In this election year, there’s been a surge nationally of mostly young Democratic women running for office. And that surge is swamping ballots in Maryland as well.
In one race, a 30-year-old woman—a Democrat—is pitted against a 65-year-old former Republican member of the House of Delegates for the state Senate seat representing Annapolis.
The former two-term Delegate, Ron George, was sliced out of his Annapolis area district in 2012 by Democratic lawmakers and has been trying to make a comeback ever since. He’s even moved into the new district.
But his return to office could be threatened by Sarah Elfreth, a political newcomer less than half his age who has been generating enthusiasm at her campaign appearances and who may benefit from what appears to be a surge of support for Democrats generally, and women in particular.
Melissa Deckman, a political science professor at Washington College, says President Donald Trump’s disparaging treatment of women has helped galvanize candidates like Elfreth—outsiders--to make long-shot bids for elective office.
"Who are the ultimate outsiders in American politics, but women," Deckman asked. "So, I think that has been an empowering force for a lot of Democratic women."
Deckman and Mileah Kromer, who runs the Goucher poll, reported that approximately one third of candidates for Maryland’s legislature this year are women, compared to one fourth in 2014. Their success is not at all guaranteed, however.
Elfreth launched her campaign last year well behind George in funding and name recognition. She has some advantage in the Democrats’ 4 to 3 voter registration edge in the district, but that’s not nearly as favorable as her party’s 2 to 1 statewide advantage.
A former lobbyist for the National Aquarium, Elfreth says she has tried to overcome George’s advantages by meeting as many voters as possible. Her Facebook page boasts a heavy schedule of events.
"As a first-time candidate, I bring new energy and new ideas," she says. "I also bring a different perspective on how to represent. And I want to continue doing the same things I’ve done in the campaign, which is constantly being out in the community."
As she talks with voters, Elfreth says, she focuses on issues that are chief concerns among women, such as child care, health care, and schools.
Meanwhile, George, who has run a jewelry store on Main Street in Annapolis for nearly three decades, declares himself an advocate for small business.
He recently organized a protest against a temporary bike lane on Main Street installed by Mayor Gavin Buckley without approval from the city council. George says the new traffic design threatens local businesses because it robs them of parking spaces.
"Gavin has said his plan further down the road is to get rid of all the meters and all the cars," George says. "That will work in some towns, some cities, but not here."
George considers himself an environmentalist. He is most proud of legislation he supported in the House that encourages the use of wind power to reduce reliance on non-renewable energy sources.
"I just believe in doing things that work," he says. "I think having a business sense helps you with that."
His record wasn’t green enough, though, to win an endorsement from the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. Robert Gallagher, co-chairman of the Anne Arundel County chapter, said the decision wasn’t a close call.
"I’ve known Ron for years. He’s a very good guy and I think he was a good legislator," Gallagher said. "But if you take his record overall, more than a majority of the bills that came before him that were supported by the environmental community he voted against them."
By contrast, Gallagher said, Elfreth has been an unflinching and effective advocate for the environment for more than a decade. And her age could be a good thing, he adds.
"Young blood will be good in the General Assembly."
In fact, state records suggest that if she wins, Elfreth would be the youngest woman ever elected to the Maryland Senate by 13 years.