Baltimore County

Observations of District 12 race by UMBC political science professor

With the last day of early voting on Thursday, voters have plenty of candidates to choose from in the crowded District 12 race for state delegate.

With 10 Democratic candidates vying for three open seats vacated by longtime legislators Dels. Steven DeBoy, James Malone and Liz Bobo, the race offers a chance for fresh faces to represent the district, which includes portions of Howard County, Catonsville and Arbutus.


"Candidates got a huge jump on this race," said Laura Hussey, political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "I think there was just a huge rush to get in on it once we knew that there would be three open seats in the race.

"There are a couple incentives for starting early," Hussey said. "There are some who would like to create an air of inevitability by collecting endorsements, establishing momentum."


But getting an early start isn't unique to this race — it's becoming increasingly common across the nation, Hussey said.

"Campaigns are lasting longer and starting earlier. Everyone is trying to get a jump. We've been talking about the 2016 [presidential] election for a good, long time now, and we're not even halfway there," Hussey said.

In local races like this one, endorsements and personal connections the candidates can make often are a large difference because there is little information available about the candidates, Hussey said.

"One of the things that is neat about these local community races is that it encourages the candidates to get out there and shake the hands of people in the district to meet them personally, and I have a hard time believing that is not going to matter," Hussey said.

The large field of Democratic candidates includes Brian Bailey, Jay Fred Cohen, Rebecca Dongarra, Eric Ebersole, Mike Gisriel, Terri Hill, Clarence Lam, Rene McGuirk-Spence, Adam Sachs and Nick Stewart.

Three Republicans, Joseph Hooe, Rick Martel and Gordon Bull are also running and all three will advance to the general election.

So many names to choose from requires voters do their homework, Hussey said.

"It certainly challenges the voters more in terms of their information gathering. They don't have that big name to rely on that jumps out at less informed voters on the ballot each time," Hussey said.


And with so many on the ballot, those with names listed at the top of the ballot will be at an advantage, Hussey said.

"Research has established that name-order effects exist, mainly advantaging the candidate listed first on the ballot," Hussey said.

While it isn't likely that ballot order will matter in a high-profile, high-information race such as the gubernatorial primary, however, it does have an impact in local elections such as a race for state delegate, Hussey said.

This election has, "many of the characteristics of the races where ballot order effects are detected: They're primary elections, there's no incumbent involved and voters' levels of information about the candidates are likely to be low," Hussey said.

Hussey said redistricting, which created a more progressive district by adding additional parts of Howard County to the area, will create a more progressive elected official, to which residents of Catonsville and Arbutus aren't accustomed.

"I think we're going to see candidates getting elected out of this district that are more liberal or progressive in their policy, their positions and their ties than we saw in the past," Hussey said.


Candidates like Malone and Deboy, a former firefighter and police officer, respectively, who stressed their working class roots to voters, will likely be replaced by someone of a white collar profession, Hussey explained.

Cohen is a former Orphans' Court Judge. Dongarra is a small business owner. Ebersole is a teacher. Gisriel is a lobbyist. Hill is a plastic surgeon. Lam is a physician at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. McGuirk-Spence is with the Maryland Department of Education. Sachs is a publicist for the American Nurses Association. Stewart is an attorney.

"The area is changing and the district is changing, and politics is generally changing — attracting those who are a little bit more ideological into it," Hussey said.

Democrats are becoming more liberal and Republicans are becoming more conservative, which is part of a trend in national and state politics, Hussey said.

"The redistricting process has helped to enable this, but we've had other changes that have gone on and fueled it as well," Hussey said. "They are becoming more combative in their relationships with each other and this is continuing into this election."

Hussey said she expects to see candidates who portray themselves in a more issue-oriented fashion rather than orienting themselves toward their constituents.