By Adam Pagnucco.
Christmas morning is over and your blogger is done opening the presents – errrrr, campaign finance reports. Now we get to share them with you! And we will start by breaking down the Montgomery County Executive race.
Before we start playing with the toys, let’s clear away the wrapping and discuss a few data issues. Our numbers are different from what you will read in other outlets. That’s because Seventh State readers are special and we are going to give you only the best! First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period. Many candidates, particularly in other races we will discuss, have been campaigning for more than a year and we want to capture that. Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others. Self-funding includes money from spouses. Total raised does not include in-kind contributions. Third, for self-financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in cash on hand (which we call adjusted cash balance). That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.
And now, we reveal the numbers you all have been craving: the first round of fundraising reports for the seven people running for County Executive.
This is exactly the kind of race Council Member Marc Elrich wants. He is up against five other candidates, only one of whom has run countywide before, who are nothing like him and cannot steal votes from his progressive and anti-development base. Better yet, because of public financing, he has the resources to be financially competitive. (The thought of Elrich with money is almost as strange as the sight of Elrich wearing a suit and tie.) Elrich has been building a grass roots base for thirty years and he will be able to combine it with substantial labor, progressive and environmental support. This election is starting to turn into Elrich and a competition to become the non-Elrich alternative.
Council Member Roger Berliner has to feel good about his report. He leads the field in total raised for the cycle and cash on hand, and also has the lowest burn rate. Berliner can now start making the case to those who are not inclined to support Elrich that he is the most viable alternative to Elrich. Doing that is essential for his path to victory. (Disclosure: your author is a publicly-listed supporter of Berliner and has done work for him in the past.)
Businessman David Blair is sometimes compared to fellow businessman David Trone, but he is not using a Trone-like strategy. When Trone entered the CD8 race last year, he staffed up rapidly and began spending millions on television within weeks. Accordingly, some observers expected Blair to write himself a million dollar check, putting opponents on notice and perhaps intimidating one or two of them to withdraw. But while Trone plays to win, Blair looks like he’s playing around. He gave himself just enough money ($300,000) to equal the formerly penniless Elrich in cash on hand and trail Berliner. As for private sector fundraising, Berliner has raked in almost three times as much as Blair. Blair needs to sharpen his message, learn more about the county and show a hunger to win.
Council Member George Leventhal is plenty hungry. He might be the hardest-working candidate in the race and he clearly believes he’s the best person for the job. But Leventhal is killing his campaign with his sky-high burn rate (46%), which is more than double the burn rates of Elrich (19%) and Berliner (18%). Like Berliner, Leventhal needs to show to non-Elrich folks that he is the most viable alternative to Elrich. To do that, he needs to tighten up his spending and get some big endorsements – sooner rather than later.
Bill Frick, you know we love you. We admire your heroism on the liquor monopoly and we appreciate all the great fodder you have given us over the years. But you showed a cash balance of $150,753 – less than half what Berliner, Elrich and Blair reported. Why are you doing this, Bill? We want many more years of you in public office, so please take our advice: stay in the House and run to succeed Brian Frosh as Attorney General when the time comes. We will help you do it! We will even write dozens of blog posts just like this one.
Former Planning Department staffer and Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow is an appealing, substantive and competent candidate with fans in both the business and smart growth communities. The fact that she is the only female candidate running against five men in a Democratic primary electorate that is almost 60% female is a big plus. Her numbers are not in yet, but she told Bethesda Magazine that she had raised $39,800 from small contributions in the public financing system. If that’s true, it means she is on pace to qualify for public matching funds much faster than either Elrich or Leventhal did. Still, we don’t understand why she entered public financing. It takes a long time to raise money that way and it prevents her from tapping into what could be substantial business support. Even if she qualifies for matching funds, she could very well trail all the other Democrats in fundraising except maybe Frick.
Republican Robin Ficker appears roughly halfway to qualifying for public matching funds. That means the county’s most infamous anti-tax activist could wind up campaigning on the public dole. And all of you MoCo residents will be paying for that!
Next up: the council at-large candidates.