After recount, Marc Elrich leads David Blair in primary rematch

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Holder Marc Elrich maintained his lead in the Democratic primary for Montgomery County executive, defeating Potomac business leader David Blair after a recount in the race to lead Maryland’s most populous county.

Only 32 votes separated the two candidates, a change of three earlier this month when the Montgomery Board of Elections certified Elrich the winner by a margin of 35 votes. Blair demanded a manual recount of all the ballots in a near repeat of 2018, when the men were last locked in a long contest for the seat.

Blair conceded on Wednesday afternoon, saying he had called Elrich to “wish him the best for the next four years.”

“Although I came in second place in elementary school, I am blessed with an amazing wife, family and friends that I adore, more success than I deserve, and a deep desire to give back to the community. community I call home,” Blair said in a statement. “No doubt everything I do next will be focused on improving the quality of life for those who call Montgomery County home.”

Blair received three votes after five days of counting and audit certified by the local council on Wednesday, reducing the margin but claiming victory for Elrich in a competition that included heavy spending, sharp attacks and development debates.

“I sort of detached myself, because you can’t constantly hope for the outcome to be different or hope it’s over. It gets really frustrating,” Elrich said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “My philosophy has been: it will happen when it happens, and we will know what we know. And then we continue from there.

Elrich will face Republican Reardon Sullivan in November, although this deep blue jurisdiction has not elected a Republican county executive since the 1970s, and the winner of the Democratic primary almost always gets the seat in November.

In his first four years as county executive, Elrich was praised for his response to the coronavirus pandemic and Montgomery County’s leading immunization rates. He has also drawn criticism for his slow-growth approach to development and has clashed with the county council over issues including county vaccine mandates and tax breaks for developers. As a second term approaches, Elrich said he hopes to make progress on affordable housing, transportation and climate change, among other things.

A former elementary school teacher, Elrich began his work in local politics on Takoma Park Town Council in 1987 before serving on county council for 12 years. He won the executive race by 77 votes in 2018, on a platform that partly adopted growth plans to offset school overcrowding and traffic congestion associated with rapid development.

While on council, he was one of the driving forces behind the county’s adoption of the $15 minimum wage in 2017. He won the support of dozens of unions and organizations in his bids for the direction. He had the support of high-profile liberal leaders and groups such as Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), Pro-Choice Maryland and CASA in Action.

The Sierra Club endorsed Blair, as did the editorial board of The Washington Post (which is separate from its news service).

Blair, a Montgomery native and father of six who made millions running a prescription drug insurance company, gained ground in 2018 by pledging to cut taxes and grow the county’s economy. This year, he has positioned himself as the leading alternative to Elrich for voters seeking change. He pleaded his case with a big war chest, pouring millions into his campaign as he did in 2018. According to the latest campaign finance reports, Blair loaned $4.8 million to his campaign. Elrich has raised just over $1 million through the county’s public fundraising program, which allows contestants to receive matching funds for donations of $250 or less from county residents.

The recount comes at the end of an unprecedented primary election cycle that included prolonged delays, staffing shortages and criticism of a state law barring election workers from counting ballots until two days later. the election. The end of the recount also ends more than a month of waiting for an eventual winner of the county executive’s primary.

Under Maryland law, Blair had up to three days after local certification of the results to file a request for a recount, and the state would conduct the recount at no cost to the contestant if the margin between the two contestants is 0. .25 percentage points or less. Elrich was up 0.03% – well within the margin of a state-funded recount.

Earlier this month, the Montgomery Board of Elections delayed certification after officials discovered 102 uncounted provisional ballots. Before the ballots were discovered, the initial tally had Elrich in the lead by 42 votes. Blair got seven votes on the supplemental ballots, narrowing the margin to 35 votes.

Limited-time county board member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) and Gaithersburg resident Peter James also competed in the primary race. Riemer conceded after Election Day and James received only a small fraction of the vote.

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, attack announcements dominated the airwaves. At least two super PACs against Elrich have appeared to sway the race. In the days following the July 19 primary, Elrich pointed to Blair’s ads and funding as the reason the race was so close — and why, as an incumbent, his victory was narrow.

“It’s one of those assumptions. If there had been no publicity and Blair hadn’t spent $5 million, would Elrich have earned more? said Steve Silverman, a political consultant and former board member who advised one of the PACs in the race. “Probably, but it didn’t happen.”

Silverman said Elrich spent much of his first term dealing with the pandemic and that a second term would give the Elrich administration a chance to tackle issues like affordable housing, growth employment and education. It’s an opportunity for Elrich to set the tone and decide the direction of the county, he said.

“If Elrich sees the pandemic as largely behind us, what does he want to leave as a legacy over the next four years?” Silverman said.

In an interview, Elrich agreed that the pandemic has affected the county’s ability to tackle other issues. He said he plans to tackle affordable housing, make progress on establishing a top-tier research center in the county and reopen mental health clinics, among other initiatives, in the next quarter.

He is set to govern alongside a county council with two new districts and six new faces altering the dynamic he encountered in his first term, when he disagreed with members on issues such as affordable housing and business development in Silver Spring.

Incumbents Gabe Albornoz, Will Jawando and Evan Glass won the Democratic nomination and were joined by newcomer Laurie-Anne Sayles, who won the Democratic nomination for the council’s fourth seat.

Andrew Friedson, District 1 Holder, who ran without contest, and District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz won the Democratic nominations in their respective districts. They will likely be joined by five other Democratic newcomers: Marilyn Balcombe, Kate Stewart, Kristin Mink, Natali Fani-González and Dawn Luedtke. All applicants must prevail in November.

Larry Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland, said he looks forward to seeing Elrich work with organizations that have supported him and with the new council to tackle issues such as economic growth, reform of the police, affordable housing and the environment.

“I want to see a bigger relationship with the board,” Stafford said. “I think Marc can always work to be more collaborative.”

Elrich said he looks forward to working with a new board, which he believes can help move forward on progressive issues.

David Lublin, a professor at American University and chair of the Department of Government, said either candidate would have faced long-term challenges from previous decisions and leaders.

Elrich’s victory, he said, can be viewed in two ways: either a weak win for an incumbent or an impressive feat of public funding against Blair’s wealth.

Either way, “Marc Elrich won,” Lublin said. “And a win is a win.”

This story has been updated to include comments from David Blair

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