As Marylanders prepare to head to the polls, WTOP headed to Frederick County, Maryland, to find out what's at stake for residents and local party leaders with under a month left until the 2018 elections.
FREDERICK COUNTY, Md. — As Marylanders prepare to head to the polls, weighing in on their choice for governor and a number of other races, WTOP took a trip to Frederick County, Maryland, to find out what issues are top of mind for county residents and local party leaders and how they feel about the candidates vying for their votes.
In terms of registered voters, the county is nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, but tends to vote red and has a sizable population of unaffiliated or “independent” voters potentially up for grabs.
In 2014, then-candidate for governor Larry Hogan — a Republican in a very blue state — won 64 percent of the vote in Frederick County. That compares to the 35 percent of the vote that went to then-Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, the Democratic candidate.
The county has seen explosive growth, thanks in part to a healthy tech sector, but its agricultural heritage is evident, too. There are more than 1,300 working farms in the county.
Commuters heading down to D.C. or over to Northern Virginia drive past acres of land under cultivation and, in the fall, flashing road signs that read “Harvest Season” are posted along main arteries, urging drivers to drop their speeds to accommodate slow-moving farm vehicles.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Maryland State Board of Elections
At the Great Frederick Fair last month, families took their children on rides on the midway, visited barns where calves, goats and chicks were on display, and settled at picnic benches for a variety of treats from frozen custard to corn dogs to deep-fried Oreos.
‘Who’s going to work with the people?’
A man who identified himself only as “Terry” was decked out in a blue T-shirt that read “Trump-Pence 2020, Keep America Great!” Standing by the Ferris wheel, he said he’d definitely vote to re-elect Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
“He brought tolls down, he eliminated the rain tax — he’s just doing things to make things better in Maryland. Why am I going to have an issue with that,” he asked.
Terry, who is African-American, said of Ben Jealous, the Democrat who once led the NAACP, “I don’t know what he’s up to.” Asked what he meant by that, Terry said: “He’s not really listening to anybody.”
Terry said he’s registered as an independent. “As far as red or blue or Democrat or Republican … naw….” he said. The key factor in determining his vote, he said, is: “Who’s going to work with the people.”
Dozens of fair-goers were asked about their concerns heading into the election for the next governor of the Maryland. The majority declined to be interviewed for broadcast.
Some said they wouldn’t talk with a reporter, period.
‘People are still reeling from the 2016 election’
Inside the tent for the Frederick County Democratic Central Committee party chair Deborah Carter was busy restocking displays with campaign signs.
“A lot of people who support Ben Jealous for governor are eager for yard signs,” she said. “As soon as we get it in to headquarters, it goes within 24 hours.”
Despite Jealous’ performance in the polls — he likely trails incumbent Hogan by double-digits — Carter said Frederick County Democrats are energized. “People are very excited about him,” she said. “We’ve been working very hard on phone banks every night. I think it’s a very exciting year!”
The Jealous campaign is banking on a big turnout as a possible path to victory. Jealous has said he intends to get 1 million people to turn out to vote. There have been predictions of a “blue wave” — a huge showing of Democrats in the midterms — and Carter said she believes that wave will swell.
“People are still reeling from the 2016 election. So a lot of people who voted in the presidential years and didn’t vote in 201 are back,” she said.
Carter said the big issue this year is health care.
“That’s absolutely the number one issue on people’s minds when we go door to door,” she said. Education and transportation are close behind.
When it comes to how voters feel about Hogan’s proposal to widen Interstate 270, Carter said most potential voters she talks to think it’s a “mixed bag,” with some saying it’s a good idea and others concerned about how it would actually work.
Carter urged voters to get out and vote — for Democrats. “You don’t want to wake up and feel the way you felt when you realize Trump had been elected,” she said.
‘You always run like you’re running from behind’
Just a few booths away, the Frederick County Republican Central Committee members were chatting with volunteers, and talking up Hogan’s record.
Cyndi Schaff, the committee’s vice chair, said the enthusiasm for their candidate is “off the charts.”
“Everywhere we go, everybody from every party affiliation, they want buttons, stickers signs,” Schaff said.
And yes, she added, that includes Democrats.
Schaff said voters tell her their concerns are transportation, education and health care. On the issue of transportation, she said Hogan’s I-270 proposal is winning votes.
“They’re happy to have a transportation plan because getting from Frederick to Montgomery County — anywhere down-county, they need help!” she said.
She added that Hogan’s record on cutting taxes has been a winner as well: “People vote with their wallets.”
Hogan has sky-high approval ratings, and leads in the polls against Jealous by more than 20 points in some surveys, but Schaff said that’s no reason to get complacent. “You always run like you’re running from behind. You never stop working,” she said.
Schaff said she’d like to see redistricting in Maryland. Referring to the 6th Congressional district which stretches from Montgomery County to Maryland’s western border, Schaff said, “Frederick County has nothing in common with Takoma Park.”
With Hogan re-elected, Schaff said she’s hopeful the district can be redrawn in a way that’s more logical. Complaints about the way the district was drawn are not restricted to Republicans; Democratic candidates have also griped about the configuration of the district. (The district’s boundaries were also the subject of a Supreme Court challenge over the summer, which sent the case back to a lower court where it’s still to be decided).
‘We love our guns’
While Republicans are eager to see Hogan pull off a win — if re-elected, it would be the first time since 1954 that a Republican got a second term in Maryland — Schaff said there are some bills the governor has signed that have rankled some GOP voters.
For example, Hogan signed a bill last spring making it illegal to possess, transport or manufacture bump stocks in the state.
“You know, when you talk about the bump stock bill, there’s no way to enforce it,” she said. Taking bump stocks off the market doesn’t mean people who are determined to get a weapon to operate in rapid-fire fashion can’t make that happen, she argued. “You could take a belt and tie it against a trigger and shoot constantly,” she said, repeating an argument made when the ban was first introduced.
Overall on the issue of guns, Schaff said Frederick County has much in common with Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties to the west. “We like shooting, we like hunting, we like our guns — we love our guns,” she said.
As the buttons, yard signs and campaign literature were handed out at the GOP booth, Schaff said everyone should get out and vote. “That’s our right,” But before they cast their ballots, Schaff advised: “Do your homework. Vet every candidate on the ballot before you vote.”
‘I hate all the political nonsense’
Along Frederick’s Carroll Creek, Timmy Bodnar Jr. was hanging out with a group of people enjoying the sunset, as a band played along the park’s promenade. He recognized the names of the gubernatorial candidates — Hogan and Jealous — but was fuzzy on their positions.
Bodnar, who lives in Frederick and commutes to Tysons Corner, said transportation and infrastructure are issues that matter deeply.
“I know 270’s always a hassle for many people, and it’s been that way for a number of years,” he said, referring to the artery that clogs with traffic from Frederick south each day. “I wish they would widen it.”
To avoid sitting in wall-to-wall traffic, Bodnar says he takes Route 340 to Route 15 to Route 7 into Northern Virginia. It takes him an hour and a half — on a good day.
Asked how long he can keep that up: “I can’t,” he replied and then explained he’s got an arrangement with his employer that allows him to telecommute fairly often. “I’m lucky that I can do that, but not everybody is,” he added.
Explaining that he’ll have a lot of homework to do on the candidates — he’s a registered Democrat who has paid more attention to national politics than the local races — Bodnar said, “I’m just trying to make sure that the candidates are focused on what people actually care about. I hate all the political nonsense going on right now in D.C.”
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