HOWARD COUNTY, Md. — Election Day is now less than a month away. How is the closely watched race for governor between popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous shaping up in Howard County — one of Maryland’s traditional “tossup” counties.
From the Mall in Columbia, to the sidewalk outside an Ellicott City tattoo parlor, WTOP asked voters in Howard County about their concerns and priorities in the last few weeks of a contentious race for the governor’s mansion.
Hogan continues to tout his administration’s accomplishments. On Wednesday, Hogan appeared with students from across Maryland while announcing a statewide tip line designed to alert officials to potential school violence. Jealous, has enlisted some star power in his campaign: appearing with comedian and actor Dave Chappelle in a series of campaign events.
Howard County is often considered a swing state and a “bellwether” by political analysts — a place to help gauge which way the tide is turning across the state as a whole. While registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, the county currently has a Republican county executive, who is running for re-election.
“Kittleman is polling in a manner similar to how Hogan is polling statewide — suggesting that Howard County may be that bellwether again this time around,” said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
WTOP's Kate Ryan looks at how Howard County could be pivotal in the governor's race
Bruce DePuyt, senior reporter with Maryland Matters, said “Howard County has a very similar voter profile to Montgomery County; highly educated, very affluent.” Like Montgomery County residents, DePuyt said Howard County residents tend to put education at the top of their list of priorities for local government.
And like their neighbors in Montgomery County, they are concerned with transportation.
“Many people who live in Howard County commute to a job either north to Baltimore or south to Washington. Either way they’ve got a challenge,” with commutes that can leave them sitting in traffic — but many find the commute worth it.
A lot has been written about how voters are turned off by the current political climate, but that’s not true for two of the Howard County residents who talked about the upcoming election with WTOP.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Maryland State Board of Elections
Carolyn Adams was shopping at the newly-opened Barnes and Noble at the Columbia Mall when she was asked about the election for governor. “I’ve always voted,” she said enthusiastically. “It’s important.”
‘Pie in the sky’ promises or goals to strive for?
Adams, who said she is active in local community life, first settled in Columbia in 1976, attracted by the vision of developer James Rouse to create an integrated, welcoming community. “My late husband was African-American. We met here in Columbia and lived here for 30 years, so Columbia’s very precious to me.”
After her husband’s death, she settled in Florida. That lasted for seven years. She said she returned to Columbia because she missed her home — and the community she left behind in her home state. Adams, who is white, said “Florida is a bunch of old, white people who voted for Trump.”
Having moved back to Columbia recently, she said she’s getting up to speed on Hogan’s record. “He’s not too bad as Republicans go,” she said, but Hogan won’t get her vote, she said. She opposed his repeal of stormwater management fees, something Hogan liked to call the “rain tax.”
She will be voting for Jealous, even though she said, “I’m realistic enough to think he probably won’t win.” She is aware that critics say Jealous’ stance on health care and free college education are “pie in the sky” but added: “I think you have to be striving for something, you have to put goals out there.”
Jeanette Simpson, an Ellicott City resident, was out shopping with her daughter at the Mall in Columbia when she was asked about her concerns in the governor’s race.
She cited pollution, the environment and schools as her key issues. She’s also keeping a keen eye on education funding.
“I’m a Democrat by nature, but I — surprisingly — have liked Hogan,” she said. “He has not been what I would consider — what I would classify — as a standard ‘Republican’ candidate,” she said. “He has a reasonable track record for me, but I’m inclined toward Democratic issues.” She said she’s got some more research to do.
Education, transportation and crossing the political divide
Outside the Ghost Town Tattoo parlor in Ellicott City, Gabriella Fiorino and Connor Brown talked about their concerns.
Fiorino attends the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is preparing for a career in early childhood education. She said she is concerned about low teacher salaries, referring to how teachers often use money from their own pocket to make sure their classrooms have adequate supplies. Democrat Ben Jealous has suggested coming up with a fund to reimburse teachers for those expenses.
But Fiorino, an unaffiliated voter, also wants the next governor to focus on small businesses.
“My parents own a small business,” she said, explaining how she holds some views that align with Republicans on economic matters, “there are also some social issues that I feel very strongly about that would be considered Democratic.”
She said she wishes people would cross the political divide more often. “Nowadays, politics is more about an argument than a conversation,” she said.
Brown, who also attends UMBC, said he isn’t up to speed on who’s on the ballot right now, but is certain that education and transportation matter the most to him. “I know I drive my car on a lot of very bad roads.” He said he’s hoping for a governor who will pour more money into transportation.
For him, that’s roads, but he said he’s got a lot of friends who take public transportation to school.
“I know they complain a lot about inconsistency” and an inability to rely on transit. When it comes time to decide who will get his vote, he’ll put his IT major to use: he’ll go online to do his research. “I have a computer in front of me 12 hours a day,” he said with a laugh. He said he tends to go to a politician’s website to see what their platform is, “and then I’ll dig deeper into things.”
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