The widely predicted Republican “red wave” turned out to be barely a ripple in the national midterm elections, but it hit Frederick County.
Votes are still being counted and the outcome in several races is uncertain but, as of this writing, we can safely say county Republicans showed strength that seemed to ebb in previous election cycles.
In the county executive race, GOP state Sen. Michael Hough had a lead of more than 7,000 votes over Democratic County Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater as of Thursday night. While it is mathematically possible that mail-in votes could swing the election to Fitzwater, she has a lot of ground to make up.
At the start of Thursday’s canvassing, the Board of Elections said it had nearly 17,000 mail-in ballots to count.
Of the mail-in ballots received by Election Day, 62% were from Democrats and 22% were from Republicans. Almost all others were from unaffiliated voters.
Potentially, Fitzwater and other Democrats could see their vote totals increase significantly.
The uncertainty in large part stems from the fact that Democrats have become comfortable voting by mail, while Republicans influenced by Donald Trump’s lies about vote fraud in the 2020 presidential election are not. Thus, GOP vote totals are higher when Election Day results are announced, but a much larger number of votes from Democrats are yet to be counted.
Whatever the final results show, the Republican strength is undeniable. Outgoing Democratic County Executive Jan Gardner won races in 2014 and 2018 quite easily over Republican challengers, so Hough’s showing is impressive.
If Hough can hold on, he will work with a County Council that almost certainly will have at least two Republicans. Two other seats are likely to go to Democrats, leaving both parties with a possible maximum of five out of seven seats.
The GOP now has three seats, after losing one in 2018.
As of Thursday night, Republican candidates were leading for council at-large and in Districts 1, 2 and 5, but the leads in only two of those races appeared solid. (More results were expected to be posted Friday night.)
The GOP candidates in the at-large contest — Councilman Phil Dacey and former Councilman Tony Chmelik — each had a slim lead over the top Democrat, Brad Young, on Thursday night. Renee Knapp was farther behind, but possibly within striking distance.
In District 1, Republican John Distel led incumbent Democrat Jerry Donald by about 700 votes on Thursday night. The parties have been closely matched in previous elections in this district. Donald won in 2018 by 350 votes and in 2014 by 25 votes. The race could tighten more.
In District 2, incumbent Republican Steve McKay was comfortably ahead, and in the upcounty District 5, Mason Carter had an insurmountable lead. Democrats had big leads in Districts 3 and 4.
The race for U.S. House in District 6 was too close to call at this writing, with incumbent Democrat David Trone trailing Republican state Del. Neil Parrott by about 1 percentage point, but gaining. Many mail-in ballots left to count are from heavily Democratic Montgomery County.
Trone is expected to prevail in this rematch with Parrott, but by a much smaller margin than he did in 2020.
The most puzzling election of all was for Frederick County Board of Education. Political junkies and journalists always try to figure out what voters are saying, but in this case, the message is muddled.
It was a contest between two slates of candidates with diametrically opposing views. Three conservative critics of the school system ran on the Education Not Indoctrination slate, while four more liberal candidates who were generally supportive of the direction of the system ran on the Students First slate.
With four seats on the board to fill, it seemed as though voters would choose one slate or the other. But they didn’t.
Nancy Allen from the Education Not Indoctrination slate was leading the field after Election Day and Thursday’s count of mail-in ballots.
Cindy Rose, from the same slate, was second after Election Day, then dropped to fourth after Thursday’s count.
Two from the Students First slate — incumbent Karen Yoho and Rae Gallagher — passed Rose during Thursday’s vote counting, moving up to second and third, respectively.
In fifth place, Dean Rose, also on the Students First slate, had closed to within 800 votes of Cindy Rose.
ENI candidate Olivia Angolia was still sixth after Thursday night. Students First candidate Ysela Bravo was seventh, more than 2,000 votes behind Angolia. So much for reading voters’ minds.
The lead Allen built as of Election Day seemed to give her a chance to win a board seat. Cindy Rose’s chances of winning a seat were diminishing.
The votes totals for Allen and Cindy Rose, though, show that a significant portion of the community was dissatisfied with the direction of the school system. That portion of the electorate might end up with a voice on the board.