Tuesday’s primaries continued what may be the most important trend in this year’s elections. We’re not talking about the victories by Donald Trump acolytes in Republican primaries or the overperformance of Democratic congressional candidates in special elections. Rather, it’s the success of women candidates that’s most notable. In Michigan alone, women won Democratic primaries for every statewide office — governor, attorney general, secretary of state and U.S. Senate — and several House seats.
But in Maryland, things are different. As former gubernatorial candidate Krish Vignarajah pointed out in a recent op-ed, none of Maryland’s state-wide elected officials and no members of its congressional delegation are women, and that appears unlikely to change this year. (Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous’ running mate is a woman, Susan Turnbull, but the only woman running for state-wide office in her own right, Anjali Reed Phukan, is a massive underdog in the race against Comptroller Peter Franchot.)
Maryland has traditionally been a leader in electing women to public office, with notable examples from both parties including Barbara Mikulski, Constance Morella, Helen Bentley and Ellen Sauerbrey. And women’s representation in the General Assembly has also traditionally been strong, but Maryland’s ranking there is slipping. It’s still above average, but it’s well behind leaders like Nevada, where women have a strong chance of capturing a majority of the legislature and an outside shot at an advantage as large as two-to-one. Maine and Colorado have decent shots at women-majority legislatures, too. (In Maryland, it’s theoretically possible this year but unlikely.)
Still, there are some real bright spots for women in key races around the state that could set the stage for women to compete for higher offices in the near future. Here are some of the women in down-ballot races this year who have a real shot at taking seats previously held by men:
The race to succeed Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker was largely a two-woman race between State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks and former U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards. Ms. Alsobrooks won handily and is the heavy favorite in November — this is the first time Republicans have even bothered to nominate a candidate for Prince George’s County executive since 2002, and the Democrat won that race by more than 30 percentage points. Ms. Alsobrooks is widely recognized for having turned around the county state’s attorney’s office, securing more resources for prosecutors, attracting and retaining top lawyers and focusing on domestic violence and gangs, and her platform for executive centers on turning around the county’s troubled school system as well as continuing the impressive economic development that occurred under Mr. Baker. Given how often county executive offices are training grounds for the governor’s mansion, she has to be on the short list of those most likely to break Maryland’s highest glass ceiling.
As it stands, Anne Arundel County has a male county executive, all male county council, and men as state’s attorney, sheriff and clerk of the courts. Thanks to a strong showing by women in June’s primary election, the County Council is likely to have a female majority after the general election, and the ratio could be as high as 6-1.
In the 1st District, attorney Sarah Lacey knocked off the incumbent, Democrat Pete Smith. The 2nd and 3rd districts lean Republican, and both the GOP candidates are men, but two Democratic women — former school board member Allison Pickard in the 2nd and Debbie Ritchie, a nurse, in the 3rd — are challenging them in November.
The 4th District is the only one with two men running against each other, but in the 5th, veteran political consultant and community activist Amanda Fiedler did her party, her county and her state a tremendous service by defeating incumbent councilman and long-time League of the South member Michael Peroutka in the Republican Primary. She’ll face another woman, Dawn Gough Myers, in the general election.
In the 6th, Democrat Lisa Brannigan Rodvien beat a male candidate who massively outspent her. In the 7th, Republican Jessica Haire had the support of much of the GOP establishment in her council primary and is the favorite to win in November.
Another area poised to get a substantial upgrade thanks to a successful female candidate is the Republican stronghold of the 7th District, where businesswoman and farmer Laura Arikan joins Del. Kathy Szeliga — herself the most prominent elected Republican woman in the state — on the GOP ticket. Ms. Arikan replaces the bombastic Del. Pat McDonough, who lost a campaign for Baltimore County executive.
Women have a solid chance at a majority on the Howard County Council after this election, with female candidates from one or both parties in four of the five districts. In the 1st, construction attorney Liz Walsh beat the incumbent, Democratic Councilman John Weinstein, by just four votes. She was badly outspent, but capitalized on dissatisfaction with the amount of development in the district — a big issue on voters’ minds after the most recent Ellicott City flood. The 2nd District race is a contest between two men, but in the 3rd Democrat Christiana Rigby is running unopposed, and in the 4th Democrat Deb Jung will face Republican Lisa Kim. The only district where a female candidate is the likely underdog is the conservative-leaning 5th, where the Democratic nominee China Williams faces Republican David Jungman.
In the General Assembly, incumbent Sen. Gail Bates fended against a spirited challenge by Reid Novotny in the 9th District, and Democrat Jessica Feldmark, a top aide to former County Executive Ken Ulman, won a spot on the Democratic ticket in the 12th district, replacing Del. Clarence Lam, who is running for state Senate.
Will they get the backing they need?
The Democratic Party, in particular, has nominated a number of women who face tough elections this fall. The Howard County Council’s 1st District is politically divided, and Ms. Walsh faces a strong opponent in Republican Raj Kathuria. Former Councilwoman Courtney Watson, a Democrat who ran an excellent but ultimately unsuccessful campaign for county executive four years ago, is seeking to knock off incumbent Republican Del. Robert Flanagan in District 9B. In Anne Arundel County, Democrat Sarah Elfreth (who beat another woman, Chrissy Holt, to get the nomination) faces the well known former Del. Ron George for the 30th District state Senate seat. Likewise, Del. Pam Beidle will have a challenge in the Senate race in District 32, which is now represented by a Democrat but which has grown increasingly conservative over the years. She faces Councilman John Grasso.
Those are all difficult seats for Democrats to retain or flip. At a time when the party has its hands full trying to win back the governor’s mansion, it might be hard to invest much in contests like those. But it could make the difference in a few years in whether we have strong women candidates for governor, attorney general, comptroller and Congress. The year of the woman may not be fully in bloom in Maryland, but it could be soon.
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