Early Voting Surges Statewide; Colvin Fires Up TV Ads, Harris Hangs on Hogan Coattails in 1st Dist. Congress Race

October 29, 2018

In the first four days of early voting for the November general election, statewide turnout surged over the last mid-term national election four years ago, while in Cecil County, where few local races are contested on the ballot, early turnout was sluggish.

But if the local-only contests drew yawns, and the top-of-the-tickets gubernatorial race tilts heavily toward incumbent GOP governor Larry Hogan, the most local excitement seems to be coming from the US House race in District 1 between incumbent Republican Andy Harris and Democratic challenger Jesse Colvin. The district covers all of the Eastern Shore, including Cecil, as well as parts of Carroll, Harford and Baltimore counties.

In multiple Facebook videos and a Saturday robocall, Harris appeared to be tugging on Hogan’s popular coattails, imploring voters to support the “Hogan/Harris team” and warning of dire consequences if state Republicans lose their party’s lone GOP seat in the congressional delegation. Colvin went on the TV airwaves with a new ad, playing almost non-stop on local news programs’ commercials airtime, firing handguns with his Republican wife at a gun range to highlight his military background and a bipartisan approach to politics.

Local early voting began last Thursday and continues through Thursday 11/1/2018 at the county Administration Building in Elkton. New voters can register to vote, and then cast ballots immediately, only during the early voting period. So far, 22 new voters registered, with 10 people signing up as Democrats and 8 as Republicans, while 4 registered as “unaffiliated.” The general Election Day balloting in local precincts throughout the county will be held on Tuesday, 11/6/2018.

Statewide, 278,773 ballots had been cast through Sunday, or 7 percent of total voter registration. Democrats hold a two-to-one registration advantage statewide and members of that party turned out in force, casting 176,281 votes or 8.11 percent of total Democratic registration. Republicans cast 69,552 ballots, or 6.9 percent of statewide GOP registrants.

The statewide turnout so far is significantly higher than early voting in the comparable first four days of balloting in 2014, the last mid-term and gubernatorial election in the state. For example, in the first day of early voting four years ago, 42,880 ballots were cast, but this year, the statewide total surged to 87,409. In the fourth day of early voting four years ago, 16,267 ballots were submitted, while on Sunday the statewide number was 55,560 ballots cast.

Leading the statewide ballot is the gubernatorial campaign between incumbent Republican Larry Hogan who is being challenged by Democrat Ben Jealous. Statewide polling by media and academic surveys show the popular Hogan leading by 18 to 20 percentage points and drawing substantial support across party lines.

In Cecil County, most local races were decided in the Republican primary in June. Only one County Council race is being contested, in District 2. Republican Bill Coutz, president of the Fair Hill Races and a business development executive, won the GOP primary by a compelling 65.4 percent over a candidate aligned with the Campaign for Liberty (C4L) ultra-conservative group. The Democratic candidate is Cody Kirk, who identifies himself as a “conservative Democrat” and often posts sympathetic comments on C4L aligned social media sites. Kirk says he “works in retail” and does not wish to be identified by his former employment at a dollar store in Elkton.

There are also four candidates competing for three seats on the county’s Orphans’ Court. For the county Board of Education, two seats are uncontested but two candidates are fighting for an open seat from District 5—Diana Hawley, who is drawing support from mainstream parent and education groups, and Evan T. Jones, Jr, who says he wants to “put God back in the schools” and promotes a “back to basics” approach to education.

With so few local contests at stake this fall, early voting turnout in Cecil County has been relatively low. For the first four days, there were 3,513 ballots cast, or 5.41 percent of the total 64,912 active eligible voters registered in the county.

Republican registration in Cecil County was 28,190, as of 10/20/2018. Democrats’ registration stood at 21,440, or 6,750 behind the GOP registration total. There are also 14,138 “unaffiliated” voters, while Libertarian Party members number 439, Green Party members total 142 and 563 people were listed as “other,” according to the state Board of Elections.

In early voting, Democrats casting ballots constituted 6.22 percent of their total registration in the county while GOP voters showed up in slightly lower proportions, with 6.09 percent of their countywide membership voting early.

While local residents may have been yawning all the way to the early voting center about their county races, the gubernatorial race is certainly foremost on many voters’ minds even if there is little doubt that Hogan will strongly carry the county, and is leading in statewide surveys.

Perhaps the most energized race affecting Cecil County and the rest of the Eastern Shore is the fight for the District 1 House seat in Congress, despite long odds favoring the GOP candidate due to the lopsided Republican majority in voter registration. District 1 has the largest Republican registration advantage of the state’s 8 congressional districts, as a result of the General Assembly-approved re-districting maps that put as many Republicans as possible into this district, after the 2010 census, so as to make another Western Maryland/Montgomery County district more favorable for Democrats.

District 1 now has 228,965 registered Republicans while Democrats number 173,542, a difference of 55,423 voters. Unaffiliated voter registration stands at 92,919, according to the state Board of Elections. In early voting throughout District 1, a party affiliation breakdown of early voters was not available, but results for many counties on the Shore showed a slight uptick advantage in Democratic turnout over Republicans in overall voting.

As early voting began, Harris posted on social media multiple brief videos from early voting centers on the Shore, saying in Dorchester County on Saturday, “Vote for the Hogan-Harris team and all the way down the Republican ballot. Let’s bring this one home for the governor.” In Wicomico County, Harris declared, “Vote the Hogan/Harris team.”

In a telephone robocall received in Cecil County on Saturday, Harris worried that Democrats seemed to be showing up at the early voting stations at a greater rate than Republicans and appealed for votes to make sure that District 1 remained in GOP hands. He said he was part of a team with Hogan and would work to advance the governor’s agenda in Washington.

As Harris appealed for party loyalty, Colvin went on the air with his new ad that pitched bipartisanship as reflected in his bipartisan marriage.

The ad opens with Jordan Colvin donning eye and ear protective gear at a firing range, as her status as a former police officer and a Republican is flashed on the screen. She then introduces her husband as a former Army Ranger and veteran of four combat tours in Afghanistan, and “well, a Democrat.” She then touts him as part of “a new generation of leadership” and tosses an offhand “and he won’t vote for Nancy Pelosi” as she and her husband fire handguns at a paper target.

The insertion of Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House who is a frequent target of condemnation by Republicans who now control the House, is a somewhat jarring moment in the ad. Of all the issues on which he differs with Harris, highlighting opposition to fellow Democrat Pelosi—who grew up in Baltimore and is the daughter and sister of two former Baltimore City mayors—looks like a blatant pitch for GOP votes.

Although Colvin has drawn many high-profile endorsements from Republicans, including former national GOP and Bush administration officials, independent or “unaffiliated” voters’ support would seem the more likely path to victory in the GOP-dominated district. During the primaries, Colvin had to fight against concerns that he was not “progressive” enough from factions of his party who were wary of a political moderate like Colvin, and slapping Pelosi could alienate some Democrats’ whose votes he needs in the general election.

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