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Guest Host: Marc Fisher
We examine the results from yesterday’s general election — from the D.C. Council to the U.S. House.
- Charles Robinson Political Correspondent, Maryland Public Television
- Bruce DePuyt Host of "NewsTalk," News Channel 8
MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, it's "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, yesterday's election shook up the power structure on Capitol Hill, and voters in the Washington region made some powerful statements of their own, refusing to follow their leaders and sending some strong messages to those who are staying in office. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley held on to his seat with ease. But in Virginia, three democratic congressmen lost their seats, and a fourth, Fairfax's Gerry Connolly, is likely heading to a runoff as a conservative Republican Keith Fimian fought him nearly to a tie.
MR. MARC FISHERLocal voters said yes to an elected attorney general in the District of Columbia, yes to slots in a big mall at Anne Arundel County and no way to Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett's plan to charge for every time residence use county ambulance service. The region's congressional delegation will now be much more divided by party, and those who held on to their seats will have to operate in a national political environment that's taken a hard step to the right. Joining us to explore what yesterday's results mean, Bruce DePuyt, he is the host of "NewsTalk" on TBD television, and Charles Robinson, political correspondent for Maryland Public Television. Welcome to you, both...
MR. CHARLES ROBINSONGood to be here.
FISHER...and let's start off with that Maryland governor's race. It was not nearly as close as those who had watched versions one and (laugh) two.
ROBINSONOr the rerun, as we like to call it.
FISHERThe rerun, (laugh) as you would like to call it. Right. It was not as close, certainly, as Bob Ehrlich would have hoped. In fact, it was the largest margin of victory for a gubernatorial candidate in Maryland in 20 years, and all of this flying in the face of a national movement toward the right, toward the Republicans. What makes Maryland so different this time around?
ROBINSONIt's a blue state.
ROBINSONThat's the only way to describe it. I mean, to a certain extent, every Republican who runs in the state of Maryland has a challenge. They -- you know, Bob Ehrlich won, what, four years, six years ago now?
MR. BRUCE DEPUYTEight.
ROBINSONEight. I know, it seems like yesterday. By having a really bad Democratic candidate, by beating Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. And then he also was able to ride part of the wave. He wanted to ride part of the wave of the Tea Party, but the Tea Party in Maryland is not like the Tea Party in the rest of the country. And I think he looked at the wave and thinking that he could capture some of that. But where he really lost was in crucial places that he had to do better than he did the last time. Not only did he have to stay even, but he needed to get more votes in the places he was gonna win. Once again, the center of the state is very much blue. The outer portion is a very much, well, kind of purple.
FISHERAnd Bob Ehrlich, as you say, focused his campaign on the Baltimore suburbs, essentially, on the five counties starting...
ROBINSONNo. He actually went down to Montgomery County. Remember...
FISHERWell, he started off there and he quickly gave up on it.
DEPUYTYeah, till he retrenched to his base as the campaign wore on. I mean, you're right, in the sense he went to Montgomery County for his running mate. But Mary Kane was no Michael Steele. I mean...
DEPUYT...there was a real sense of magic and of moment years ago when Bob Ehrlich and Michael Steele were running. And Charles is exactly right. To win statewide as a Republican in Maryland, the stars really have to align just right. You have a moderate member of Congress who was popular in his base, he was able to do outreach to the populated D.C. suburbs, running mate who captivate people's energy, a week, as you say, Democratic candidate who picked a Republican who no one never heard off as a running mate.
DEPUYTThis is a completely different environment. Money -- the money edge that O'Malley enjoyed really hurt Bob Ehrlich.
DEPUYTThere was a lot of catch up there. O'Malley owned the airwaves for a while and that hurt as well.
FISHERWell, that's true. There was tremendous financial advantage that Martin O'Malley had in this campaign. But you know, we see blue states across the country where Democrats thought they would have a relatively easy time, and yet were either knocked out or held to very close races. Martin O'Malley ran away with this. And I have to ask whether part of the reason for that was that Bob Ehrlich just didn't seem into it this time. He did not seem...
ROBINSONNo, he was into it. The problem was he was looking in votes in all the wrong places. I mean he lost in Baltimore County. He lost by almost like 2,000 votes in a county that he was very competitive in. He also lost Howard County. And Howard County is the new, if you will, the new Republican...
ROBINSON...up and coming. The other thing was, is that Harford County, which is the northern portion of the state, is now the Republican stronghold, so is Anne Arundel County. Yeah, he had to win a nose there, but you still don't have enough people in those jurisdictions to offset Prince George's County, Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Baltimore County. And each year we go out and we talk to people in these places, and they're very conservative. And guess what, they're the old Dixiecrats and they have a tendency to switch parties. This time, the narrative was actually shaped by Martin O'Malley.
ROBINSONI'm not proud of this. But let me tell you. One of the most effective ads involve Maryland public television where my good friend Jeff Salkin was plucked out of a Q&A that he was doing with Martin O'Malley and asked, will you raise some fees? And -- but a fee is not a tax. And I think that was a very salient message, whether you liked it or not. We asked them to pull that ad down because it made us look bad. But guess what? At the end of the race, guess what, the ad came back. And they felt as though -- the O'Malley administration felt that it was an effective ad and a great tag to tag one to Bob Ehrlich.
FISHERCharles Robinson is political correspondent for Maryland Public Television. Bruce DePuyt, host of "NewsTalk" on TBD television. I'm Marc Fisher from The Washington Post. You can join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850 or e-mail us at kojo, K-O-J-O, @wamu.org. And you can also get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending a tweet to @kojoshow. We'll get to Virginia and the district in just a moment, but sticking with Maryland for now. One of the things voters decided to do last night was to set up a constitutional convention.
FISHERMaryland has one of the longest, most unwieldy convention -- constitution of any state in the country, and it's now, apparently, due for a rewrite. This is a very cumbersome process, and one of you are saying before the show that that ballot measure won, but it lost. Explain that, Chris.
DEPUYTYeah. But it lost.
ROBINSONYeah. And we can explain. So this was question A. This was question one...
DEPUYTQuestion one on the ballot, yes.
ROBINSON...on the ballot, and it said should Maryland convened a constitutional convention for the purposes of making changes to the state's Constitution. More people said yes than no. So early in the evening, it looked like we were headed to this thing that could be fascinating, scary, fraught with uncertainty, and yet on closer examination, it's not going to happen. Why? Because the number of no votes and the number of blank votes exceeded the number of yes votes. So there's not going to be a constitutional convention in Maryland. This is a thing that the state is required to ask every 20 years because some people think you should, you know, like every spring, you open the windows and the air comes in, and it sort of cleans the place out. It's an opportunity to get in there and freshen things up a bit. But the concern - so the concern about what...
DEPUYTSo let me explain that. The last time this happened was 1967, and they -- and understand how the constitution convention works in the state of Maryland. In other words, so the body politics says we want a constitutional convention because the electorate is in a rowdy mode. Well, the delegates come from the House of Delegates and the senators in the state. So they're -- it's in their best interest not to kind of prolonged the process, but there was a mood in 1967 to like let's make some changes. The problem was is that the governor didn't accept it, and it died. And basically, they paid for a constitutional convention, and I was going -- so you really want to have a constitutional convention, go ahead. Let's see what happens because, you know, as everybody knows, this electorate was very volatile. I mean, it was the throw the bums out category. You know, we saw that down in the 1st Congressional District where Frank Kratovil who was a one-term Democrat who essentially ran away from the Obama administration, didn't vote for health care, didn't like the stimulus plan. But guess what? He still lost and...
FISHERHe lost in a rematch to State Senator Andy Harris, and this was a big Republican target this time around. Essentially, that campaign never ended. From the day Kratovil was elected two years ago, the campaign has continued all the way through and you see the results.
DEPUYTAnd let me say it was a nasty campaign. I mean, it was -- I mean, I was waiting for somebody to say your mama is and finish the sentence. But, you know, there were charges and counterchanges. Once again, the base for Harris is in Harford County. He lives in Baltimore County, but Harford County is right next door. He was outpolling Democrats there two -- maybe three to one. And the western -- the eastern shore, which encompasses everything from Wicomico County all the way to Somerset, didn't have enough voters. I mean -- and once again, as always, I like to tell people you got to count. If you can't count, you can't win.
FISHERWell, sticking with Maryland for just one more moment. The voters in Montgomery County rejected a referendum to place a fee on ambulance service. This was one of those moves where Ike Leggett trying to close a budget gap. It's thought that Montgomery, like many other jurisdictions...
FISHER...around the country, would charge for ambulance service, and the selling point was, hey, you don't ask the patient pay for this, your insurance company pays for it.
DEPUYTRight. Yeah. They insisted that the service would be the same. That you called 911, don't hesitate, don't think about your ability to pay. If someone is in distress, call 911, help will come, and the paperwork stuff will get sorted out later. This was a bid to get insurance reimbursement money that, as you indicate, many jurisdictions are able to successfully go after. But even though he's personally popular -- I mean, he won reelection last night by a significant margin, didn't have any opposition in the primary, and he supported this thing publicly. Ike Leggett couldn't drag it across the finish line. Folks were concerned about what would happen.
ROBINSONThis is the anti-tax mood. This is a...
DEPUYTYeah, this was the year -- you could see this coming. You could see this being the year...
FISHERIt's anti-tax, and it's also a sense of skepticism or cynicism that people have when if you tell me that, hey, you don't have to pay for it. Your health insurance companies are going to pay for it. I know that that means I'm eventually going to pay for it. And so...
DEPUYTEveryone thought it would get passed along in some form or fashion.
FISHERAnd they were helped in believing that by many of the volunteer fire folks in Montgomery County who were deeply opposed to this and...
DEPUYTFor reasons that I don't think it had been a hundred percent clear.
FISHERWell, it all really comes back to this dispute over the future of volunteer fire rescue...
FISHER...operations in an increasingly urbanized community where a more professionalized fire rescue system has been put in place, and so there is this sort of cultural tension between the volunteers...
DEPUYTA lot of energy.
FISHER...and the professionals in the county government. Moving over to Anne Arundel County, where voters cleared the way for a slots project there. If you're a shopper who enjoys going over to Arundel Mills, the enormous mall over in Anne Arundel County, you will soon find a slots emporium there. This one quite handily 56 percent of 44 percent and what it means is that there will not be slots at Laurel as one casino giant beats another casino giant.
ROBINSONLet me -- one of the things I found out yesterday because I have a brother who lives in Anne Arundel County, relatively near. I asked him, are you going to vote for it? He says I'm going to vote against it. What I found was, as you moved further and further away from the mall, the sentiment changed, and, of course, we had ads that were running. And then, you know, last week, we had a charge by the folks at the Laurel racetrack. Well, if this doesn't pass, we're going to fire everybody, and, you know, I thought that was a little disingenuous. There was a lot of like tweaking, like there was a question about whether or not, does the bill say you could put one -- a slots emporium at the racetrack, where -- well, it does. The problem is, is that Laurel didn't put up the hundred million dollars to be in the game. As I like to say if you play poker, you know, you...
DEPUYTThat's an awfully steep ante, though. I'd question doing it.
ROBINSONWell, you know? I can tell you this, that Cordish, obviously, knew something because he recognized I don't want to put it at the racetrack. I want to put it at the mall because the mall is one of the largest attractions in the state of Maryland, and you get people. And in order to get people to come, you got to give them a destination. And, you know, the folks who were against this, you know, they -- it was the NIMBY argument. And the question was, if it failed, where are we gonna put this? All I could say was, at the end of this process, if this fails, you're talking eight to 10 years before it comes up because it was gonna get litigated. I mean, people are gonna sue each other like there was no tomorrow.
FISHERRight. Coming up after a short break, we'll take a look across the river at Virginia and the blood bath for Virginia Democrats last night as well as looking at the District and what lies ahead for the new mayor Vince Gray. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. Stay tuned.
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we are talking about yesterday's elections with Bruce DePuyt from TDB Television and Charles Robinson from Maryland Public Television. And we're gonna take a look now at Virginia. You probably saw tons of these negative ads for Virginia's 11th District, the race between Congressman Gerry Connolly, a one-term Democrat, and Keith Fimian, his Republican challenger. Again, another rematch, in this case, although Connolly handily beat Fimian in the Obama election two years ago by 12 points, this time, it's well under 1 percent keeping them apart. In fact, as of this morning's count of two last minute -- two precincts that didn't get counted until this morning, there are now 820 votes separating these two, with Connolly holding on to a lead in what is likely to go to a recount which will put off a final decision on the winner there for about a month. And if Connolly were to lose that, he would be the fourth Democrat from the House in Virginia to have lost last night, quite a sweep and quite a difference from two years ago. Bruce?
DEPUYTWell, we knew Connolly-Fimian was going to be close. It had all the earmarks of a very close contest. The debates were interesting. The candidates were really battling one another, raising a lot of money, spending a lot of money and outside groups were spending a lot of money in this race, which was a significant tipoff that this was right in that crosshairs to be a super tight election because you know how it is. When money is precious and you're down at the end of the campaign -- if your guy's a goner, you don't waste money on him. It's not gonna do any good. If he can win without your help, well, you don't spend then either. It's that triage notion of if he's the middle and helpable and you spend a million dollars, as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did, in the closing days, you might make a difference and it appears they have. Chances are, Gerry Connolly does win. But this was a...
FISHERIt was a tough one and in some ways, you would expect it to be because this is a district that had been in Republican hands...
FISHER...for quite a number of years with Tom Davis as the congressman until just two years ago. And in fact, Connolly, who formerly was the top official in Fairfax County, was swept into office really on Barack Obama's coattails. In fact, Connolly ran behind Obama in that district two years ago.
DEPUYTPart of the class of '08, yeah.
FISHERSo, he was --had a shaky hold on that office to start with. On the other hand, had the Republicans put a moderate -- more of a Tom Davis type, they probably would have run away with that seat. Keith Fimian is quite conservative especially on social issues. Out of step, it would seem, with many of the voters in that district which is largely Fairfax County with a chunk of Prince William.
DEPUYTI think if the election had been held a week ago, Keith Fimian might have won. But everything that happened toward the end -- 80 percent of what happened toward the end hurt him. That thing about guns, good heavens, where he suggested that if students at Virginia Tech had been packing heat...
ROBINSONYeah. I heard that. That was not...
DEPUYTAnd then he backtracked from it and said he meant security guard and then he ran from the television cameras. He had a school that...
ROBINSONBut it was about turnout there too. It was about a large turnout.
DEPUYTSo he absorbed that kind of a hit because that's clearly rough. I mean, I don't think that the average person in the 11th Congressional District of Fairfax and Prince William believes that students packing heat is the answer to our public safety challenges. So, despite all that, it's a neck and neck thing that's under a thousand votes.
ROBINSONAnd it's the wave issue that's been sweeping all of the states and, you know? And what's interesting is that, you know, Virginia has never been a blue -- it hasn't been a blue state since like the '70s if you will.
FISHERBut it had a series of Democratic governors that Democrat -- two Democratic Senators?
ROBINSONWarner and Webb -- and Obama, of course. Right. But it had been going red, you know? I hate to date myself. I remember when the state started voting for Bob Dalton. And Dalton was, you know, was this fiscally conservative guy and he tapped in to the angst in Southern Virginia, you know, going around the Martinsville area up to Danville. And then you get up to Northern Virginia, which is a whole new animal that people are trying to deal with and trying to figure out, well how do we reach these folks?
FISHERYou can join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. What do you think of yesterdays elections will mean for life here on the Washington region? What do you think a Republican-controlled House of Representatives will mean for the District of Columbia?
DEPUYTBy the way, Marc, this is interesting. The Fairfax County Republican Party just sent out an alert saying, "We are in need of volunteers to go immediately to the Fairfax County government center to assist the Fimian campaign in overseeing the canvass process. If you are able..." this e-mail says, "Please proceed to the government center right now. We do not wanna be at work."
ROBINSONI wonder why that is.
FISHERWell, we have this army of recount lawyers and experts who've been itching to go somewhere after the election and maybe this is...
DEPUYTConnolly's people do see...
FISHER...where they've decided to go.
DEPUYTYou got to feel like Connolly's people think. They will eat this one out.
FISHERYeah, it looks that way. I mean, 820 votes is a tiny lead but a real lead. And all of the absentee votes have been counted already. In fact, the joke in the newsroom last night was that Virginia had managed to count all of its votes and its absentee ballots before the district...
FISHER...had even begun to get passed, and maybe the 10 percent point in counting its votes. And let's turn to the District of Columbia for a moment. Obviously, there was no tension whatever in the fact that Vince Gray would become the next mayor of Washington. But the way he did it is got to have him thinking twice this morning about how to handle white Washington, how to handle the Washington that is west of Rock Creek Park because the right in tallies, which were presumably all people riding in Adrian Fenty -- the right in tallies were remarkably higher than anyone could have expected. Upwards of 23 percent of the electorate across the city rode in Adrian Fenty against Vince Gray, and those numbers spiked enormously in the white dominated parts of the district, including 43 percent in upper northwest Ward 3, and 39 percent in the George County area of Ward 2, and 33 percent in Capitol Hill, Ward 6. So there's a tremendous amount of skepticism about Vince Gray.
ROBINSONI wrote a piece for -- that was picked up by the grill and also on my blog called Charles Black Politics Blog called Authenticity. And one of the things that's interesting was why I think Adrian Fenty lost. And it came from actually -- from Kurt Schmoke, who's the dean over at Howard University Law School, who said that most black candidates will never ever be able to capture as many white voters after their first election. And that seemed to be true because as you remember, Fenty was trying to find those white voters in the primary -- didn't -- was unable to. And people kept questioning, hey, look, you’re not from Washington. You can't tell me what's at the 14th and U or, you know, those little things. I think Gray walks a very fine line as he moves ahead. He has to appeal to this base that's kind of put him in office, but he also can't just squeeze him out by saying, hey, look, I'm not gonna deal with the white power structure. I think, you know -- I have to go back to Marion Barry. Think about how Marion Barry dealt with that. You know, he brought him into the room. He kind of said, this is what I'm looking for. Can you help me? And, you know -- and he endeared himself to a segment of the population that to this day is so loyal to him. I -- you know, I've been at parties in Washington and people said, I still love Marion Barry.
FISHERYou know, it's interesting had Adrian Fenty not done the honorable thing and embrace Vince Gray after the primary loss. You could have had -- a pretty tight race yesterday it appears. In fact, even though Fenty had disavowed this riding campaign for him, there were this remarkable numbers across, at least, the western half of Washington for Fenty. And there was -- there were other signs of unhappiness on the part of Washington voters including a significant vote against the Ward 3 Councilmember, Mary Cheh, who won with 65 percent of the vote. But her Republican opponent picked up 35 percent in one of the most Democratic corners of the entire country.
DEPUYTBut don’t forget significant chunk -- I don’t -- know when you’re a majority but quite a number of D.C. voters were not able to take part in the hotly contested and much disgust primary because the Republicans are independents. So yesterday was their one chance to weigh in. And I think for others who still believe in Fenty, who still believe in education reform to send a message to the guy that we all know was and he is going to be the mayor. Vince Gray is gonna be the mayor. And soon this will be forgotten because the budget challenges -- who he's gonna pick for high-profile cabinet positions -- police chief -- higher chief, chancellor, et cetera. Those are all gonna make this a distant memory very, very soon. But -- your -- the thing you said at the outset is true. Twenty two, 23 percent was a big number.
FISHERWell, it also -- it’s interesting that -- you look at what Gray does from here. Obviously, he's gonna have a very short and difficult honeymoon because his tremendous budget problems facing him right off the bat same with Martin O'Malley for that matter. But also he has this question hanging over him, does he dismantle the Adrian Fenty legacy? Obviously, Michelle Rhee already out the door, the fire chief, Dennis Rubin, already going away. Big questions now, the fire chief -- I'm sorry the police chief, Cathy Lanier and a lot of folks west of Rock Creek Park are also looking at what happens on the planning and transportation fronts where they were chiefs who were very popular in that part of town -- not at all so popular in black Washington. And so, if Gray has some real decisions to make about whether he continues to try to present an image of continuing the Tony Williams-Adrian Fenty...
DEPUYTAnd if he does a hybrid -- if he does a hybrid, if he keeps Harriet Tregoning and...
DEPUYTGabe Klein and maybe a couple of others, then he'll be able to say, and it will be apparent, that it's a hybrid of holdovers, if you will. People in the -- incumbents, people in their posts though to be doing good job. And the fresh people -- the new folk that he bring in, if it's not a hybrid, I'll be shocked. I think a lot of people will be shocked.
ROBINSONWell, I think the other thing is that every mayor since Walter Washington, who was a mayor here, has always put their personal stamp on being the mayor of this town. And I don't expect anything less than him -- say, look, this is the way -- this is the Gray way, if you will. And we're not going to -- we will remember all of those, because how many of you remember Sharon Pratt Kelly? (laugh) You know...
ROBINSON...a very were few of you do, because people said -- made the decision that, hey, she's not the person that's the authentic Washingtonian, if you will.
FISHERLet's hear from Rick in Patapsco, Md. Rick, it's your turn.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1Yes.
FISHERYes. You're on the air.
RICKHi. I was a little sadly dismayed about something you said about the Maryland election. And what I heard you say was that a lot of people voted yes for the Constitutional Convention and less people voted no. And the -- and a portion didn't vote at all and, therefore, there is no Constitutional Convention. Is that what I heard you say?
FISHER...because the trigger that would actually produce a convention is not winning majority in yesterday's referendum, but rather winning a majority of all registered voters. Is that right?
ROBINSONI -- yes.
ROBINSONThat's the way it is. I've -- I wanted to say it's two thirds of the entire electorate has to be four, because...
DEPUYTMeaning those who came to turn out or those who are registered?
FISHERIn -- no, not -- no. Those who are registered...
FISHERSo you could win the election and lose the election...
FISHER...that you said earlier, because not enough people came out to pass that threshold.
RICKSo I have two comments. The first is that is not the same standard. Let's say you run for Maryland Senate and I run for Maryland Senate. And I get 511 votes and you will get 411 votes, but 800 people did not choose to vote for either of us...
RICK...that means you win because you got 511. Is that correct?
DEPUYTWell, sort of. I mean I get where his going.
ROBINSONI know we're you're going with this, but the whole...
RICKWell, no. Maybe you don't. And where I'm going is this, if that's the standard that they choose for an amendment on the Maryland ballot, it seems to me that the ballot is rigged to leave the status quo.
FISHERWell, it's intended very much to make it a very difficult process to completely rewrite the Constitution. That's something that should have a very high hurdle. Thanks for the call, Rick. Just before we wrapped up our -- these elections, Martin O'Malley, obviously, not only survived but came through this election in a way that hardly any other Democrats in the country did. Where does this place him as far as his ability to rise either to higher office or somehow to a higher stature as a national figure beyond Maryland?
ROBINSONWell, this is what we call friendly confines for the president, you know? The president has appeared in Maryland several times. And he always gets a very warm welcome. And the other part is that, you know, we -- there has been talk that, you know, Senator Barbara Mikulski, who also won this go round, has a term, and it's six years. And, you know, his ends in four. Is that a possibility? Because, already, Senator Mikulski is the senior woman who's in the Senate, and, you know, at some point, I got to believe that, you know, maybe it's time to say, you know, I've had enough. And I can tell you, if you thought that Sarbanes -- when Senator Sarbanes decided he wasn't gonna -- and you saw the free-for-all there, wait until Barbara Mikulski gets out of this.
ROBINSONAnd I think the other part is that -- look, the Republican Party of Maryland doesn't have a strong bench. Brian Murphy, who ran against Bob Ehrlich. Ehrlich basically dismissed him, but there were enough people who voted for Murphy, who said, well, let's give somebody else a try. And if you think about it, you know, we ask, who were the most popular Republicans in the state of Maryland? And, you know, I can pick about four. And none of them have the appeal that Bob Ehrlich had.
FISHERCharles Robinson is political correspondent for Maryland Public Television and Bruce DePuyt also joined us. He's the host of "NewsTalk" on TBD Television. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi.
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