Republicans face uphill battle in Montgomery County -- Gazette.Net


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The next generation of Montgomery County’s Republican Party is taking root at Winston Churchill High School.

Matthew Anderson and Patrick Esch, both 16, founded the Potomac school’s Republicans Club last year, where they said they are surrounded by Democrats. Armed with 20 active members, they plan to introduce fellow high school students to Republican ideals of limited government and personal freedom.

His peers generally are surprised that Anderson, a competitive paintball player, also is president of the Republicans Club, which has been well received by all except a few adults.

At a school event to promote clubs, a parent started screaming at club members, Esch said.

“Kids don’t walk up to us at school and bash at us because we’re Republicans,” he said. “On our Facebook page, people say, ‘Wow, Romney got crushed at the debates.’ Other than that, most people don't really have a view, and those that do don’t aggressively advocate to us. It’s not that important. They’re just kids, I guess.”

Despite the effort of high school clubs, the GOP faces an uncertain future in Montgomery County, where Republicans are outnumbered and outfunded by Democrats. Party faithful remember the last decade as one that put incumbent county Republicans into the ranks of the unemployed at the county, state and federal levels. Few candidates in the Nov. 6 election have name recognition and fewer still can raise the kind of money needed to buy television time.

Despite the odds, Republicans said they are keeping up the fight.

They agreed in interviews that Maryland’s 10 electoral college votes are beyond the reach of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Instead, some county Republicans have worked to ensure Virginia, a swing state that Obama scored in 2008, goes red on Nov. 6.

David Kane of Potomac, a real estate agent, said he has always contributed to the Republican Party. He got down in the trenches Oct. 21, taking a bus full of volunteers to Loudoun County, Va., where they knocked on the doors of several hundred undecided voters.

The Kane name may seem familiar. His brother is John Kane, former chair of the Maryland Republican Party. John Kane’s wife is Mary Kane, who served in former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s cabinet and was his running mate in his failed 2010 gubernatorial bid. In 2002, Ehrlich won the governorship, the first Republican governor in Maryland since Spiro Agnew was elected in 1966.

David refused to identify his volunteers, but said they included the chief executive officers of some of the largest companies in Maryland. The group went door-to-door, contacting several hundred undecided voters in a six-hour period.

Katja Bullock of Kensington has been a Republican since moving to the U.S. from Germany in 1965. She serves as the first vice chair of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee and chair of the Chevy Chase Women’s Republican Club.

She also is coordinating Montgomery County’s Mitt Romney campaign, a role that has kept her busy promoting the former governor. Campaign meetings attract 70 or 80 people, most of whom she has never seen before. She has organized sign waving and flyer distribution around the county, focusing efforts on subway stops during morning and evening rush hour.

“I’m hoping that it is going to be a reminder for people that it is getting close to the election,” she said. “I think it is very important for Republicans, to let them know there are other Republicans out there and it is OK to be proud to be a Republican.”

Republican Central Committee members echoed that message. In a county where Republicans are outnumbered nearly 3 to 1, they said staying visible by participating at community events is an important outreach tool.

The county has a history of moderate Republicans like former U.S. Rep. Connie Morella, and Howie Denis, former state senator and county councilman, but the problem is that Montgomery County has grown more progressive, Ehrlich said. Independents make up a large minority of Montgomery County voters, but he said they are “pretty much Democrats.”

To win a statewide race, Ehrlich said a Republican must get around 35 percent of Montgomery County, which is not easy. The county has about 123,000 Republicans, versus approximately 333,000 Democrats, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections. Records show the county has more independents — 133,500 — than Republicans.

“Some of the great national Republican operatives live in Montgomery County,” Ehrlich said. “We do not lack brains, willpower, or fundraising prowess. We just lack votes.”

Montgomery County is a necessary stop for candidates looking to raise money, but it can be tough for local Republicans to attract the necessary funds.

Republicans running for office in Montgomery County typically are long shots, and because of the proximity of Washington, many donors would rather give their money to national candidates, said Bruce Stern, a member of the county’s central committee.

He said it can be difficult for a moderate to make it through a primary.

Stern, who described himself as a moderate Republican, ran for Congress in 2012 but lost the primary by 52 votes. He said primaries typically see low voter turnout, dominated by the party base, which tends to be more conservative.

With Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-6th Dist.) and Dan Bongino, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, fighting uphill battles, Jim Shalleck said the next big fight will be the race for governor in two years. Shalleck is the former chair of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.

Also on the horizon is the race for Montgomery County executive. County Executive Isiah Leggett has said he won’t seek a third term, but Shalleck said it would be tough for a Republican to win. An open seat and divisive fight among the Democrats will help, but even their best chance is a big mountain to climb, he said.

The Republican brand, which emphasizes limited government, is difficult to sell in Montgomery County, where many people are either government workers or contractors, Shalleck said. Talk about slashing government spending and you threaten people’s livelihoods, he said.

“Even if the stars align perfectly it’s a tough race, because we’re outnumbered by Democratic voters,” Shalleck said. “The alternative is not to run candidates, which we have in the past. To me that’s not an alternative.”

jablamsky@gazette.net