Get Ready for an Incredible Ride

By Josh Kurtz

One year to go.

Now that the 2017 elections are also behind us, the 2018 election can begin in earnest.

And what a cycle it’s going to be in Maryland!

Every few years, political professionals postulate that it’s going to be the most consequential election in recent history. This time, they might actually be right.

At the very least, there’s an unprecedented amount of uncertainty in many of the marquee races around the state. All too often, the results seem preordained – or at the very least, party leaders weigh in early to try to skew the outcome.

So far that hasn’t happened – and it may not.

The end result?

A wide-open, eight-candidate race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, with no obvious frontrunner – and potential paths to victory for just about everybody. As a likely consequence, none of the Democratic candidates for governor has selected a candidate for lieutenant governor. By mid-November four years ago, all three Democratic candidates had chosen their running mates.

How vulnerable is Gov. Larry Hogan (R), really? There will be plenty of external forces at work, and chances are good that the general election is going to be close. But we won’t truly know how competitive the race is going to be until we see who emerges with the Democratic nomination.

Look around the state: Who’s going to be the next Baltimore County executive? There are closely-fought primaries in both parties, and the general election is likely to be, too. Any race involving Del. Pat McDonough (R) could get whacky.

McDonough

Just one of the known unknowns of the 2018 election cycle.

Who’s going to be the next Prince George’s County executive? Two strong women are competing against each other for the job – and a woman has never held that office before.

Who’s going to be the next Montgomery County executive? Even at this late date, the field is still growing.

And speaking of Montgomery County, how is anyone to make sense of a County Council at-large field that has about two dozen candidates – and could still get bigger? Try to imagine what a candidate forum would look like.

Who’s going to be the next member of Congress from Maryland’s 6th District? There are interesting primaries on both sides, and it may turn out to be one of the most expensive races in the country. This is one of the few congressional districts this cycle where the Republicans hope to be on offense.

Look how much turnover is possible in the 47-member state Senate: A dozen seats or more are at play. In Baltimore city, four older incumbents face varying degrees of danger from younger Democratic primary challengers. And in the general election, Republicans are targeting a handful of Democratic seats like never before. Who survives? And just as significantly, does the Democratic veto-proof majority remain intact?

There are countless other tantalizing, unanswerable questions across the Maryland political landscape, countless other fascinating elections that need to be monitored and analyzed.

Why are so many races so up in the air?

Part of the explanation has something to do with inevitable generational change. It doesn’t happen often enough, or quickly enough in Maryland, but there’s still no turning back the hands of time.

It may also be a consequence of the Democratic establishment slowly loosening its hammerlock on the nominating process – and that’s also tied in to the changing of the generational changing of the guard. If it seems like Ben Cardin and Steny Hoyer and Mike Miller and Mike Busch have been around for decades, and calling most of the shots, it’s only because they have been. But nobody sticks around forever, try as they might.

The emergence of a powerful force for women in Maryland politics, Emerge Maryland, is also shaking up the system. So is the desire of minority candidates to be heard and respected across the state like no time before. So is Donald Trump, and the kinetic energy his presidency has brought to the political dynamic, both in Maryland and nationwide.

Recent high-profile upset victories, by Hogan in the 2014 gubernatorial race, by John Delaney in the 2012 District 6 congressional race, show that results may not always be as preordained as we imagined.

So here we stand, on the precipice of a crazy election year, where so much is unpredictable and so much more is at stake. Who are the winners – if only they’ll pay attention? The voters.

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