Anne Arundel Republicans blame Trump, turnout for their defeat on Election Day

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

The Fado Irish Pub in Annapolis was full of hopeful Republicans drinking alcohol and listening to loud music as they waited for election results to pour in on Nov. 6.

Internal polls showed Republicans up across the county, so the party was a celebration.

But as the results came in, the party made the transition from celebration to mourning. Republicans across the county were losing their races, including County Executive Steve Schuh who was a favorite over challenger Steuart Pittman.

All the polls showed the campaign up by 10 to 15 points, Schuh said. He ended up losing 52 to 48 percent.

Schuh pointed to one reason for the Republican defeat: President Donald Trump.

There wasn’t a problem with local candidates, campaigns or fundraising, he said. It was Washington.

“It has everything to do with Washington,” Schuh said. “It has nothing to do with local anything. If you look at the state as a whole — or Anne Arundel County in particular — you see the same pattern of party-line voting by Democrat voters.”

Republicans across the country lost competitive races. Democrats and independents flocked to Democratic candidates, flipping control of the U.S. House of Representatives from Republicans to Democrats. Locally the Democrats took control of the county executive office, the County Council and other down-ballot positions.

The Republican sheriff candidate Jim Fredericks survived a close race against James Williams. Schuh attributed that to the natural bump Republican law enforcement candidates receive over Democrats.

These losses boiled down to voters angry at Trump, Schuh said. They wanted to send a message to Washington, D.C. so they voted for almost every Democrat on the ballot. Only Gov. Larry Hogan was safe.

Schuh called him a political phenomenon.

“Democrats came to the polls and said ‘I’m going to vote for Larry Hogan and that is the only Republican I’m voting for,”’ Schuh said.

These defeats occurred despite Republicans out-raising their opponents in many of the competitive races. Schuh raised more money than Pittman. Del. Tony McConkey, R-Severna Park, who lost to Democrat Heather Bagnall in District 33, raised more than his opponent.

But Schuh said Republicans couldn’t have done anything different to avoid the defeat.

Republicans should continue focusing on strong candidates and fund raising, he said.

Maryland Speaker of the House Mike Busch said he thinks Republican lost locally because of Trump and some connections to national policies. Councilman Michael Peroutka, R-Millersville, introduced a resolution that recognized the life of unborn children. The resolution wouldn’t have changed any policies as Anne Arundel County can’t pass legislation dealing with abortion.

Schuh backed the resolution. It was defeated swiftly after an hours-long public hearing on the resolution.

“For some reason as county executive he got involved in the abortion debate,” Busch said. “It has nothing to do with any legislation we pass at the county level. It wasn’t going to change anything in the state of Maryland.”

Others felt the Republicans could change their strategy. A republican official said Pittman kept pace with Schuh because he focused on TV instead of mailers. Schuh’s campaign heavily used mailers, sending paper to voter’s homes. The official requested anonymity to speak frankly about the race.

The political consulting group Scott Strategies, most notably consultant Lawrence Scott, didn’t give the best advice to Republican candidates, the official said. There was too much focus on paper mailers, which people often just throw into the trash.

The official also said some of the Republicans consulted by Scott Strategies went with negative campaign materials which didn’t help their chances.

“The business is going away from mail,” the official said. “It is not like our people didn’t come out. It is not like they stayed home, more people on the other side came out.”

Scott Strategies was a popular choice for Republican county candidates. It is owned by Francine Scott, who is married to Lawrence. The group consulted on eight county races, winning only one in County District 7. Jessica Haire defeated James Kitchen in that race.

Haire said she didn’t have any problems with Scott Strategies consulting work. Her campaign focused on paper mailers but she didn’t release negative materials.

Haire’s husband, Dirk Haire, is the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. The turnout was the major factor in the Republican’s defeat, Haire said. Everyone was expecting midterm numbers, but voters showed up like it was a presidential election.

Total turnout was about 60 percent, according to unofficial election results. Turnout was about 52 percent in 2014.

Results by party have not been released for 2018, but Haire said his internal numbers showed Republicans didn’t increase their turnout from the 2014 race while Democrats surged.

“That is what we see so far,” Haire said. “We are continuing to refine the data.”

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This story was updated to correct an error in Dirk Haire’s title. He is the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.
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