Primary elections serve up seven lessons
Every election is an adventure, a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
Trying to fathom what happened Tuesday, and how it will affect the Nov. 2 general election, is where political science morphs into speculation.
With that caveat, I present Seven Lessons Learned from this year's Democratic and Republican primaries:
Lesson No. 1 Highly motivated voters, energized by a candidate or a cause, trump disinterested citizens.
Maryland's shamefully low turnout cost plenty of incumbents their seats. Where reformers ran hard, they usually won because their enthusiastic supporters showed up to vote Gregg Bernstein in the Baltimore state's attorney's race, Christopher Shank in Washington County's Senate race, Joanne Benson and Victor Ramirez in Prince George's County Senate races and Bill Ferguson in Baltimore's Inner Harbor state Senate district.
Lesson No. 2 Another low turnout in November would be bad news for Gov. Martin O'Malley. It could seal his fate.
How to create a "buzz" for the incumbent governor in three critical Democratic jurisdictions Baltimore city, Montgomery County and Prince George's County is O'Malley's main problem.
The primary settled all the local elections in these jurisdictions. Thus, there is little to motivate Democratic officials and their supporters to do the heavy lifting needed to produce a heavy turnout Nov. 2.
Baltimore city's primary vote count was downright embarrassing and should alarm O'Malley. Even the nasty state's attorney's race that incumbent Patricia Jessamy lost didn't produce a heavy vote in her key precincts in African-American neighborhoods.
Lesson No. 3 The tea party's growing influence in Republican primaries could spell trouble or opportunity for former Gov. Bob Ehrlich.
Loud, forceful voices for sweeping conservative change lower taxes, smaller government, less regulation often carried the day in GOP primaries. Ehrlich needs the tea party's high-octane energy in his tank on Nov. 2. He's got to get high voter turnout in his strongest jurisdictions, such as Frederick, Carroll, Anne Arundel, Harford and Baltimore counties.
A supportive tea party working for Ehrlich would be a major plus.
At the same time, Ehrlich can't embrace the tea party's extreme rhetoric for fear of chasing away independents and moderate Democrats. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, it takes far more than a massive GOP turnout to win. It's a delicate balancing act.
Lesson No. 4 In tough economic times, people demand political change. Often, it is generational.
How bad was it for veteran elected leaders?
Carroll County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, 70, seeking an unprecedented sixth term, finished a dismal fourth.
Sen. Don Munson, 72, who served Washington County in Annapolis for 36 years, lost to Shank, 38, by a whopping 14 percentage points.
Sen. George Della, 72, was buried by Ferguson, 27, who wasn't even alive when Della was first elected to the Senate in 1982. The challenger's motivated, well-organized and well-funded campaign piled up a winning margin of 18 percentage points.
Lesson No. 5 Pay attention to demographic trends.
Councilman Kevin Kamenetz won a hard-fought Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive by marshaling decent turnouts in the county's western precincts that are heavily Jewish and African-American. A decade ago, there weren't enough votes in those areas to overcome old-line Democratic candidate support in aging east-county neighborhoods.
Ferguson won his Baltimore city race by appealing to young professionals and empty nesters moving into growing harborview communities.
Ramirez, a Salvadoran by birth, took advantage of the large influx of Hispanics into his Cheverly-Mt. Rainier district and walloped Sen. David Harrington by 26 percentage points.
Lesson No. 6 To remain in office, elected leaders must know what's important to their constituency.
Patricia Jessamy, Baltimore's state's attorney for 16 years, proved tone-deaf to residents' anguish and anger over some high-visibility murder cases. Her dismissive attitude toward police complaints that she was insensitive and uncooperative created a groundswell of support for Bernstein.
George Della never adapted to the trendy professionals and retirees moving into his Baltimore harbor district. Old-style politics just isn't their thing.
Sen. Nathaniel Exum of Prince George's County, after 26 years in Annapolis, forgot that constituents want effective representation, not empty, angry rhetoric and obstructionism. No wonder Joanne Benson, a conciliator in the House, easily beat him.
Lesson No. 7 Every election refreshes political institutions, bringing in new faces with different approaches.
There's no better example than Rushern Baker, who swamped his rivals for Prince George's County executive by presenting himself as the voice of a new breed of county residents young professionals, entrepreneurs and federal workers angry about poor schools and alarmed about rising crime. Baker is filled with ideas for improving the county.
In the House, the best of the new additions includes Keiffer Mitchell from Baltimore and Geraldine Valentino-Smith from Prince George's.
Mitchell was a star on the Baltimore City Council before running for mayor. He's bright, thoughtful and knows government. Valentino-Smith was a standout on the Bowie City Council, is a registered nurse, a lawyer and once lobbied on health care issues in Annapolis.
The state Senate gets several upgrades, including Ferguson, whose forte is education reform; Ramirez, the chamber's first Hispanic member; and J.B. Jennings, a delegate from Baltimore and Harford counties whose pragmatic conservatism helped him easily defeat former insurance Commissioner Al Redmer in a district carved out for Republicans.
Now it is on to November, when we'll get the real answers to what the Sept. 14 primary results meant.
Barry Rascovar is a State House columnist and communications consultant. His e-mail address is email@example.com.