Rascovar: The curse of the one-party state

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By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

Republican Larry Hogan Jr.’s stunningly easy romp over Democrat Anthony Brown in Maryland’s race for governor can’t be written off as a fluke.

Fundamental changes are taking place that could give Republicans a strong advantage down the road in what is generally considered a deeply blue state.

You can call it the curse of the one-party state.

Common wisdom has it that given the Democrats’ 2-1 commanding lead in Maryland’s voter registration, Democratic victory in big races is a foregone conclusion.

But the common wisdom often is wrong.

Lack of competitive races depresses turnout

In three of the state’s biggest jurisdictions, Democrats hold such a massive registration lead that the local Republican Party is on life support. Big turnouts in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County should be enough to ensure statewide Democratic triumph.

Yet that didn’t happen this year because turnout in those three locations was terrible.

Only 36% of city voters went to the polls; 38% in Prince George’s and just 39% in Montgomery.

Compare that with the turnout in counties where Hogan piled up big numbers: Baltimore County, 49%, Frederick County, 51%, Harford County, 54% and Howard County, 52%.

Democrats must be scratching their heads. This shouldn’t be happening!

If the Big 3 jurisdictions had turned out in force, Brown would be addressing invitations to his inaugural ball.

More registered voters, but fewer come to the polls

Even more puzzling is the fact that all three of those jurisdictions have seen big jumps in registered voters over the past 12 years — 79,000 more voters in the city, 168,000 more in Montgomery and 178,000 more voters in Prince George’s — nearly all Democrats.

With 1,553,000 Big 3 registered voters, who usually support the Democrat by 4-1 or 5-1 margins, how could Brown possibly lose?

Blame it on the Democrats’ greatest strength — their huge advantage in people identifying with the party. In this case, it is a curse rather than a blessing.

In Big 3, no elected Republicans for decades

Here’s what’s happening: In Baltimore City, there hasn’t been a Republican mayor in 50 years. There hasn’t been a Republican state legislator or councilman from the city in 60 years. No Republican has held elective office in Baltimore in half a century.

So it’s no surprise Baltimore voters don’t take the mid-term general election seriously. All the local races this year were decided in the June Democratic primary. Indeed, only one of the city’s six state Senate districts even had a nominal Republican on the ballot. He got 6% of the vote.

The situation is similar in Prince George’s, where the last Republican county executive was Larry Hogan’s father and namesake — 34 years ago. No Republican has held a local office for decades.

Montgomery is following that same trend. James P. Gleason was the one and only Republican county executive, last elected in 1978. Republicans used to capture local seats in the upper sections of the county, but no more. It, too, is now a one-party monopoly.

The downside of monopoly

That should be good for the Democratic Party, right?


One-party rule turns general elections into mere formalities. Local political clubs don’t get energized. Local politicians don’t bother campaigning. The local party is on cruise control.

Democratic voters feel the same way. Why go to the polls in November when all the local races already have been decided?

This trend started decades ago and we’re now seeing the corrosive effects.

The last time there was an open seat for governor – 2002 – the general election turnout was 53% in the city, 52% in Prince George’s and 64% in Montgomery.

Contrast that with this month’s turnout and you see a precipitous plunge in voters going to be polls. The decline in Baltimore was 18%, 14% in Prince George’s and a huge drop of 25% in Montgomery’s voter participation.

That last figure is the most stunning number of all.

So low in MoCo

Montgomery County is famed for its acute awareness of a citizen’s obligations to cast a ballot and take an active role in the political process. Good government and close attention to local government issues is deeply rooted in this county.

Yet even with 168,000 more registered voters than 12 years ago, 48,000 fewer ballots were cast this month in Montgomery.

The ennui in Montgomery should deeply disturb state Democrats. A 25% decline in turnout over a 12-year period is a calamity.

Add that to similar trends in Prince George’s and Baltimore and you begin to understand why a Republican is hiring the Kane Company to move his furniture to the Governor’s Mansion.

Is biggest attribute a fatal flaw? 

It’s ironic. The Democrats’ greatest attribute is now a potential fatal flaw.

Without competitive, two-party elections, the party in power relaxes. It gets sloppy and complacent. It gets lazy and even arrogant. It can’t energize its members.

Hogan capitalized on this chink in the Democrats’ armor because his strongholds turned out in big numbers. His supporters were highly motivated. They showed up to vote.

What will happen four years from now? Or in eight years?

One-party Democratic rule won’t change in the Big 3 any time soon — if ever. The one-party mentality could grow even stronger, with lackluster turnouts in mid-term November elections.

It’s an Achilles heel that the Democratic Party, despite its huge edge in identified supporters, doesn’t know how to protect.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

  • BillBissenas

    Flawed logic. Only two of the 20 counties that Hogan carried had a higher turnout in 2014 than in 2010. Fundamental structural changes attributable to demographics don’t turn on a dime with one election.

  • InGodWeTrust

    Mr. Rascovar would just love to think his analysis was right, but it isn’t. Try this instead. Dems didn’t show up because they didn’t want to leave the casinos long enough to vote. (Hooray….hope we build some more to keep their sick little minds busy). And, Republicans finally got fed up enough to quit watching Dancing with the Stars, to act on their common sense and go to the polls. The combined factors worked to produce a positive result for a change, that will at least create a chance to start cleaning up the cesspool created by Dems.

  • John Mann

    Mr. Rascover is reaching big time here. If this was the opening volley in a Republican shift in Maryland, why did it not reveal itself in the races for comptroller and AG? This was a rebuke of only one guy who was an absolute ZERO, empty suit, loser.

    As I said in another post, all Brown’s opponent had to do to win was not get arrested for a violent felony before Nov. 4. Do you think Gov. O’Malley, Mike Miller or Mike Busch would have lost to Hogan?

    Mr. Rascovar, this is a simply a “Nyaa-nya-nya-nya-nyaa-my-team-won” moment for Rascovar. Enjoy it while it lasts.

  • James Simpson

    Actually, the biggest consequence of one party rule is corruption. Democrats know they can get away with anything, so they do. The prior administration of Martin O’Malley vies with the sleazy Glendening administration for most corrupt in MD’s corrupt history. The reason for low turnout among Democrats is that even they have Democrat fatigue. Democrats prove over and over again that all they bring is cesspool corruption, incompetence, coupled with an almost surreal attitude of self-righteousness. I have never seen a group of people so stunningly proud of their glaring ignorance.

    • InGodWeTrust

      Well said and all true……but the casinos also helped to keep the ‘cesspool’ voters busy at the slots and blackjack tables. That’s a GOOD thing for future hopes of restoring Maryland.

  • MDVoter

    Your opinion is interesting. But how does this explain the election results across the country? And what was different in 2002 that the turnout in the big 3 districts was better. I would say that Brown didn’t sit back, he pulled in several big names in the Democratic Party to campaign for him. It seems to me that there was another reason for the low turnout in those districts this time. Perhaps the apathy of the voters is because they are not happy with the current political environment. On another note, it seems like you are ok with the idea that the “big 3” tend to decide MD politics. There are other districts whose voice needs to be heard. Why should 3 urban districts overrule the concerns of the remaining majority districts which happen to be rural and therefore, may, and often do, have different issues and concerns than the urban areas?

  • Vidi

    It appears that in erudite, deep-thinking Montgomery County where we have the only municipal jurisdiction that is nuclear-free, we must be getting increasingly complacent about Democrat shoo-ins. Could that explain the abysmally low voter turnout?

  • Pete Packer

    The example of how the political process in Maryland works, given above is exactly why our “Founding fathers” ….or architects of our system of government, chose to be a ” Representative Republic” vs. a Democracy! They devised what we call an “Electoral College” …..knowing that the possibility of a “Majority of population” ( a large number of people ) , in any State, County or Jurisdiction …..Could possibly Control the “Larger ” population and or area/territory as a whole. A democracy is a ” Majority Rule” concept…….NOT A REPRESENTATION of the “Will of the People” …..to Govern any given populous!

    Which is pretty much what we have here in MARYLAND, and seemingly what our PRESIDENT thinks he has…….Choosing to use his “Executive Orders” to implement his Policies, vs. going through the steps of Bills, discussion, compromise…..then Passing LAWS!
    The first order of Business, If I Were Larry Hogan………would be a constitutional Amendment to OUR CONSTITUTION (MD.), that is …….to move to an representative form of Government, and an ELECTORAL COLLEGE !

  • Pete Packer

    24 counties ( including Balto City) …..Controlled by the outcomes of 3 particular areas……..Ridiculous!
    And this is supposed to tell you what the PEOPLE OF THE STATE have chosen, to rule and guide the entire State?

    I say that there are other reasons as to why these areas vote the way they do…….all one has to do to come to the same conclusion is to look at a MAP and see the AREA of the STATE these 3 are located in…..and you will come to a conclusion of your own………
    What does this area have in common with the Western, Southern, Eastern, or Northern part of this GREAT STATE!
    Other than Vacation Areas?

  • Pete Packer

    If you have not come to the Conclusion as of Yet…..Let me help you!
    The seat of the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT!
    PEOPLE HAVE A TENDENCY NOT TO VOTE TO LOOSE THIER JOBS, (benefits, perks, contracts etc,. etc) Duh!

  • LoLoLoLoLoL

    baltimore is mostly black you won’t see a republican win there… the blacks keep voting for corrupt democrats because they are uneducated and uninformed. they think democrats are looking out for them. yeah right. dems just give them free handouts to keep them happy.

  • higgy01

    Maybe Brown lost because all he offered was more of the same baloney we’ve endured for 8 years. His demonstrated incompetence with the rollout coupled with his arrogant assumption that he was a shoo in turned off many voters to the point they just stayed home. The registered democrats that did go to the polls decided they wanted a fresh start rather than more of the same.

  • Chuck

    I’m a relative newcomer to this state, and a resident of one of the counties that you talked about. My view is a little skewed by energized local political organizations, and a generally active community too.

    I don’t think your assessment has anything to do with specific party malaise. The elections this year were a national trend that is fairly typical relative to the national elections and national mid-terms. I will admit that Brown was a lackluster candidate too. But what we saw was mid-term low turnout across the country and it was worse than it has been since a good chunk of adults were in Europe and the Pacific fighting the Axis.

    It sure was a product of complacency. Many Democratic voters don’t participate in elections that don’t have a Presidential candidate. My only guess is that they don’t understand that these mid-terms are every bit as important, and it’s going to take an extreme effort from the top down, and many years, to get that fixed.

  • ReadersWhoWonderAloud

    Rascovar’s theory loses much credence for one main reason: the 2002
    general election he praises for *high* turnout in the pivotal three
    Dem.-dominated jurisdictions (in contrast to 2014) brought us Bob
    Ehrlich. In fact, in the only two open gubernatorial contests in
    Maryland in the 21st Century so far, the GOP won them both…in conditions of “low” turnout or “high.”

  • ObservationalWisdom

    Sure, a one party state can have some impact, but to this extent? I don’t think so. I would say a combination of factors including an increasing independent population where pocketbook issues dominate, a weak Democrat nominee, an on-message (and the right message) Republican nominee, a general political feeling of malaise after letdowns from the last big-promising Democrat, sure the feelings that one-party rule give you thinks like the rain tax, and arguably increases in the suburban/ex-urban vote (but remember those were mostly Democrats moving into this countries–moderate Ds).

    The Democrats pushed forward their weakest candidate and his best idea was phased-in “universal pre-k” funded by casino revenues. The last positive ad he ran was in April during primary season. And he had no real response to what qualifies you more than the other guy for the next four years. Not to mention, his leading primary opponent ran on tax fairness and Brown’s team simply sullied him with largely stupid articles perpetrated by a friendly reporter at the Washington Post (drinkinggate, troopergate, because he’s blackgate, etc).

    Meanwhile Hogan, Brown’s opponent, ran a skillful campaign largely focused on pocketbook issues. Bill Clinton should have whispered in Anthony Brown’s ears “it’s the economy, stupid” or “it’s the tax hikes and jobs, stupid.” Hogan also cast aside impressions he was buying the election by taking the publicly funded route. Hogan was able to channel a populist angst and ride that wave perfectly. It helps that he cast aside social issues saying he’s not going to change them.

    Tragically, it will probably revert to the norm as Barbara Mikulski, Mike Miller, Mike Busch, and Chris Van Hollen sharpen their knives to go after Hogan. They will set him up as anti-education right off the bat and claim every tax cut means teachers lose jobs. Then they will pile on about how he’s trying to undue years of change and refuses to sign some silly in-name-only bill they put in front of him.