With a vacancy looming in 2018 in the Baltimore County executive seat, local Republicans are eyeing the position as a realistic election prize — one that at least two GOP candidates are expected to seek.
On Saturday, Del. Pat McDonough will formally kick off his bid for the GOP nomination with a morning event in Dundalk diner. Later in the day, state insurance commissioner Al Redmer is expected to launch his own campaign at a bull roast in Rosedale, with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan at his side.
Incumbent Democrat Kevin Kamenetz, who is term-limited as county executive, has already launched a campaign for governor. The Democratic and Republican primary elections in June will determine which candidates will compete in November 2018 to succeed Kamenetz.
Although Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats in Baltimore County 2-1, a growing share of independent voters — and Hogan's crossover popularity — are giving Republicans hope to put the county executive's office in GOP hands for the first time in a generation.
"We've got a legitimate shot," said Al Mendelsohn, chairman of the Baltimore County Republican State Central Committee.
While some might see that shot as weakened by primary battle, Mendelsohn said the GOP has two strong candidates in McDonough and Redmer.
"It shows the strength of the party, the depth of our bench, that we have two really qualified people with decades of experience," Mendelsohn said.
Republicans are hoping to extend what they see as momentum in Baltimore County. Hogan easily carried the county in 2014, picking up 59 percent of the vote to 39 percent for his Democratic opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. Democrats also lost a seat on the Baltimore County Council in that election — the party now has just a 4-3 edge over the GOP on the council.
The executive seat would be another feather in the GOP cap. Other than Baltimore City, Baltimore County is the only jurisdiction in the Baltimore region not currently under Republican leadership. Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties all have Republican executives, and every member of Carroll County's Board of County Commissions is Republican.
McDonough, 74, has made a name for himself as an outspoken conservative who hasn't shied from controversial stances. He's called himself "the Donald Trump of Baltimore County" and at times injected himself into debates over Baltimore City issues. His district includes parts of Baltimore and Harford counties.
He has softened his message somewhat of late. Where he once ranted against "roving mobs of black youth" in the city, he now stresses customer service from county employees and talks of expanding community policing and promoting local tourism.
"My campaign is about constituent service, the government working for the people and accountability," he said.
He remains aligned with Trump on the issue of immigration. He promises to abolish so-called "sanctuary" policies that prevent Baltimore County employees and police officers from asking people about their immigration status. He is running a radio ad featuring a woman named "Patty" who says McDonough will "crack down on Mexican heroin and drug dealers."
Redmer, 61, isn't saying publicly what his campaign priorities will be. He declined to talk about his plans until Saturday's event, where he promised a "special announcement" that Hogan is scheduled to attend. Neither he nor Hogan has confirmed Redmer's candidacy or the governor's support, but both are widely expected among local Republicans.
Redmer was elected to the House of Delegates four times and served as minority leader before becoming Maryland Insurance Administration commissioner for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2003. After two years in the post, Redmer worked in the private sector, then returned after Hogan's election to be insurance commissioner. The insurance administration oversees issues such as approving rate increases by health insurance companies.
During his stint with the Ehrlich administration, Redmer had to deal with angry homeowners who felt the state didn't help them enough as they fought insurance companies following 2003's Tropical Storm Isabel.
John Dedie, coordinator of the political science program at the Community College of Baltimore County, said both McDonough and Redmer face challenges winning the Republican nomination.
McDonough has a higher profile of the two — he appears often on WCBM radio — but Dedie said voters might have a hard time picturing him as county executive.
"Pat McDonough has always been a gadfly; he's never been a legislative leader," he said. "He's never been an executive of anything."
Redmer has little name recognition, Dedie said, but will benefit from Hogan's support to help get his name and story out to voters.
"With the backing the governor's going to give Al Redmer, and the fundraising they'll do to support him, he has a strong chance of beating Pat," Dedie said.
McDonough is angry about Hogan's apparent support of Redmer, saying: "We feel he's dividing the Republican Party. He's stirring the pot."
The delegate said he plans to introduce a bill in the General Assembly in January that would require Redmer to resign from his job if he wants to run for office.
Dedie expects a spirited primary. He said the winner will be battle-tested and ready to go up against the eventual Democratic nominee.
That's important in a county that — despite its support for Hogan in 2014 — still has more than twice as many registered Democrats (56 percent) to Republicans (26 percent). Sixteen percent are unaffiliated.
In the executive race, three Democrats are expected to run. Former Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. of Dundalk is the only Democrat officially in the race so far, having announced his campaign back in June.
Olszewski plans to open his campaign headquarters office in Dundalk on Saturday, and will hold a fundraiser next week featuring House Speaker Michael E. Busch and other top Democrats in the House of Delegates.
State Sen. Jim Brochin, who represents a district that runs from Towson to the Pennsylvania line, said this week he's "a lot closer" to announcing a run for county executive. He recently launched a campaign website and has scheduled an announcement event Oct. 19 in Towson.
And County Councilwoman Vicki Almond from Reisterstown is also considering a run for the Democratic nomination. She has a campaign event scheduled on Nov. 1 in Owings Mills.
Residence: Middle River.
Experience: Five-term state delegate; ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year.
Residence: Middle River.
Experience: State insurance commissioner; Three-term state delegate (was elected to fourth term, but resigned to become insurance commissioner).