Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

What the Hell Happened?

Posted by Jim Walsh on Thursday, November 9, 2006

It’s been two days since the election, and maybe now I can get out from my post-election funk enough to write some coherent observations about Tuesday’s Election results. So much to sort through, it’s hard to know where to start.

It seems that the operative rule to this Election was that all politics are national – reversing Tip O’Neill’s famous rule. The voters were angry at federal Republicans (and not without good reason) and took out their wrath on federal, state and local Republican candidates. How else can you explain that Kay Hartleb – the epitome of competency and public service – won by only 300 votes against a Democratic unknown who didn’t seem to know what the Register of Wills does. Or that Chuck Coles, a competent 16 year veteran judge of the Orphans Court, lost his seat. In that race, four candidates – two Democrats (one an incumbent) and two Republican incumbents – were running for three seats. I have little doubt that had the Democrats fielded a third candidate, Republican Judge Joyce Pope would have lost her seat also.

Ken Ulman winning – with 53% of the vote? I don’t think I’m the only one who thought Chris Merdon had this race in the bag. The earliest vote count posted on Howard Co. GTV showed Merdon leading 50-42. When later results showed Ulman ahead, I thought that either (1) the vote count had been transposed, or (2) only Columbia votes had been counted so far, and that Merdon would pull it out when the rest of the County was counted. Even as I write this, I half-expect that some terrible error will soon be discovered that will reverse this result.

Cardin beating Steele? Not really a surprise overall, but the 8-point margin was still a disappointment given how close the race was supposed to be.

O’Malley over Ehrlich? Painful to behold. In 2002 Ehrlich ran a perfect campaign against a poor candidate, but this time he ran a very good (but not quite perfect) campaign against a strong candidate. It seems that to win statewide office in Maryland, a Republican needs to have a perfect storm against the Democrat.

There’s so much more to consider and discuss. Although I find writing this post to be somewhat therepeutic, I must conclude for now and leave any real analysis – as opposed to these shell-shocked observations – to another day.


12 Responses to “What the Hell Happened?”

  1. Jim,

    Great first post. I think you expressed most of what every republican is thinking. All politics are national – that is a classic.



    Good post and sentiments that many of us understand and wish could say it as well as you have… HOWEVER, my advancing age allows me the wisdom to understand that this too shall pass and actually all is not lost. Please enjoy my post: “20061108 Ole Luke, Get used to this face and now what?” This is a time for professionalism, poise and grace at a difficult time. I’m not moving out of the country and I sure as heck ain’t going away to sulk – I’m buying a bigger hard drive for my computer because the next 2 to 4 years ought to be a blogger-columnists’ dream come true. And we are going to record every moment of it. Every move they make. I will follow them. Kevin Dayhoff


    “Every Breath You Take”

    Every breath you take
    Every move you make
    Every bond you break
    Every step you take
    I’ll be watching you

    Every single day
    Every word you say
    Every game you play
    Every night you stay
    I’ll be watching you

    O can’t you see
    You belong to me
    How my poor heart aches with every step you take

    Every move you make
    Every vow you break
    Every smile you fake
    Every claim you stake
    I’ll be watching you


  3. Melissa said

    My husband and I were saying the same thing on the way home from work today. People voted against their own best interests at the local level to send the president a message on the national level. Great idea – let’s subject ourselves to more taxes, bigger government and never ending programs to send a message to a lame duck president that truly doesn’t control what our property rate is – or our school allocations, or any of our day to day activities (that’s why we have local government as opposed to the national govt…)

    I mean, seriously, couldn’t people have just voted out the National Republicans and left the people who make decisions on our daily lives alone? It’s tantamount to setting your car on fire to protest higher gas prices – insane!!

    President Bush only has 2 years left but we have 4 years of the local council composition to pay for. To everyone adamant to send the President a message – I challenge you not to complain when your pay checks are smaller…Thanks.

  4. Jen said

    Geez… “professionalism, poise and grace” doesn’t quite seem to fit with the rest of the post… The lyrics are a bit threatening- but in a sick, stalking kind of way. I don’t think you can stalk someone with poise and grace… but you have a few years to perfect it. Yikes. Now _I_ want to move out of the Country.

    And Melissa- only 53% of the people voted at the local level (CE) to send the Nationals a message. That isn’t exactly an overwhelming landslide in a County that usually swings Democratic.

    Does anyone know the percent turnout for Republicans vs Dems and the percent difference between the two, countywide? I know Dems outnumber R’s by 21,000 votes… but how does that compute? How come Chris got less votes than Ehrlich in the County- but Ken got more than O’Malley? Are some of those people who voted to send a message to the nationals- republican? Or did they jump ship for other reasons?

    Who had the best signs? Worst? Which candidates ran the cleanest campaigns? What were some of the most creative new campaign ideas? What about the money raised? Should we try to control how much folks raise/spend on a local campaign? Or not?

  5. tomberkhouse said


    I like you car on fire analogy. Another appropriate one would be that the voters threw the baby out with the bath water.

    The voters were so hellbent on punishing all republicans, that they may have ended up punishing themselves (4 years of Ulman’s mug on newspaper covers – gag!).

  6. Jim Walsh said

    Kevin (et al.):
    Yes, I realize that this too will pass. I have lived in Howard County (23 years) long enough to classify myself as a mid-timer if not an old-timer.
    Immediately after an Election, it’s a bit difficult to maintain any perspective, but even as I was writing my post I was trying to keep in mind that not only have there been wipeout years (1998 and 2006), but there have also been some very good years (1990, 1994 and 2002).
    As for 2010, remember Liz Bobo and 1990.

  7. Melissa said

    Jen, Yes, I know of many republicans who voted against the National Level folks and swept every state and local republican along with them. When looking at the raw numbers of Ds v. Rs, remember that here in Dist 5, many Ds consistently vote republican on the national stage and are more conservative than the Columbia Ds. So, when that group voted straight D – don’t lump it in as just de rigeur ticket voting. We’re kind of a throw back out here so the straight political science theories need some history behind it to make sense. (Does that make sense?

    Also, I think there were many Rs and conservative Ds that voiced their opinion by not voting I have no evidence of that – I would like to take some time with the actual data when it comes out and I have a chance – whichever occurs later! 🙂

  8. tomberkhouse said


    YOu may be right about possible high number of people not voting at all. I think many “R”s styed home knowing that it would not be a good night. I think that is why the margin of victory for the “D”s was so high across the board. We’ll see what the stats say.

  9. observer said

    Anyone figure out what position Ulman is going to appoint Donald Dunn to? Maybe director of planning and zoning?

  10. hocoterp said


    Here are answers to your questions from someone who could be considered “in the know” about the County Exec race, although they only represent my opinions.

    Who had the best signs? Worst?
    Ulman’s 4’x8′ signs were better than Merdon’s original 4’x8′. However, when the Merdon camp went with a 4’x8′ sign with the blue background and white lettering, the name stood out a lot more. More importantly, the red stripe across the top with the message “the only vote for responsible growth” took the sign to the next level. Using additions to the 4’x8′ signs to advertise Merdon’s newspaper endorsements was also effective. The fact that Ken copied both of these ideas (and desperately at that, he had to reprint on the back of his 2’x6′ signs) proves that Merdon had the better signs.

    Which candidates ran the cleanest campaigns?
    Without a doubt, Merdon. Look at the mailings. Merdon sent out mailings about him and what he would do as County Exec. Ken sent out some mailings about what he did, but he sent out an equal number of mailings bashing Chris. Some of them criticized Chris’ record, but for the most part they distorted Merdon’s record, took comments entirely out of context, and played loosely with the facts. However, Ken did not stop at the mailings. He also set up an alternative website that received significant coverage on this blog. That’s not running a clean campaign. Merdon stayed on message and never sank to Ken’s level with the attacks while Ken spent a significant amount of time slinging mud.

    What were some of the most creative new campaign ideas?
    Again, advantage Merdon. The press conferences were something new for a county executive race in a small county. Merdon got a lot of free press out of it, and again, if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, you know it was a good idea if Ken felt compelled to have his own press conference less than a week befor the election. Also in the realm of innovative ideas – signs with a message, both the 4’x8′ signs as mentioned above and yard signs. The Merdon signs at polling places (2’x8′ and well off the ground) were also innovative. I guess if you’re in a generous mood you can give the Dems credit for taking advantage of the political climate (aka Hate Bush and the national GOP) by linking local candidates to Bush, telling them to teach Bush a lesson by voting straight Dem, and the absolutely lovely “support Bush, vote Republican” stickers at the polls (read that last one with a heavy dose of sarcasm).

    Money raised
    Advantage Ulman, although both candidates raised record amounts.

    Now for a comment in general on the election. There have to be a lot of factors at work to have candidates that were endorsed by all the newspapers lose by 10-20%. Not saying a newspaper endorsement guarantees victory (obviously not) but generally the newspapers don’t endorse candidates that look like they are going down in a flaming wreck. I think a lot of it has to do with the tidal wave of anti-Republican sentiment at the national level washing away the local candidates.

    To that extent, it’s a real shame, because there were some great candidates that lost. And for anyone who thinks that they taught Bush a lesson by voting against Republicans at the local level – well I sure hope they weren’t a product of one of the best school systems in the nation because you would have to be an idiot to believe for one second that Bush cares about who the county executive in Howard County is.

  11. Linda Flynn said

    OH, thankfully, some place to vent…I haven’t recovered from the primary, I registered democrat, you see it gave me the opportunity to make sure Janet Owens didn’t get Schaeffer’s job (I still can’t believe that over a name calling issue, people put a question mark in his place).I knew right then that common sense was gone and the general election wasn’t going to be pretty.
    Since election day, I haven’t watched any news program and won’t buy a paper. Can’t stand the thought of this state going back to Glendenning days. All I can say is I’ll be looking forward to 2 years from now, when I can vote for anyone but Hillary. You know what I’d really like to see, every elected person thrown out and new elections held….$35000.00 salary cap …isn’t that the starting salary for teachers?

  12. Nanners said

    I haven’t recovered either. We drove past Merdon’s headquarters Sunday and I sighed to my husband. I will always wonder if Ehrlich would have won with Steele on his ticket. Nothing against Cox but I think they would have prevailed even with the R next to their names. Most voters in Ho Co are ignorant to local politics so of course a big D will win the CE race even if the Repub is the superior candidate(well unless the D candidate is a total train wreck which oh man, hate to say it, Ulman is not, well at least not yet). I think Merdon would have been closer to the Big D if Bush wasn’t a factor but this county is tough for R’s. I am also still baffled that Wallis didnt get more votes. He was a good candidate so it just further shows you that most voters dont research local races. Just vote along party lines.

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