Changes in political geography are usually the result of slow, steady evolution, but occasionally it is interrupted by a tectonic shift.
Local politicians are reading the returns from the 2020 presidential election to try to understand which is happening right now in Frederick County.
“Everybody” knows that Frederick has been a conservative, Republican county forever – except “everybody” is wrong. “Everybody” also knows that Montgomery County has been a liberal Democratic bastion forever — but once again “everybody” is wrong.
In recent years, both statements have been true. But both counties have evolved and changed over the decades. From 1970 until 1992, Frederick County was the heart of the 6th Congressional District, represented by Goodloe Byron and then by his widow, Beverly Byron. Both were Democrats. After Beverly Byron lost the Democratic primary to a more liberal candidate, conservative Republican Roscoe Bartlett was elected 10 times before he was redistricted out of office.
For much of that time, from 1984 until 2002, liberal Montgomery sent Republican Connie Morella to Congress in the 8th District.
Change happens, and now it may be happening again.
President Joe Biden became the first Democrat to win the presidential vote in Frederick County since Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide in 1964. An analysis of 2020 voting data by News-Post reporters Ryan Marshall and Steve Bohnel showed that Biden flipped more than two dozen precincts that Republican Donald Trump had won in 2016.
While the Republican Trump won the county by exactly 3,000 votes in 2016 over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Biden captured 13,993 more votes than Trump in 2020. Voter registration grew substantially, and turnout here and around the country soared.
In 2016, the county had 65,905 registered Republicans and 60,747 registered Democrats, said Deborah Carter, chairwoman of the Frederick County Democratic Central Committee. By 2020, there were 72,487 Democrats and 68,757 Republicans.
Many more Republicans came out to vote for Trump — and many more Democrats came out to vote against him. He was the great motivator for both parties.
The question now is whether it was a one-time event. Frederick County has been trending toward the Democrats for the last decade. Was this the year it turned blue?
From 2010-14, the five members of the old Board of County Commissioners were all Republicans. After county voters approved a new charter form of government with an executive and seven council members, Democrat Jan Gardner defeated former commission president Blaine Young in 2014. However, four Republicans were elected to the seven-member County Council.
In 2018, Gardner was re-elected, and four Democrats took seats on the council. Two Republicans were elected to countywide office, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and State’s Attorney Charlie Smith.
The county’s delegation in Annapolis is split 4-4, but at the beginning of the decade the GOP held six seats.
The change may have come about in large measure because of the influx of new residents into the county, many of whom moved north from Montgomery County and brought their Democratic leanings with them.
Ironically, the pro-growth board of commissioners from the beginning of the decade sped up construction of new housing particularly in the southern portions of the county and many of those new residents vote Democratic. Did the GOP plant the seeds of its own diminishment?
Gardner, who cannot run for re-election in 2022 because of term limits, told our reporters that if local Democrats can encourage younger voters to turn out for their candidates, the county will continue turning blue.
“I think that it is a reflection of the politics of the day. I think it’s a reflection of where young people are going. I think it’s a reflection of where more diverse communities are going, and I think it’s just going to continue to be the trend in Frederick County,” Gardner said.
The 2022 election will provide the clearest indication of the future direction of the county politically. A new executive will be chosen as well as all seven members of the council and the eight members of the legislative delegation. In addition, the state will be electing a new governor.
Will the Trump effect continue even after he is not on the ballot? We will know more in about 22 months.