By David Montgomery
Despite a significant advantage in voter registrations, Talbot County Republicans did not do particularly well in local or statewide elections. Republican Congressman Andy Harris lost to his challenger in Talbot County while winning in his District as a whole. Republican underdogs in the races for Governor and the U.S. Senate lost in Talbot County, but Republican underdogs for Maryland Comptroller and Attorney General won the Talbot County vote. The Republican candidate for Attorney General was attacked as an extremist every bit as hard as gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, but the results were the opposite.
At the same time, Republicans took both seats in the Maryland Assembly and the seat in the Maryland Senate. The Assembly races were close, but Johnny Mautz won the Senate handily over a far-left opponent. Mautz and one of the Assembly candidates had the advantage of incumbency, and the other Republican won by a narrower margin. Even in races Republicans won, their margin of victory fell far short of their registration advantage.
In local elections, the results were mixed. Republicans ended up with a 3 – 2 majority on the County Council, continuing a trend down from 5 – 0 representation several elections back. Republican candidates for the four open seats on the school board lost all but one. Policy positions seemed less important in the County Council results than name recognition and assessments of the abilities of the candidates, since there was wide divergence in the positions of the successful candidates on key issues. An expected pattern in local elections.
School board elections revealed the power of teachers’ unions, with only one of four Republican candidates winning a seat.
Why Republicans Lost
None of this need to have happened. Democrats had about 1000 less registered voters than Republicans, but they brought in between 1600 and 2000 more mail-in ballots than Republicans, depending on the race. This out of about 17,500 ballots received. Republican candidates and officials, from the top down, discouraged Republican voters from using mailin ballots. “Go to the polls; they will lose or invalidate your mail-in ballots.” So potential Republican voters who were not sufficiently motivated to get to the polls just stayed home. However much Republicans may think the mail-in ballot is an invention of the devil, we have to play his game. If we are going to win, we have to get out just like the Democrats to make sure that Republican voters also request mail-in ballots and fill them in, if they have any hesitancy about voting in person. That 1600 vote advantage, in my case, made a lead of over 1000 votes over the sixth place finisher shrink over 10 days of ballot-counting, until I ended up short of election by 77 votes. That did not need to happen, and the fault lies clearly and solely at the door of the Republican party in general and the Talbot County Central Committee in particular.
Now to some observations about the particulars of each race.
Name recognition played some role in school board races. The name of the winning Republican was widely known in the county because of family businesses and a recent tragedy. All four candidates expressed support for a back-to-basics approach, for parental rights and opposition to CRT and gender indoctrination, but their emphasis differed. What seemed most important for two of the three who lost was support for their opponents by the local and state teachers’ unions. In particular, the loss by a local veterinarian whose personal and professional credentials put her head and shoulders above the rest can only be explained by the power of teachers and their unions that want to retain control and the status quo.
In contrast to Gov. Youngkin’s victory in Virginia, Talbot County candidates who counted on being carried into office by a wave of concern about schools were largely disappointed.
Three major issues in the County Council campaign were police, schools and growth. Unlike other jurisdictions throughout the country, in Talbot County policing was a top issue because it has been done so well here. Parental rights and the threat of CRT and gender indoctrination in schools was also a hot topic, but it turns out that the voters did not care. The issue of growth played out in an unprecedented way. A group calling itself the Talbot Integrity Project endorsed seven of the candidates because those candidates took positions opposing many planned development projects. This not only brought growth and development to the forefront of issues, it also triggered paranoia among some Republicans that caused them to turn on their own candidates.
The uncontested election of Sheriff Joe Gamble and victory of Republican Joe Coale for State’s Attorney revealed a clear consensus on public safety. A county with remarkably low levels of crime and broad satisfaction with local police voted to stay that way. None of the 10 candidates expressed any open criticism of policing in the county. This may have neutralized positions of Republican candidates on crime and the dangers of recent police “reforms” since no one disagreed with them.
At the beginning of the campaign, three Republican candidates formed a slate that they called the “Constitutional Conservatives” and made parental rights, mask mandates and CRT central parts of their campaign. One of them took fourth place and the other two were defeated (one in the primary and one in the general election). As in the school board races, attacks on CRT and on gender indoctrination in the schools got little traction. These results suggest that Talbot County voters were unconcerned about the issues these candidates raised or thought they are not a problem in Talbot County schools.
It is worth noting that the former mayor of Chevy Chase, who touted his connections with senators and other state Democrats, came in last of 10 candidates. That could be sending the message, consistent with revealed preferences on crime and policing, that Talbot County continues to want to go its own way and not import the values, policies or problems of the liberal DC suburbs.
Growth was the other big issue, centered on one proposed housing development knowns as “Lakeside” that would eventually 2500 houses and enough commercial and retail businesses to make a self-contained community. Taken together with other announced residential construction projects in the Town of Easton, the result could be as many as 10,000 new residents in the County.
Two of the Republican candidates had been stating their support for a better management of growth and for reconsidering the approval of the Lakeside development from the start of their campaigns. Two Republicans publicly supported Lakeside and the position of the other was ambiguous.
A Wrench in the Works
Into this divided set of positions came the Talbot Integrity Project (TIP). It endorsed all five Democrat candidates for the Council and the two Republicans who had been stating positions against recent development plans and proposals. One Democrat decided to have it both ways by accepting the endorsement and demanding that her name be deleted from campaign materials. By election day she had signs erected on the property of a landowner known for giving permission only to candidates who supported his development plans.
This endorsement fractured the Republican Party, in an unfortunately familiar way. I was one of the two Republicans endorsed by TIP, and immediately thereafter a member of the Republican Central Committee tore down the billboards that he had given me permission to place on his property. Another influential Republican emailed the message to a long list of addressees that “no Republican should vote for any candidate that cooperates with Democrats.” I lost by a 1% margin to the top vote-getting Democrat to fail in my bid for election.
I do not think it is sour grapes to observe that Republican paranoia accomplished exactly what those attacking me claimed the Democrats wanted to do: it split the Party, took away support from Republican candidates who did not subscribe to every article of faith demanded by some in the Party, and handed over to a Democrat a seat on the County Council that should have stayed Republican.
An Amusing Coda
Charter amendments that would raise County Council pay and give the Council authority to raise its own compensation were defeated soundly. By any objective measure, increasing Council pay to $25,000 per year (plus a very generous healthcare package) is perfectly reasonable in light of the workload for a dedicated member. The implication I draw from this is widespread lack of respect for the County Council and disappointment in its past performance. What aspects of its performance irritated voters is less clear. A Republican newcomer polled the most votes (barely), but the two incumbents (one of each party) were the second and third top vote-getters. The previous Council took strong measures to support police, the one clear voter mandate. A guess is that one majority of voters could have been unhappy with some past decisions, such as approval for the Lakeside development without further review and another majority, possibly quite different from the first, was angry about separate decisions, such as removal of the Talbot Boys statue.
In other words, half could be saying “I won’t increase the pay of that guy who approved Lakeside” and the other half “I won’t increase the pay of the guy who moved the Talbot Boys.”
Or, rejecting pay increases just gave voters an opportunity to express unhappiness with government in general, and had nothing to do with Council performance.
David Montgomery was a Republican candidate for the Talbot County Council in the 2022 midterms. He missed winning a place on the five-member council by 72 votes out of 7,750.