2018 Maryland House of Delegates Election Primer

The 2018 campaign season is officially underway. Democrats want to keep their momentum going and win back the governor’s mansion, while Republicans want to build on Larry Hogan’s popularity and make gains in both houses of the state legislature.

Republicans are aiming to pick up five seats in the State Senate, which would break the Democrats’ veto-proof majority. But is that a realistic goal in deep-blue Maryland?

Democrats seem content so far to play defense, but is there anywhere in the state where they could make a pickup with such an unpopular President in the White House?

To answer these questions, we looked at all 47 seats in the Senate and all 141 seats in the House of Delegates, and placed them in one of four categories:

  1. Hot Seat – These will be the most contested races in the state. They are either represented by a Republican at the state level but voted for Hillary Clinton, or represented by a Democrat at the state level but voted for Donald Trump. There are 3 Republican- and 4 Democrat-held hot seats in the House, and 4 Democrat-held┬áhot seats in the Senate.
  2. On the Bubble – These races will (or at least should) receive a lot of attention from both parties. These are districts where one party has been making substantial recent gains and can look to take over. There are 5 Democrat-held bubble seats in the House, and 2 Democrat-held bubble seats in the Senate.
  3. Reach – These are districts that the right candidate with a massive push can swing. Without the right candidate, or without tons of money, or without an enthusiastic campaign, these seats will remain in their current hands. There are 6 Republican- and 4 Democrat-held reach seats in the House, and 3 Republican- and 1 Democrat-held reach seats in the Senate.
  4. Out of Reach – These districts will not flip, no way, no how. All districts that aren’t hot seats, on the bubble, or reach seats, are out of reach.

This article focuses on the House. The Senate rundown is coming soon.

Hot Seats

Republican-held

  • 9B (Ellicott City) – Bob Flanagan won here 55-45 in 2014, while Hogan carried this highly educated new district 57-41. Two years later, 9B voted for Clinton 57-37. That number is more like what we expected from Howard County, which is turning bluer every year. This is the hottest seat in Maryland, and we give it our inaugural The District Most Likely To Flip award. Democrats have two top-tier candidates running: former county councilperson Courtney Watson and business owner Dan Medinger.
  • 30A (Annapolis) – This two-member district elected Democrat Mike Busch and Republican Herb McMillan in 2014. McMillan actually came in first place overall, taking 27.9% of the vote to Busch’s 27.6%, with Democrat Chuck Ferrar trailing at 23%. This district voted for Hogan 58-40, then swung back to the left and picked Clinton 54-39. We already know Democrats in Annapolis have the energy to win an election, what we don’t know is who their candidates will be. Busch, who serves as the powerful Speaker of the House, has filed. Democrats need someone else to step up and launch their campaign soon. Republicans have two candidates filed to try and take over Busch’s seat, and neither of them are McMillan, who is said to be weighing a run for State Senate. Soon-to-be-former Mayor Mike Pantelides would be a top-tier candidate for them if he decides to run here.

Democrat-held

  • 8 (Parkville, Perry Hall) – This three-member district is represented by Republicans Christian Miele and Joe Cluster, and Democrat Eric Bromwell. District 8 is situated on the edge of eastern Baltimore County, which has been trending Republican for years now at the federal and state level, voting for Hogan by a dominating 67-31. Still, they picked Clinton 48-47. Bromwell has been the only Democrat in this delegation since 2010. Miele is running for State Senate, so there will be one open seat, although former delegate Joseph Boteler has filed. If Dems can get fired up in these sleepy suburbs, they could return the vulnerable Bromwell and maybe even pick up the open seat. A more likely outcome is that Republicans will sweep the district.
  • 31A (Brooklyn Park, Glen Burnie) – Ned Carey won by a closer than expected 53-47 spread in 2014, the first year of this district’s existence. Meanwhile, Hogan was winning here 64-34. This is also the only Trump district in Maryland represented by a Democrat, even though Trump only won 49-46. Needless to say, Carey is a top target for Republicans this year, and Army veteran Brooks Bennett has filed for this seat.

One of Each

  • 34A (Aberdeen, Edgewood, Havre de Grace) – Harford County is heavily Republican, but this stretch to the east on I-95 is more hospitable to Democrats. This is a two-member district represented by Republican Glen Glass and Democrat Mary Ann Lisanti. Voters here still lean Republican, voting for Hogan 61-37 and Clinton 48-46. Low turnout has plagued 34A, but if Democrats can generate the enthusiasm they had in Virginia, they could have a sweep here. Likewise, Republicans could capitalize on Hogan’s sky-high popularity in Harford County and sweep it the other way. Right now, both possibilities look about equal.

 

On the Bubble

Democrat-held

  • 27B (South Prince George’s County, Dunkirk, Huntingtown) – Democrat Michael A. Jackson represents this 55-44 Hogan/49-47 Clinton seat. Originally supposed to be a safely blue seat, the sudden rightward swing of Calvert County took everyone off guard. Jackson only won 52-48, and Clinton’s 2-point win was very underwhelming. In our opinion, this district was drawn foolishly from the start – why group a chunk of southern PG County with northern Calvert? But if Republicans can come up with a top-tier candidate, Jackson may end up being a one-term delegate. The Republicans currently have two filed candidates.
  • 32 (Northwest Anne Arundel County) – This is on the outer edge of the bubble, but this three-member district voted for Hogan 57-41. Two years later, Clinton won by an equally convincing 54-41. Democrats Pam Beidle, Mark Chang, and Ted Sophocleus currently serve District 32, but Beidle is running for State Senate, and Sophocleus is in his late seventies. Chang, for his part, is an energetic campaigner, and has a moderate voting record in the House, making him a tough candidate to beat. Sandy Bartlett has been accepted into the “team” to fill Beidle’s spot, but progressive Army veteran Derek Kent is running for a seat here as well, and if there’s one trend we see in elections since Trump’s election, it’s that progressive candidates are winning everywhere. Republicans are taking this race seriously: 2014 candidate Tim Walters is running, as are Patty Ewing and Mark Bailey. The proposed Maglev train, which would run all the way through the district, is creating new political factions, and it will be interesting to see how big of a part it plays in the campaigns.

 

Reach

Democrat-held

  • 12 (Arbutus, Halethorpe, Columbia) – Arbutus and Halethorpe are very Republican; Columbia is not. This three-member district voted for Hogan 55-43 and Clinton 55-38. Yes, Clinton’s margin was wider than Hogan’s, but that’s why it’s called a reach. Still, a lot can happen in the next year, and we’re leaving this here for now.
  • 42A (Towson) – Steve Lafferty is popular in this Baltimore County district that voted for Hogan 55-43 and Clinton 62-31. It’s a highly-educated suburban district, and is the home of Towson University. For Republicans to win this, absolutely everything has to go right (that’s why it’s a reach) and nothing can go wrong. One Republican has filed as of this writing.

Republican-held

  • 2B (Hagerstown) – Formerly a Democratic stronghold, the party’s fortunes here have declined along with the fortunes of the city itself. Republican Brett Wilson beat longtime Democratic delegate John Donoghue 54-46 as Hogan carried the district 61-37. Trump won 49-45, but we’ve seen districts redder than this turn blue in the past year. Nobody has filed yet, although there is a little drama: Wilson is planning to step down so that he can be appointed to a judicial seat, leaving the seat open to an appointee who will serve until the election. Wilson would have been tough to beat, but if, say, Kristin Aleshire or Daniel Gysberts runs against an appointee who has been serving less than a year, would Republicans still hold the seat?
  • 3B (Southern Frederick County) – This is another district where everything would have to go right for Democrats, but if they do, they could pick up a seat in this fast-growing suburban area south of Frederick. Delegate Bill Folden won 56-44, while Hogan was rolling 63-35. Those are impressive numbers, but the area has been trending blue for the past decade or so, and Trump only won 50-44. This DC suburban district is exactly the type of district Democrats should be targeting this year, and if they land a fantastic candidate, they could make a big gain here.
  • 29B (Lexington Park) – The Maryland political world was shocked when Republican newcomer Deb Rey defeated Delegate John Bohanan 50.3-49.6 — a margin of 76 votes. But in hindsight, it fit the general trend towards Republicans in St. Mary’s County. This suburban district backed Hogan 64-33 and Trump 50-43. The Hogan margin is significant, but we’ve seen 7-point margins for Trump evaporate just one year later in Virginia. Army veteran Brian Crosby has filed to run as a Democrat here. If Crosby’s campaign takes off, this could turn into an interesting race.
  • 33 (Arnold, Crofton, Severna Park) – This three-member district in the Annapolis suburbs has been so Republican lately that Democrats have had trouble finding candidates to put their names on the ballot, let alone run an actual campaign. District 33 went 71-27 for Hogan and 52-41 for Trump. Let those numbers sink in. A 44-point Hogan advantage in 2014 turns into an 11-point Trump win just two years later. This is an affluent, well-educated suburban district that doesn’t like Trump. It’s still a reach, but to win here, Democrats must do several things. First, they have to have a full slate. Running just two candidates here won’t be good enough. Second, they should have at least one candidate who is reasonably well-known throughout the district and has the time and ability to engage the neighborhoods: knock on doors, be a presence at every community event, and get name recognition through copious press coverage. Finally, they should try to have a geographic balance between their candidates. Two of the three Republican incumbents are from Crofton and there’s a Republican challenger looking to join the delegation, also from Crofton. This is a winnable race if the candidates can work together like a machine.