Some thoughts on this week’s primary election as it stands at noon on Thursday:
- With the growing popularity of mail-in voting and the required wait time after in-voting closes to begin counting the ballots, this election is unlike any other. It’s a complicated process. Ballots postmarked July 19 will be counted over the next week. Most were counted Thursday but some of the ones received will be held for a few days as others trickle in. In super tight races, the mail-in ballots could decide contests. In Worcester County, it’s clear the canvasing could well swing the results in at least District 4 in the county commissioner race where just 25 votes separated the first place finisher after the election (incumbent Ted Elder) and fourth-place candidate (Nancy Bradford).
- Turnout for a primary election on a hot and humid summer day was poor. This is no surprise. At 21% in Worcester County, the turnout rate is actually about normal for a primary election, according to past history. I feared it would be worse. Diving deeper in the turnout revealed a few interesting takeaways. First, of the 6,866 votes cast, 71% were from Republicans. Also, 26% of registered Republicans voted compared to 15% of Democrats, largely due to the fact so many races featured Republican-only contests. Additionally, as far as ballots cast, the four-man race in District 3 (West Ocean City and Berlin) attracted the most amount of voters at 902, followed by 888 in District 6 (Bishopville and surrounding areas); 804 ballots in District 5 (Ocean Pines); and 790 ballots cast in District 4 (Snow Hill, Whaleyville, part of Berlin and western areas of the county).
- The District 3 race has been a fascinating one to watch over the last few months. Former Berlin Councilman Thom Gulyas, who was first to file, was the only candidate with any elected office experience, and the three other candidates have not served on any appointed government bodies like the planning commissioner or zoning board. This advantage was not enough for Gulyas. After early voting and election day, Gulyas was quick Wednesday to concede to first-place finisher Eric Fiori despite there being more than 200 mail-in ballots to count in the district. It was surprising to see Gulyas offer his congratulations amid such a tight race. As of Thursday morning, before the mail-ins were counted, Fiori held a 34-vote lead over Tim VanVonno and a 56-vote cushion over Gulyas.
- Incumbent Ted Elder is no stranger to close elections. In each of his previous campaigns, his elections have always had drama and featured tight races. After early voting and election day, Elder had a narrow 18-vote lead over former Commissioner Virgil Shockley, a 23-vote margin over Jeff McMahon and a 25-vote lead over Nancy Bradford. Based on the 100-plus mail-in ballots to be counted from the south-county precinct, the assumption is Elder of Whaleyville could be in trouble. It could be next week before this race is decided.
- As expected, Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino, who represents Ocean Pines, cruised, gaining 63% of the vote. It was clear this race was going Bertino’s way as soon as the polls closed and early voting results were posted with Bertino receiving 112 votes and Helvey getting 43 votes. This is a big vote of confidence for Bertino, and my guess it could be the basis for a push to make him the next commission president later this year.
- Marylanders intent on keeping a Republican governor in place lost all hope this week with the tremendous support seen for Republican candidate Dan Cox over Gov. Larry Hogan-backed Kelly Schulz. Cox was endorsed by former President Trump and possesses extreme views on abortion, gun control and mask use. Cox secured 56% of the Republican primary vote and will represent the party in November. In Worcester, Cox won 65% of the vote over Schulz’s 32%. Due to his right-wing extreme views, Cox has no chance of getting elected governor of Maryland, a state with a 2-to-1 Democratic voting base. The Democratic Party knew this and therefore marketed in a way to boost Cox to the primary win. He will be easy to beat.
Along with the Cox dominance at the polls, it was shocking to see how poorly Comptroller Peter Franchot did in the Democratic primary. Prior to becoming comptroller in 2007, Franchot served 21 years in the House of Delegates representing Montgomery County. He can point to Montgomery as a major reason why he lost. According to the Wednesday results, Franchot managed just 7,896 votes in Montgomery compared to primary challengers Wes Moore’s 16,722 and Tom Perez’s 32,141. Moore likely secured the nomination based on a great result in Prince George’s (38,291) and Baltimore County (21,199), compared to Franchot’s 12,022 in Prince George’s and 13,730 in Baltimore County. It’s a race still too close to call, but it appears Moore, a Black combat veteran, author and small business owner, will prevail in the primary and easily win in November.
- Though I don’t expect much of a governor’s race in November, it will be interesting to observe how Senator Mary Beth Carozza approaches it. Carozza was unopposed in the primary and will square off against Salisbury Councilwoman Michele Gregory. Carozza is the heavy favorite, but I would expect Gregory to inquire whether Carozza is backing the extremist Cox for governor now that her preferred candidate, Schulz, has been soundly defeated. Carozza would be wise to not support Cox publicly and maybe even throw her backing behind Moore as a way to gain some political leverage in the Democratically dominated legislature.