Can Calvin do it?

Theoretically, any Democrat in Howard County can easily beat any Republican. There are way  more Democrats to begin with, and they have traditionally been more successful in the county than Republicans.

Buoyed by  Democratic victories in Virginia and around the country in off-year primaries Nov. 7, mostly fueled by anger and disgust at President Donald J. Trump, county council member Calvin Ball’s formal entry into the race at a big rally at Kahler Hall in Columbia Thursday night started his campaign with great optimism.

But nothing is guaranteed, and Ball has some tough challenges ahead.

The big question is can Ball turn out Democratic voters in numbers big enough to beat a popular incumbent? That did not happen in 2014, when Courtney Watson won the three Columbia based county council districts, but not with hefty enough margins. She lost the election because now county executive Allen Kittleman ran up a huge victory margin in his native western Howard County, and won in Ellicott city too. Ball is from Columbia, so he might do better.

Kittleman is an affable person running for re-election, and he, like Republican Governor Larry Hogan, has worked very hard not to antagonize most voters since his election in 2014. It could be hard to convince voters to deny him a second term.

Hogan is also running for re-election, giving Kittleman a leg up at the top of the ballot, and lots of help from other Republicans. After all, Kittleman beat Watson, an experienced Democratic elected official  who raised 50% more money than he did and who is a tireless campaigner.

But Watson’s campaign was hurt by Anthony Brown, The losing candidate for governor, as well as by voters’ preference for a change.

Now things are very different. After another year of Trump’s bullying, lying, and attempts to reward the rich and punish the poor, voters may be so outraged no Republican may stand a chance.

Plus there is no guarantee that once elected to a second, and final term, either Kittleman or Hogan will remain so reasonable. Kittleman has chafed at the 4-1 Democratic majority on the county council – a veto proof majority. If he can get one more Republican on the council and also get re-elected, he can block any legislation the council’s Democrats manage to pass.

Both Republicans will also have influence, if re-elected, in redrawing county council, congressional and legislative district lines after the 2020 census. If they get that power, it could be a big game changer in Maryland. In addition, three of the council’s four Democrats can’t run again next year, leaving Republicans a better chance to boost their ranks.

Kittleman opposed campaign finance reform for county offices, despite its approval  by both the voters and the council, which did override his veto. The new matching fund, small donation program is set to begin in the 2022 election. If Kittleman is re-elected, and Republicans win another council seat, can they find some way to derail the reform program before it starts?

Any official makes enemies as the years roll by. Bicyclists, for example, are very annoyed at Kittleman for underfunding the county’s program for creating new bike lanes and paths around the county, and both school and development issues remain a political minefield.

Ball can campaign on resuming popular two-term executive Ken Ulman’s progressive environmental programs. Kittleman opposed the storm water fee system intended to fix problems that ultimately harm the Chesapeake Bay. With the Trump administration busily working to dismantle health care, environmental and social justice programs nationally, how will voters in Howard and Maryland react?

The final result in November 2018 is far from pre-ordained, and lots of things are in play, from the candidates’ personalities to hard political realities and perceptions.

Larry Carson

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