Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. When I have seen him on the dais, he has struck me as intelligent and engaged.
Still, some politically active constituents remain frustrated that Waldstreicher won’t engage with people he perceives as critical or insufficiently supportive. He avoids most forums, especially those with his opponent. Make no mistake, Waldstreicher remains an extremely hard-working campaigner who knocks on doors relentlessly. No one should underestimate his focus and determination.
Max Socol has raised a credible amount of money, even if he lags well behind Waldstreicher and also faces opposition from the Senate Democratic Caucus. Highly personable, he comes across as authentic and someone who genuinely cares. Socol now works as a political and community organizer. He’s organized a strong campaign with many volunteers and even managed to pick off some support from interest groups.
Most notably, perhaps, Socol won the support of Pro-Choice Maryland, a real surprise against an incumbent who has strongly emphasized his involvement and solid support for pro-choice causes in this and previous campaigns. He also has the support of CASA in Action—useful in a district with many Latino voters—and Progressive Maryland. Of course, Waldstreicher still has the bulk of endorsements, including the powerful county unions complete with the Apple ballot.
So bottom line, how should you vote? Hold on for Part 2, which highlights issue differences that may help you make that decision.