Barry Rascovar
Barry Rascovar

The battle lines already are forming in advance of Baltimore County's elections next year. The race for county executive could be wide open.

Both the Republican and Democratic primaries will be hotly contested. Overhanging the county elections will be popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's attempt to gain a second term amid growing discontent in Maryland over the Trump presidency.


Two Republicans are eyeing the GOP nomination for county executive: state Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer and Del. Pat McDonough.

Hogan and the Republican establishment favor Redmer, who represented eastern Baltimore County for 12 years in the General Assembly and worked in the insurance industry. He's quiet, photogenic and likable, with deep connections to the county's business community.

McDonough, by contrast, is boisterous and a conservative flame-thrower with his own right-wing talk show and frequent appearances on other talk-radio outlets. In his mind, the more outrageous his comments the better.

Bobby Zirkin, the Owings Mills-Pikesville state senator, is learning leadership requires a thick skin when making tough decisions that don't please everyone.

McDonough has been sniping at Redmer on the air and has made clear he doesn't intend to return to the General Assembly for another term. He represents a portion of eastern Baltimore County and western Harford County — which means many of his constituents can't vote for him next year.

McDonough will emphasize his devotion to a rigidly conservative, tea party agenda and loyalty to President Trump. Redmer will follow Hogan's moderate-conservative line that tries to separate local politics from toxic Washington issues.

Redmer has a huge advantage in fundraising and solid backing from longtime Republican activists. He's likely to get a boost from Hogan, too.

But he could be tripped up by a crucial decision he soon must make as Maryland insurance commissioner on CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield's request for massive health insurance rate increases — well above 50 percent.

That ruling could set off political sparks. McDonough is sure to rail against any premium increase sanctioned by Redmer and repeatedly remind Republican voters of Redmer's role in raising their premiums.

On the Democratic side, as many as three major candidates may get in the primary race: Reisterstown Councilwoman Vicki Almond, state Sen. Jim Brochin from the central and northern parts of the county, and former Del. John Olszewski Jr. from Dundalk.

Over the next few weeks, Baltimore County will be Maryland's ground zero in the controversy over President Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration.

Each has limited appeal — Almond in the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Pikesville corridor, Brochin in the Towson and north-county areas and Olszewski in the Middle River-Sparrows Point eastern end.

Yet, one of the largest Democratic voting cohorts resides in western Baltimore County: African-American voters who predominate in the Woodlawn-Randallstown-Liberty Heights region. The support of that voting segment could decide who will be the Democrats' nominee for county executive.

That voting bloc also could prove pivotal in the November 2018 general election.

Demographic changes in Baltimore County over the past quarter-century have shifted the balance of political power from the county's eastern end to the western and northwestern sections, where population growth has been heavy and constant.

That will prove a challenge for the Republican nominee, since the GOP's county strength lies in the rural north county, Perry Hall-Towson and far-eastern Dundalk-Sparrows Point.


But west county voters also will test the political skills of the Democratic candidates, since none of them are household names in those large communities.

Meanwhile, Republicans have to worry about Trump's growing unpopularity among Marylanders. If voters decide to express their anger and strong disapproval at the ballot box next year, state and local GOP candidates could feel the wrath.

All this lies months and months away.

For now, these Republican and Democratic politicians are maneuvering for position and getting ready to launch their county executive campaigns. It could be an exciting and unpredictable time in county politics.

Barry Rascovar's blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.