Heavens to Nancy. We Might Have Competition in a MoCo General Election!

You can read some of my thoughts on Nancy Floreen’s mulling over entering the county executive race in an interview with WAMU.

In essence, I consider it virtually impossible that Councilmember Floreen plunges into the race if David Blair ends up winning the tightly contested Democratic primary. Floreen’s bid is being talked up by the more or less the same developer folks who back Empower Montgomery and vehemently oppose Elrich.

David Blair has a different background from Nancy Floreen. He’s a former business exec, while she has earned her political stripes serving as Mayor of Garrett Park, on the Planning Board, and on the county council. But their issue positions aren’t radically different. Essentially, a bid by Floreen would be a mulligan for the business community if Blair loses.

Even more important, Floreen would lack the essential money from the business community required for a serious campaign. Getting on the ballot is tough enough in such a short period and would be hard to do without financial support. Of course, that leaves aside the money needed for a campaign or fighting a lawsuit challenging her eligibility to be on the ballot because she filed to run as an unaffiliated voter while still registered as a Democrat.

Some argue that Floreen’s gambit is an effort to try to get a women into power after the county executive and council primary results resulted in the nomination of one woman. At the end of the day, I tend to regard that as nice verbiage that will disappear if David Blair wins the nomination. Besides, Nancy Floreen has a lot more to offer beyond “girl power” as a candidate.

Earlier today, Del. Kirill Reznik made the case that the Democratic candidates are all good, reasonable people. Boiled down, it articulated the wisdom of the old, typing practice phrase “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.” It’s time for Democrats to rally around the winner.

Except it’s hard for me to get that exercised about the idea of Nancy Floreen running as an independent. If an independent like Bernie Sanders can take lots of Democratic Party money for his Senate bids and even run for the Democratic presidential nomination, why can’t a Democrat like Nancy Floreen run as an independent?

The Republican label is now so toxic that it’s virtually unthinkable of a Republican winning an election in Montgomery. Having Robin Ficker as your champion doesn’t help. That has forced all contests into the Democratic party, and only a select share of the electorate participates in the Democratic primary. Many voters end up frustrated as it renders the general election meaningless.

Parties are valuable because they provide useful cues to voters as a starting point (often an ending point) in evaluating candidates. There are divisions but no truly organized factions within the Democratic Party to structure politics for voters. Moreover, as V.O. Key noted long ago. one-partyism facilitates rapid ideological movement within a party of the sort we’ve seen in Peter Franchot’s evolution from progressive tribune to Hogan buddy.

The increasing leftward trend of the Democrats and extreme right-wing nature of the vast majority of today’s Republicans leaves a lot of unoccupied space in the center. Unsurprisingly, some pols may begin to take advantage of it and a lot of voters might well respond.

I should make clear that, while I respect Nancy Floreen, that these points are general rather than specific. She’s right that the county could sorely use more competition in the general. At the state level, the Democrats would also benefit as it would help motivate Democratic voters to turn out in the general election.

More specifically, I do not share the fears held by some in the business community regarding Marc Elrich as county executive. It’s important to look at specifics beyond ideological type. Elrich is far from someone who simply mouths progressive slogans and will mindlessly attempt to implement them.

If you listen to him speak in detail about issues, it’s clear that he’s highly knowledgeable and has many concrete, practical ideas that are far from whackadoodle to address problems that all Democrats claim they want to address. Elrich will also have to deal with a county council with a range of views. Assuming he wins the Democratic primary, I think he deserves his shot and will have my vote. I can say the same regarding David Blair.

Though I end up with the same vote as Kirill Reznik here, I applaud people looking beyond party (at least when the candidates merit it). Small-d democratic competition is healthy. Let’s embrace it.

P.S. Having assumed life would be dull after the primary, I’m stepping away from the keyboard for a few weeks. I trust Adam Pagnucco will continue to make healthy mischief in my absence.

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Dear MoCo Democrats, It’s Time to Back the Nominees

By Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-39).

You may not know it, but there is a war raging.  It’s mostly among my 3,000 or so Facebook friends.  You see, apparently there is a civil war between the Clintonite, corporatist pseudo-fascists and the Sanderista, Marxist communists for the Presidency of…yeah, it’s the County Executive Primary.  By the way, these are not my descriptions, these are how you have described supporters of David Blair and Marc Elrich.  Don’t believe me?  I have screenshots.

It doesn’t matter that we all agree on literally 90% of all issues.  Yes, that’s right, we do.  But recently, it has become popular to discount any politician or elected official who doesn’t agree with you 100% of the time as the worst example of the other side.

Let’s be very, very clear.  Republicans don’t actually do this.  Yes, they fight in the Primary, and then they back their nominee.  Every. Single. Time.  And they will do it for Robin Ficker.  And they will come out to vote.

I did not support either Marc Elrich or David Blair in the Primary.  I did not support David Trone for Congress.  I did enthusiastically support Ben Jealous for Governor.   But I would have supported Rushern Baker or Rich Madaleno or anyone else, just like I plan to support the Democratic nominees for County Executive and Congress.  Why?  Because they are all 1,000 times better than the alternative.  David Blair is not going to sell the County to the highest bidder and Marc Elrich is not going to put us all into gulags.

I guarantee you that the Republicans will be out in force in November to back Larry Hogan, Amie Hoeber and Ficker, and they will pretend that they are all moderate to siphon votes from our side.  They are so afraid of an educated, healthy and reasonably compensated middle class workforce that they will vote for the Republican nominees no matter what.

They will portray Hogan as moderate.  The guy who nominated a gun nut who thinks that Democrats are responsible for mass shootings to the Handgun Permit Review Board.  The guy who nominated a woman who thinks doctors who perform legal abortions should lose their license to practice medicine to the Maryland Board of Physicians.  The guy who exploited an alleged rape in a high school to deny Montgomery County Public Schools a waiver to extend the school year for five days.  The guy who called teachers “thugs.”  They will portray him as a moderate and they will be out in force to elect him.

They will portray Amie Hoeber as a moderate.  The woman who thinks that separating children from their parents is a “complicated issue.”  The one who will vote for a right wing Speaker of the House dead set on rubber-stamping Donald Trump’s agenda.  They will be out in force for her too.

And if you doubt they will also vote for Robin Ficker, you are kidding yourself.  So go ahead, split the vote with an independent run, launch a write-in campaign, do it all. Cut up the Democratic vote so much that a camouflage shorts-wearing sociopath becomes County Executive.  Don’t think it could happen?  Take a look at the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who received 93,000 votes in Montgomery County.

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Franchot Tacitly Supports Hogan

While Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot says he wants to remain “neutral” in the gubernatorial race, it’s a big win for Hogan that the statewide official won’t endorse the Democratic nominee. Moreover, as reported in the Baltimore Sun, Franchot’s comments make his true feelings clear regardless of his nominal neutrality:

Franchot said he considers Hogan a friend.

Jealous and Franchot represent different ideological wings of the Democratic party, even though both claim the anti-establishment mantle and share many views on social issues. Jealous, who won the Democratic primary last week, is a strong progressive on economic issues, while the comptroller has positioned himself as a fiscal conservative.

Without directly referring to Jealous, Franchot said voters want Democrats to offer them something other than the type of expansive social programs Jealous is proposing.

“The don’t want higher taxes, they don’t want higher fees, they don’t want pie-in-the-sky programs that sound great” but are too expensive, Franchot said.

It’s fascinating that Franchot is now seen as a fiscal conservative, as he not too long ago cast himself as a leading progressive. In any case, Franchot is coasting to reelection and just did his buddy on the Board of Public Works a solid.

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MoCo Democrats are Badly Divided

By Adam Pagnucco.

This may not be the most polite thing to say in the wake of the MoCo Democrats’ Kiss and Make Up Party, but it’s the truth: MoCo Dems are badly divided.  Consider the following.

The photo finish in the Executive race between Marc Elrich and David Blair is exacerbated by the fact that many Democratic activists are part of Anybody But Elrich or Anybody But Blair factions.  No matter who wins, that person will have 29% of the primary vote, far lower than any prior MoCo Executive.

That’s not the only divide in the Executive race.  The three incumbent Council Members received a combined 52% of the vote.  The three outsiders received 48%.  That suggests an even split between those who want more of what they have seen from the council and those who want something different.

Gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous won MoCo with roughly 36% of the vote, four points ahead of Rushern Baker and 22 points ahead of MoCo State Senator Rich Madaleno.  No one wants to talk about this publicly, but there are quite a few county Dems out there who will consider voting for Governor Larry Hogan.

Now Nancy Floreen has filed a declaration of intent to run for County Executive as an independent.  This is sure to attract the attention of some Dems who are upset that the nine-member County Council will include just one woman.  Floreen is one of the most prominent female Democrats in the county’s history.  No woman has been elected countywide more times than Floreen since charter government was established in 1970.  If she does indeed get on the ballot, a not-insignificant number of Dems – especially women – could vote for her.

All of this adds to county Democrats’ pre-existing divide about land use, the Upcounty vs Downcounty split, long-standing tensions between progressives and moderates and the Hillary vs Bernie disputes of two years ago (and the Hillary vs Obama disputes before that).  Throw that in with the fact that a majority of Democrats voted for term limits and there’s a lot of bubbling in the cauldron right now.

The county’s two most popular Democrats are U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Jamie Raskin.  Neither is known for intervening in and settling local disputes.  County Executive Ike Leggett is widely respected but is leaving office.  The Governor is a Republican who is happy to see Dems fight Dems.

As for the Republicans, they must be kicking themselves that they couldn’t find anyone else to run for Executive other than Robin Ficker.

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Nancy Floreen Files Intent to Run for County Executive as an Independent

By Adam Pagnucco.

Bethesda Magazine just reported that Council Member Nancy Floreen has filed her intent to run for County Executive as an independent.  But getting on the ballot is not as simple as filing.

The magazine noted that Floreen is still a Democrat and that could present a legal difficulty.  But there is more.  According to § 5-703 of the state’s election law, Floreen has until the first Monday in August to submit petition signatures sufficient to place her on the ballot.  The law states:

A candidate who seeks nomination by petition may not have the candidate’s name placed on the general election ballot unless the candidate files with the appropriate board petitions signed by the lesser of 10,000 registered voters or 1% of the total number of registered voters who are eligible to vote for the office for which the nomination by petition is sought, except that the petitions shall be signed by at least 250 registered voters who are eligible to vote for the office…

The number of registered voters required to satisfy the requirements of paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be determined as of January 1 of the year of the primary election for which the nomination is sought.

The state’s voter registration report for January indicates that there were 644,179 registered voters in Montgomery County at that time.  So Floreen’s absolute minimum threshold would be 6,442 MoCo voters.  To be safe, she probably needs at least 10,000 signatures to account for inevitable disqualifications.

She has until August 6 to get them.

Following is Floreen’s statement.

Today I filed an Intent to Declare Candidacy with the Maryland Board of Elections to run for County Executive in the November general election.

Let me be clear: I would like to have waited for the final count of ballots in the County Executive race. However, State law sets July 2 as the deadline for declaring an independent candidacy.

I did not support either David Blair or Marc Elrich. Whichever candidate prevails in the count will do so with less than 30 percent of the third of Democrats who voted — a fraction of a fraction. That’s less than 40,000 votes in a County of more than a million.

I believe ALL Democrats, Republicans, and independents would benefit from a third, independent choice.

I will announce my final decision on candidacy once all the primary votes for County Executive have been tabulated and certified.

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A Pattern in the Absentee Ballots?

By Adam Pagnucco.

All eyes in political MoCo are on the County Executive race, which will be decided by absentee and provisional ballots.  After the first absentee canvass, Marc Elrich’s lead over David Blair has declined from 492 votes to 149 votes, guaranteeing an absolute squeaker of a finish.  Lots of folks are asking why.  A preliminary analysis of absentee voting data suggests one reason: for the most part, candidates endorsed by MCEA, of whom Elrich is one, are performing slightly less well in absentee voting than in early voting and election day voting.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents MCPS teachers, has historically been the most powerful interest group in MoCo elections.  Its political program has combined mail and poll coverage where its mighty Apple Ballot is distributed.  This year, its mail program has been partially diverted to the Governor’s race (where the union helped pay for three mailers on behalf of Ben Jealous) and Congress District 6 (where the union sent three mailers for Aruna Miller).  Its remaining mailers were one for its State Legislative District 16 endorsees (one of whom was teacher Samir Paul), one for its Council At-Large endorsees (one of whom was teacher Chris Wilhelm) and one with the Apple Ballot itself.  The latter mailer was the only one to include Marc Elrich, who was endorsed late.  In past years in which races for Governor and Congress were not an issue, MCEA’s mail program was entirely focused on state legislative and county races.

Alterations to the mail program may explain variations in absentee ballot voting.  People who vote early, on election day and through provisional ballots may encounter Apple Ballot poll coverage.  And it’s not just MCEA who distributes it; candidates who are featured on it often distribute it too.  But absentee voters do not go to a polling place.  They must be contacted through other means.  As stated above, MCEA’s mailers were drawn into races for Congress and Governor and if the union has a robust digital program, we have not seen it.  All of this means that absentee voters in General Assembly and county-level races are less likely to be influenced by the Apple.

The table below shows sixteen close performances in county races between Apple-endorsed and non-Apple candidates.  (We excluded incumbents to remove any incumbent effect on absentee voting.)  In each race, the margin between the two in election and early voting results is shown alongside the margin in the first absentee canvass.  (Both sets of results are unofficial and there will be another absentee canvass.)  In eleven of these sixteen races, Apple-endorsed candidate performance declined in absentee voting.

Now some of these races have other things going on.  In Congress District 6, Aruna Miller benefited from MCEA’s three mailers and her performance actually rose a tiny bit among absentees.  In the gubernatorial race, a clear outlier, Rushern Baker may have benefited from the Washington Post’s strong endorsement.  (This year, the Post did not endorse in Congressional or state legislative races.)  David Blair got not one, but two Post endorsements.  Elrich’s late endorsement from MCEA handicapped his ability to publicize it, which may have impacted absentee voters.  And so on.

The Apple Ballot is arguably the best endorsement in the county.  Blair would already have won the Executive race if Elrich had not received it.  But the data above, however tentative it is, suggests a pattern: the Apple has been slightly less effective in absentee voting.  The median performance drop is 1.4 points.  The mean performance drop excluding the outlier race for Governor is 1.3 points.  So let’s round it in rough terms to a point-and-a-half decline.  That’s not enough to affect most races but it is having an impact on the razor-thin contests for County Executive and House 16.  MCEA should consider this in designing its future political programs.

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The Democrats Gamble on Jealous

The Democratic have placed a bet with the nomination of Ben Jealous that a more left-wing progressive candidate will energize voters, especially the growing share of minority voters, and beat Gov. Larry Hogan. As Barry Goldwater once said, Jealous “will offer a choice, not an echo.”

Will it work? It’s an interesting test for the progressive wing’s thesis that the Democrats need to run more vocal, left-wing candidates. If it doesn’t work in blue Maryland in what is shaping up to be a very good Democratic year, where and when can it work?

This strategy runs counter to the 2014 gubernatorial post-mortem. Many argued that then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s 2014 campaign needed to deliver a message more clearly. But few thought his defeat resulted from an insufficiently left-wing platform. After all, the O’Malley-Brown administration had raised taxes to protect against the decimation of state services during the recession and to fund transportation infrastructure. O’Malley led the successful referenda fights on the Maryland DREAM Act and marriage equality.

The Jealous Agenda

Nevertheless, Jealous will run on the most left-wing platform in living memory. Jealous wants to enact single-payer health care, raise teacher pay by 29%, fund full-day pre-K education, make college free, staff schools with mental health professionals, spend significant dollars fighting the opioid epidemic, provide summer youth employment, expand public transit substantially, and offer public sector jobs when no private sector work is available.

Jealous has also attacked incrementalism or half measures, telling voters how his grandmother said that if you solve half of a problem, you still have a problem. As a result, it’s now hard for Jealous to backpedal and talk gradualism. It runs counter to his whole message.

How Hogan Will Attack Jealous

In a previous post, I looked at Jealous’s advantages heading into the general election. But what vulnerabilities will Hogan exploit?

Jealous’s agenda is expensive. Very expensive. Gov. Larry Hogan’s campaign will go after Jealous, as they would any Democratic opponent, as wanting to raise taxes. Jealous says it will only be on the top 1% of taxpayers and on legalized marijuana. Combined with savings from criminal justice reform and building fewer roads, that will pay for everything.

The list of extremely expensive services Jealous wants to add to the state budget may render voters doubtful of these claims. Many voters will also be concerned about the impact of another tax hike and an indexed $15 minimum wage on the economy. Unlike in a Democratic primary, attacking Hogan (and thus voters on the fence) as needing a stronger commitment to social justice if they have qualms will alienate rather than impress.

Hogan will undoubtedly try to use fear of major tax hikes to divide the Democratic coalition, and to pick off economically successful voters, disproportionately white and Asian, who may be more liberal on social than economic issues. Jealous will attempt to frame the debate as the 1% versus the rest of us. Hogan will alternatively style himself as a protector of taxpayers.

Jealous’s embrace of altering school funding formulas to take more money from wealthier counties to give more to needier counties will aid Hogan’s efforts. In Montgomery, for example, Hogan can position himself as a protector of the county’s prized school system, against Jealous’s efforts to send yet more MoCo money elsewhere.

It’s hard to imagine an issue more likely to pry Democratic voters away here. In Maryland’s secular heartland, lots of people have an ambivalent relationship with organized religion but everyone believes in education with fervor.

Jealous’s characterization of the violence in the wake of Freddie Grey’s death due to injuries inflicted during his arrest as an “uprising” rather than “riots” will also to raise eyebrows. Few would dispute that the Baltimore City police is in dire need of radical reform. But Hogan may well ask Jealous how senseless destruction advanced the causes of police reform and racial justice?

One building that burned down was a nearly finished project to provide affordable housing for seniors and a community center with job training and HIV counseling among other services. (Rev. Donte Hickman’s tireless efforts resulted in the project’s completion despite these daunting setbacks.) Again, attacking Hogan or voters for being insufficiently woke or committed to racial justice seems an unlikely vote-winning strategy.

Will Linking Hogan to Trump Work?

Beyond his own message, Jealous will relentlessly link Hogan to Trump and the need to send a message to the Republicans. However, Hogan hasn’t touched the hot-button social issues and hasn’t stopped gun control legislation. Despite his loud grumbling about taxes, Maryland has not undergone anything like the disastrous state downsizing in the name of tax cuts that has failed so miserably in Kansas and Louisiana.

Even O’Malley’s gas tax remains in effect with Hogan happy to travel around the state announcing new roads. Jealous promises to refocus the money, which also seems likely to displease the many voters who favor the new road projects. Hogan’s pie-in-the-sky plan to widen I-495 and I-270 gains fans from people who like that he is at least thinking about addressing to their traffic woes and don’t think transit will get them there.

Conclusion

Jealous has an exciting vision to sell. It also provides a buffet of avenues for a Republican to attack. By running as a left-wing progressive, Jealous has also left open centrist turf that Hogan will be eager to occupy as a mainstream problem solver. It will be up to Jealous to prove skeptical political observers, who rate the race as Likely Republican, wrong.

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Baltimore County Exec Race Even Closer

If you thought the Montgomery County executive race was tight with Marc Elrich leading David Blair by 269 votes and lots of ballots yet to be counted, just take a look at Baltimore County.

After counting the first set of absentee ballots, former Del. Johnny Oleszewski, Jr. leads Sen. Jim Brochin by 42 votes! The current totals are 27,270 for Oleszewski, 27,228 for Brochin with Councilmember Vicki Almond close behind with 26,211.

As in Montgomery, we’ll have to wait until after Independence Day when the rest of the absentee ballots and the numerous provisional ballots are counted. I don’t know how many of each are outstanding but it’s surely enough to leave the winner up in the air.

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County Exec Race Going to Be Extremely Tight

Yesterday, Adam Pagnucco explained that David Blair needs to win the outstanding ballots by 6.2% in order to pass Marc Elrich in the final vote tally. The absentee ballots counted yesterday suggest that this is entirely possible.

Yesterday, 3793 absentee ballots were counted. Among those voters, 3292 participated in the Democratic primary. Fewer voters tend to cast votes as one goes down the ballot, a phenomenon known as roll-off. In the Democratic primary for county executive, 3140 cast valid votes.

Blair lead Elrich by 7.1% among the absentees counted, which allowed him to pick up a net 223 votes and close the gap with Elrich to 269 votes. Substantial numbers of absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted.

Why the difference between election day and absentee voters? It could be a number of factors. One reason might be if Blair had a better absentee voter program than Elrich. Once an absentee ballot is requested, it’s vital for campaigns to contact a voter in order to try to obtain their vote. Another explanation might be that voters who made decisions prior to election day tended to vote differently than those who cast ballots on the day itself.

In any case, it now looks like the final count may be exceedingly close. We’ll almost certainly have to wait for provisional ballots to be counted, after Independence Day. Provisional ballots may show a different pattern than for absentee ballots, but that is a wild card and we don’t know how voters affected by the MVA screw-up tended to vote compared to the whole electorate. (It turns out the number of registered voters affected has crept up again and now reached 90,000.)

Even when the count is finalized, I could well imagine the losing campaign requesting a recount.

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House of Delegates Wrap Up: Districts 39-47

Top Line

Three incumbents go down in Democratic primaries: Bilal Ali, Jimmy Tarlau and Carlos Sanchez.

By the District

Remember that the returns are incomplete as we are still waiting on absentee and provisional ballots.

District 39 (Montgomery) was full of surprises this year. Incumbent Dels. Shane Robinson and Kirill Reznik decided early on to run with Lesley Lopez. Lopez topped the ballot but Robinson fell into fourth and Reznik struggled to stay ahead of Robinson in third. Gabriel Acevero won the second slot.

Just before the election, Acevero’s employer, MCGEO, summarily decided to cease efforts on his behalf because the African-American Democratic Club of which Acevero is president did not endorse candidates to MCGEO’s liking. Acevero will be the first openly gay African American elected to the General Assembly.

Incumbents Frank Conaway and Nick Mosby won renomination in District 40 (Baltimore City) but Conaway fell into third behind newcomer Melissa Wells. He nonetheless finished comfortably, albeit not light years, ahead of an array of other challengers.

Newcomer Dalya Attar stormed on to the District 41 (Baltimore City) scene and took first place, narrowly ahead of incumbent Del. Sandy Rosenberg. Incumbent Tony Bridges struggled to stay in third. Bridges currently leads Angela Gibson by 237 votes. Meanwhile, incumbent Bilal Ali is now in fourth, as he trails Gibson by 9 votes.

Incumbent Democratic Del. Stephen Lafferty faced no opposition for renomination in District 42A (Baltimore). He will face Republican Stephen McIntire in the general election. No incumbents are seeking reelection in Republican-leaning 42B (Baltimore). The GOP primary was easily won by Nino Mangione and Tim Robinson. Mangione is a former talk radio host.

In District 43 (Baltimore City), incumbent Del. Maggie McIntosh led the field. Dueling for second place are incumbent Del. Curt Anderson, who faces sexual misconduct allegations, and Regina Boyce, who ran on a ticket with Sen. Joan Carter Conway and McIntosh. Nilesh Kalyanaraman trailed Anderson by 0.9%, or 369 votes, in preliminary returns.

Incumbent Del. Keith Haynes faced no opposition in District 44A (Baltimore City). Incumbent Dels. Charles Sydnor and Pat Young won renomination in 44B (Baltimore) against healthy opposition from Aisha Khan and Aaron Barnett.

In District 45 (Baltimore City), incumbents Talmadge Branch and Cheryl Glenn won easily and will be joined by Stephanie Smith, who beat out Caylin Young and an array of other candidates. Young now trails Smith by 1.6%, or 498 votes. Incumbent Democrats easily won renomination in District 46 (Baltimore City).

Incumbent Del. Jimmy Tarlau fell to Julian Ivey, son of former State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey and now County Councilmember-Elect Jolene Ivey, in District 47A. Tarlau trailed Ivey by 386 votes in the preliminary results. Incumbent Del. Diana Fennell led the field and easily won renomination. In 47B, incumbent Del. Carlos Sanchez also lost reelection. Sanchez received just 39% as opposed to 59% for Wanika Fisher, a former assistant state’s attorney as well as staffer for the county council and former Sen. Victor Ramirez. She now works in Ramirez’s law firm.

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