2018 Maryland State Senate 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 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 4 Democrat-held hot 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 is 1 Democrat-held bubble seat 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 3 Republican- and 2 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 Senate. Click here for our House of Delegates article.

Hot Seats

Democrat-held

  • 8 (Parkville, Perry Hall) – Kathy Klausmeier has never earned less than 58% of the vote in this Baltimore County district, and that was back in 2006. However, this area in eastern Baltimore County has become significantly less hospitable to Democrats in recent years. Larry Hogan won by an overwhelming 67-31, and Hillary Clinton just barely won 47.64-46.97, a win margin of only 240 votes. Klausmeier’s personal popularity and lack of credible opponents have kept her in office even as the political tides shift against her party. This time, Republicans have their best candidate in over a decade: Christian Miele, who is finishing his first term in the House of Delegates. Miele is very popular in this district, and he’ll have the backing of the Hogan political machine.
  • 30 (Annapolis, Southern Anne Arundel County) – This is an open seat, as Senator John Astle (D) is retiring following his unsuccessful bid for mayor of Annapolis. The Republican frontrunner is Ron George, who represented Annapolis in the House of Delegates from 2007-2015. While Annapolis leans Democrat, the rest of this district is in rural southern Anne Arundel, which is solidly red. The two areas almost don’t seem to fit together politically: Annapolis voted 54-39 for Clinton while south county voted 61-34 for Trump. Hogan actually won in Annapolis 58-40, while dominating in south county 73-25. Republicans feel good about their chances here, so good they might have a contested primary. Delegate Herb McMillan of Annapolis still hasn’t decided whether to enter the primary race against George. On the Democratic side is veteran legislative advocate Sarah Elfreth.
  • 38 (Lower Eastern Shore) – Senator Jim Mathias has defied all political expectations, and possibly some laws of physics, by winning in a heavily Republican district in two Republican wave years (2010 and 2014). They were both very close elections: in 2010 he won 51-49, and in 2014 he beat delegate Michael McDermott 52-48. His win margin increased from 640 votes to 1,353. These narrow wins were especially impressive because the district voted for the Republican presidential candidate both times by wide margins: Romney and Trump both won 62-34. So if Mathias has survived two tough GOP-wave elections in a deep-red district, why is he on the hot seat? Well, the state Republican Party wasn’t really investing in his opponents the last two rounds. This time, they have a reason to invest: if they pick up five seats in the Senate, Democrats won’t be able to override Governor Hogan’s vetoes. They also have a strong candidate: Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who is enthusiastically supported by Hogan and the state party. Hogan won this neglected district 69-29, and will probably do even better in 2018, even in a blue wave. Mathias will be facing his toughest challenge yet, but if he keeps working his magic, he could still win a third term. Nevertheless, this is our Senate Seat Most Likely to Flip.
  • 42 (Lutherville, Towson) – Another open seat here as Senator Jim Brochin (D) runs for Baltimore County Executive. This seat was gerrymandered for Republicans in 2014, transforming from a compact central Baltimore County district to a senseless ribbon stretching from Towson to the Baltimore County line. This highly educated, 70-28 Hogan district only favored Trump 48-46. Republican delegate Chris West is running for the open seat, and is currently the favorite to win. Democrats aren’t going to give up despite the gerrymander, and have two candidates (so far) to choose from. Robbie Leonard is an attorney and former county Democratic Central Committee chair. Gretchen Maneval is a professional neighborhood planner and AmeriCorps veteran. This is a district where we could see a huge anti-Trump backlash that helps Democrats, but the winner of the Democratic primary will still have to overcome Hogan’s popularity and West’s experience to hold this seat.

On the Bubble

Democrat-Held

  • 3 (Frederick, Southern Frederick County) – This 57-41 Hogan/51-43 Clinton district is actually becoming bluer as Frederick is turning into a suburb of Washington. Senator Ron Young (D) picked up this seat from the Republicans in 2010, but Hogan and the Republicans are targeting him on their quest to ruin the Democratic supermajority. Frederick County councilman Billy Shreve has announced that he will run; Craig Giangrande has also filed for the Republicans. There are also rumors that Young won’t have the Democratic primary to himself. Former Frederick mayor Jennifer Dougherty has been making the rounds at fundraisers, and there are rumblings that she may challenge Young for the nomination.

Reach

Republican-Held

  • 9 (Ellicott City, Sykesville, Western Howard County) – This district in the Columbia suburbs favored Hogan by an enormous 69-29 spread, a 40-point margin that vanished in 2016 as Trump only won 51-43. Democrats are particularly fired up in Ellicott City following Trump’s election. As there are no other vulnerable Republican senate seats, Democrats must try to play offense in a district like this one. Senator Gail Bates (R) won her first term 66-34 and wouldn’t be in trouble if it weren’t for events in Washington. Democrat Katie Fry Hester has filed to challenge Bates in 2018.
  • 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. 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, but will that translate into enough votes to unseat Senator Ed Reilly (R)? There is a very strong progressive movement on the Broadneck Peninsula that could make this seat competitive. Business owner and Navy veteran Eve Hurwitz has filed as a Democrat and, with a serious campaign push, has a chance at a stunning upset win.
  • 34 (Aberdeen, Bel Air, Havre de Grace) – First-term Senator Bob Cassilly (R) won 57-43 as Hogan was carrying this district 69-29. Historically, the towns to the east of I-95 have leaned Democratic while Bel Air is strongly Republican, adding up to a pretty strong Republican district as a whole. But, like many other suburban districts across the country, Trump is proving far less popular than local Republicans. Despite the strong Republican lean, Trump only carried this district 53-41, and with the political winds coming out of Washington, Democrats could have a chance at a pickup with an excellent candidate. They currently have no candidates, however, and this is a pretty far 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. Until or unless anything interesting happens, Senator Ed Kasemeyer (D) looks set to win his eighth term.
  • 32 (Northwest Anne Arundel County) – We almost put this as a Reach district for Republicans, as all the momentum is on the other side right now. Senator Ed DeGrange (D) is retiring, but Democrats have their best candidate running, Pam Beidle, currently serving her third term in the House of Delegates. This race might be competitive with an excellent Republican candidate, as voters here favored Hogan 57-41. However, Clinton won 54-41, and as much as Republicans want this seat, it’d be a serious reach.