Some reflections on this week’s election:
• I don’t like to use the term upset when it comes to election races because the fact is you never truly know the will of the general public until it’s expressed through the voting process. However, prior to elections, it’s natural through educated research and experience to handicap certain races and when the results contradict the thoughts of most pundits then there can be surprises.
Of all the races, the biggest surprise (or upset some may prefer) came with Delegate Norm Conway’s defeat. The defeat of the chair of the House Appropriations Committee is the biggest example in this election of the general distaste for the status quo in the state of Maryland. Conway, a Democrat, simply could not rely on his long tenure in the legislature in this election to overcome the rising tide of the surging Republican Party.
Conway’s loss should result in mixed emotions for the shore. As the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a 24-member review body that looks at nearly all major state expenditures, Conway was arguably among the most powerful elected officials in Annapolis, despite being from the Eastern Shore, which traditionally has little political clout in the legislature. It took Conway decades to ascend to that position, which voters in Wicomico County did not value apparently.
Whatever voice Conway had in Annapolis is now gone, and it will be interesting to see what committee his successor — Delmar Mayor Carl Anderton — will serve on during the next legislative session.
• State Senator Jim Mathias squeezed out another close win this week. The prediction here early on was the winner of this tight race would not be known Tuesday. That remained true officially as of yesterday afternoon, but Mathias was in command by the end of Tuesday night with his lead nearly matching the number of absentees remaining to be counted.
Recent elections have proven this is a challenging district for a Democrat. The largely rural and conservative district was formerly represented by long-time Republican Senator Lowell Stoltzfus. When he retired in 2010, Mathias won the seat in an extremely close race over Republican Michael James.
In this year’s race, it was interesting to see how the three-county district voted. In Worcester, prior to absentees being counted, Mathias managed a 578-vote advantage, 9,332 to challenger Mike McDermott’s 8,754. In Wicomico, McDermott won with a 22-vote margin, receiving 6,356 votes compared to 6,334 for Mathias. The largest margin came in Somerset County where Mathias bested McDermott by 672 votes, receiving 3,467 compared to 2,795.
In an interview earlier this election season, Mathias said he began his re-election campaign immediately after that narrow 2010 victory. He said it was part of a business plan he created for his re-election bid this year understanding he would need to be organized and properly funded for his re-election bid in such a challenging, large and diverse district.
To continue his unbeaten election streak that dates back to his Ocean City Council days in 1990, Mathias will probably do the same thing this winter.
• On the micro-local front, the defeat of Virgil Shockley, a Worcester County Commissioner since 1998, is significant because it means the south end of the county is now essentially left with one commissioner — Merrill Lockfaw of Pocomoke — residing south of Newark. This will be intriguing to watch.
In fact, if you look at the districts, the new makeup of the board will feature six of the seven commissioners living within 15 miles of each other.
On one hand, based on population, the north-end of the county should have the majority of the representation of the board, but six out of the seven is noteworthy, and it’s the first time that’s been the case since the new seven-district format.
Earlier in the week, Shockley thought he would be re-elected of turnout was about what it was in the 2010 election when he defeated Elder by just 90 votes. Turnout was down across the county compared to 2010 and Shockley’s reading of the tea leaves turned out to be true. Add turnout to the fact he was a Democrat and he was doomed.
• State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby received a major endorsement from the county’s voters, despite a late flurry of anti-incumbent ads.
It surely helped that he was a Republican, but there is no question the general electorate gave him an endorsement in the election. Oglesby secured 65% of the vote over challenger Michael Farlow.
On election night, the earliest posted numbers came from Early Voting, and in most cases those figures stayed through when merged with Election Day tallies. In the State’s Attorney race, for example, Oglesby doubled up Farlow, 2,260 to 1,101, and the trend held up for the most part through Tuesday.
While Oglesby would not respond to attempts for comment after the election, Farlow downplayed the partisan significance.
“I think that blaming the results on the Republican avalanche would be taking the easy way out,” he said. “The fact is some of my most loyal supporters and hardest working volunteers were Republicans. Even though it is a partisan election, the State’s Attorney’s Office should not be about partisan politics. I simply did not give the voters enough of an opportunity to get to know me and know my positions.”
• Ocean Pines has only had its own election district for about 12 years and it has clearly indicated its Republican ways.
It was not a major surprise to see Republican Chip Bertino win the commissioner seat for District 5, but I didn’t expect it to be the cakewalk it was. To me, the lopsided win speaks volume about the conservative nature of the district because Bertino and Democratic challenger Tom Wilson were formidable foes. Wilson, a retired professional who serves on several non-profit boards in the area, was a qualified candidate with a unique skill set to match Bertino’s government experience and community familiarity through his newspaper publishing background.
The final results did not indicate how closely matched these candidates truly were with Bertino securing 66% of the vote, receiving 2,094 votes compared to Wilson’s 1,097.
• Voter turnout in Maryland was 45% with the highest turnout percentage in Kent County, 59%, and the lowest being Baltimore City, 36%, which is at least partially to blame for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s failed bid at the governor’s seat.
In between those two extremes were Worcester and Wicomico counties. Turnout was 51% in Worcester and 44% in Wicomico. Both jurisdictions were down from the 2012 presidential election, naturally, as well as from the 2010 general election. In Worcester, 18,254 of the 35,699 registered voters turned out. In Wicomico, of the 56,694 residents on the voter roll, 24,811 voted.
• The story in the Ocean City Council election was the historic achievement by Matt James, who at 21 years old becomes the young council person to serve in the resort.
James’ youth helped him tremendously toward being the top vote getting in the election, but it’s important to remember he worked hard at his campaign as well. The candidates who worked hard did well and that’s usually the case.
Along those lines, the old majority-minority issue is officially history now with all former majority members who worked to remove then-City Manager Dennis Dare from his post out of office. It will be interesting to see how new voting lines are formed if at all.
I like respectful discourse and division among elected bodies, and I hope there is some public dissension among the seven-member City Council. It’s beneficial for everyone — not just the media — to hear a diverse set of opinions.
• Voter turnout in Ocean City was down 27% from the 2012 election, but it nonetheless justifies the decision back in 2011 to merge the municipal election date with the state’s and federal date.
Although turnout was down considerably from 2012, 2,348 people voted on Tuesday in Ocean City’s election compared to about 3,200 in 2012. This year’s turnout did far exceed the 1,521 in 2010 and 1,484 in 2008 when the town held its elections on a separate day.
In the 2016 election, when four seats will again be up for grabs, the state will take over the town’s election, and it will be interesting to see what that does for turnout as voters will no longer need to vote at two separate places. That also means the town will no longer have the public reading of election box tallies as has become tradition dating back decades.
• The final vote numbers confirm every single candidate matters in Ocean City. Even last-place finish Joe Cryer received more than 400 votes, which is important because only 212 votes separated fourth-place finisher Tony DeLuca, who won a two-year term, and fifth-place finisher Chris Rudolf, who vowed to return in two years.
Although Cryer was not taken overly serious in this election, due to some recent statements he made of a threatening nature to another candidate, a private citizen and a business owner, the election results would have likely been different if he decided to drop out as was rumored earlier in the fall.
• There was a less-profile nail-biter in Worcester County at the Judge of Orphans’ Court level. Three seats were open and the three incumbents were seeking re-election. The incumbents were Republican Dale Smack, Republican Linda Hess and Democrat Bill Shockley. The fourth candidate was Frank Knight, husband of Ocean City Councilwoman Mary Knight.
Knight won his primary and missed unseating long-time incumbent Shockley by 76 votes. The outcomes, without absentees counted, were Smack, 11,356; Hess, 10,632; and Shockley, 8,769.
By the way, in case you were wondering, the Orphans Court has nothing to do with what you might think. In the simplest terms, its main role is to supervise the handling of estates of the deceased.