Howard GOP hopes to harness voter anger

Howard County Republicans feel confident that they can ride a wave of national discontent over government spending, debt and accountability to victory in November.

Sarah Palin-backed conservative Brian Murphy was beaten handily by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in Maryland's gubernatorial primary, but candidates believe the voter anger that has driven tea party protests will play a role in the general election.

"You saw what happened in Delaware," said county Republican Party Chairwoman Joan Becker, referring to the upset victory of a Palin-backed U.S. Senate candidate against an established former governor." We do see the same kind of trends."

She said the local GOP was hoping to capture at least two County Council seats and at least one Maryland House seat from Democrats in Howard.

Democrats see that as wishful thinking, but virtually all the Republicans running for local office say they believe that national resentment against incumbent Democrats will help them this year.

"The fervor is absolutely there," District 13 House candidate Ed Priola said about what he's encountered among voters. Kyle Lorton, the Republican Senate nominee in the same district, said that independent and Democratic voters he'd met campaigning have been open-minded and are worried about fiscal responsibility.

"They will give me a shot," he said.

Trent Kittleman, the Republican candidate for county executive, has said the Howard budget has increased nearly 400 percent in 15 years, far outstripping population growth, and she worries that fiscal woes will continue.

"I will eliminate government overspending, overtaxing and overregulating," she said, adding that Howard County cannot afford more government expansion.

Democrats say county voters aren't buying the GOP argument.

"People are very smart," said incumbent County Executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat. "I feel like we've done a good job in tough times."

In contested Republican primaries, Lorton beat Jody Venkatasen for the chance to run against state Sen. James N. Robey. Priola, Loretta Gaffney and Jeff Robinson will oppose veteran incumbent Democrats Shane Pendergrass, Frank S. Turner and Guy Guzzone.

Those four Democrats did very well four years ago, Robey, a former two-term county executive and county police chief, beat Republican incumbent state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader by over 5,000 votes to gain his seat, while Gaffney, who also ran that year, lost by about 14,000 votes.

In District 12A, Joseph D. Hooe and Albert Nalley emerged from a four-man field as the party's nominees to oppose Dels. James E. Malone and Steven J. DeBoy, with Robert Wheatley running against Del. Elizabeth Bobo. Rick Martel was unopposed against state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, who is Senate majority leader and acting chairman of the Senate Budget and Tax committee.

The 12A group is the same slate of Republicans who ran against those same Democrats four years ago and came up woefully short. In 2006, Martel lost to Kasemeyer by more than a 2-1 margin and Hooe and Nalley were over 600 votes behind the closest Democrat, but Martel said things will be different this time.

"I think the people are going to make a statement," he said, adding that he's encountered voters even in Columbia who are "seething" that the federal and state governments haven't done what the people want done on spending, debt and health care.

"The message is very clear," he said. "Real seismic change is in the offing."

Kasemeyer said, "When you look across the state, I don't see evidence of general discontent." He expects his attention to constituent service and his long record will serve him well.

Despite a primary turnout of just 21 percent, District 1 County Council candidate Robert L. Flanagan feels that angry voters in Ellicott City and Elkridge is waiting until November to come out in force.

"They're very anxious to go to the polls and express their sentiments." Republicans, he said, "are seeing a mobilization of energy."

Not surprisingly, County Council Chairwoman Courtney Watson, the Democrat that Flanagan hopes to beat, sees things very differently.

"I've been door-knocking since December, and I've always felt that people are pretty happy. I'm confident that people will vote to re-elect me." In her visits, she said, voters have mentioned Ellicott City's selection by two different national magazines as one of the best places in the nation to live and raise children.

"How could we vote against what we are doing?" she said one man told her.

Dennis R. Schrader, a former District 3 councilman who, like Flanagan, was a high-ranking Ehrlich administration official, is Becker's other best bet for an upset victory against incumbent Democrat Jenn Terrasa, who won with 62 percent of the vote in 2006.

Schrader is one Republican not depending on the national mood, he said. He's keeping with local issues, though he's got a record as the district's councilman from 1994 through 1998 to talk about, too. Terrasa is not fazed, she said.

"I'm going to work hard," she said. The district's heavy concentration of registered Democrats favors her.

Becker said Republicans would be aiming for independents and disaffected Democrats, which is exactly what Sigaty's GOP opponent, Tom D'Asto, said he was doing, especially after the bruising fight among Democrats over the downtown Columbia redevelopment plan.

"I'll pick up some support from that," he said. "Voter animosity across the county" will also aid him, he added, noting that the low primary turnout merely shows "apathy" among Democrats.

Four years ago he won just 35 percent of the general election vote against Sigaty in perhaps the most reliably Democratic voting district in the county.

By month's end, Becker said, the party expects to nominate a new candidate in Council District 2, covering east Columbia and Jessup, to replace Anthony Jordan, who withdrew. Calvin Ball is the Democratic incumbent there, and he will likely face Reginald Avery, who tried to run as an independent but has since switched back to the GOP.

Republicans in District 9A also renominated Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman and the two incumbent Republican delegates, Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller. Democrat Jim Adams opposes Kittleman, joined by House of Delegates candidates Jonathan Weinstein and Maryann Maher. In 2006, the closest Democrat lost by about 2,400 votes. Incumbent Republican Greg Fox is facing Dr. Zaneb Beams, a pediatrician and first-time candidate in a district that has for decades put Republicans in office. Fox won with 62 percent of the vote four years ago.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad