Get Out The Vote

June 19, 2014
BY Marc Shapiro and Heather Norris
June 24 is primary day, but turnout could prove to be a big issue for candidates

With contested races, large candidate pools and open seats, the June 24 primary elections could see a considerable amount of shakeup in local offices.

In addition to the gubernatorial primaries — where Democratic voters will choose between Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur, and Republican voters will choose between Del. Ron George, Harford County Executive David Craig, businessman Larry Hogan and Marine Corps reservist Charles Lollar — Maryland voters will also select their party’s preferences for the U.S. House of Representatives, county councils, attorney general, both chambers of the state legislature and a host of other offices, such as comptroller and jurists on the Orphans’ Court.

Some legislators are running unopposed, like state Sen. Bobby Zirkin in Baltimore County’s District 11, but other races are hotly contested, such as the battle to occupy two open delegate seats in Baltimore County’s District 10.

Incumbent Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat representing the meandering Third Congressional District stretching from Takoma Park in Montgomery County to the far eastern part of Anne Arundel County and through Baltimore’s Inner Harbor north into Baltimore County, is facing a primary challenge from Matthew Molyett. Molyett, a computer engineer working for the National Security Agency, is running on a platform that includes implementing regular town hall-style meetings in the district, using public-private partnerships to offer free Internet for everyone, the legalization and taxation of any drug deemed safe enough and expediting citizenship for immigrants.

In the seat’s Republican primary, Thomas Pinkston-Harris, a conservative Baltimore school teacher, will face off against Michael Jackson — who proposes ending water, trash and sewage fees from the public — and Charles Long.

Meanwhile, over in the equally meandering Second Congressional District, the Democratic primary has incumbent Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger facing 25-year-old Department of Energy employee Paul Rundquist.

Both districts are considered safe for Democrats.

“All the incumbents will win,” predicted Donald Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, “because the state has been so effectively gerrymandered, and none of them has any [viable] opposition in the primary.”

The state’s Congressional incumbents are also reasonably popular, he added.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Though there is only one Republican running for Attorney General, the Democratic race has shaped up to be one of the more closely watched contests this year, with three candidates vying for the spot on the fall ticket. Polls have shown Del. Jon Cardin (District 11) with a lead over state Sen. Brian Frosh (District 16) and Del. Aisha Braveboy (District 25), but polls can prove difficult in their ability to predict outcomes in a non-presidential election year. Just last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) fell in a surprise defeat to a relatively unknown Tea Party-backed candidate, although his own internal polling reportedly had him up 34 percentage points going into the June 10 election.

Norris said in the Maryland attorney general race, it’s hard to predict who will emerge victorious since “turnout is going to be abysmally low,” adding that a turnout as small as 20 percent wouldn’t surprise him.

A Baltimore Sun poll in June showed that more than 40 percent of Democrats were undecided in the race. Norris believes Cardin and Frosh have equal chances of winning the Democratic nomination.

Frosh, an attorney with a private practice in the Washington, D.C., area, has been representing his Montgomery County district in Annapolis since 1987. He currently serves as chair of the state Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, vice-chair of the Rules Committee and sits on the Executive Nominations Committee and the Legislative Policy Committee.

Cardin was elected to the House of Delegates in 2003. He chairs the Election Law Subcommittee and sits in the Ways and Means Committee, a position that has been the subject of recent criticism with Cardin missing nearly 75 percent of the committee’s votes during this year’s legislative session.

Braveboy, an attorney who specializes in business and property law, has been a member of the House of Delegates since 2007. She represents Prince George’s County and is a member of the Economic Matters Committee and chairs the Consumer Protection and Commercial Law Subcommittee.

Although Cardin had a higher percentage of support according to the poll numbers, experts such as Norris think Frosh could exploit Cardin’s missed votes.

“I think that’s going to come back to haunt him,” said John Bullock, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University.

Frosh, said Norris, could also bring up Cardin’s 2009 marriage proposal, which drew much public scrutiny over misused police resources — he staged a boat raid with a police helicopter and boat and proposed as his then-girlfriend thought she was going to be handcuffed. Cardin has also had to distance himself from the support of Baltimore-based rapper Ski Money, with whom Cardin posed at a fundraiser, upon learning that the rapper is facing charges of human trafficking.

Still, Bullock expects Cardin to have strong support because of his name. He is the nephew of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.

Frosh, however, has been endorsed by high-ranking current and former politicians, including Gov. Martin O’Malley, while Cardin earned the high-profile endorsement of Ruppersberger.

With an expected low turnout, the question is: Are more politically aware — those who would presumably be familiar with Cardin’s missteps — or less politically aware voters going to turn out? The winner of the contest will face Republican Jeffrey Pritzker and Libertarian Leo Wayne Dymowski in the general election.

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