For Maryland Republicans, the 2022 general election is probably one to forget.
Their statewide candidates were drubbed by the victorious Democrats. Of three competitive county executive races in the suburbs, they won zero. They lost seats in the Maryland General Assembly, including the defeat of the party’s first Black woman state delegate in Maryland.
Where does the Maryland Republican Party go from here? It’s hard to say, as the party’s recent state convention was closed to press and the newly elected chairwoman and the executive director didn’t respond to our interview requests. But we’ll give it a shot.
A new leader with ‘a big job ahead’
Over the weekend, the Maryland Republican Party held a closed-door convention of its state central committee where they elected Nicole Beus Harris as the state’s party chairperson. She’ll be responsible for guiding the party’s activities and efforts to win future elections, and helping the party raise money.
Harris did not respond to messages from The Baltimore Banner seeking an interview. The state party’s executive director also did not respond to an emailed request for an interview.
After her election, Harris posted a photo on Instagram with the caption: “Thank you Maryland Republican Central Committee members. I am honored and humbled by your trust and faith in me. We have a big job ahead and I’m ready to work right beside each of you to rebuild and bring success in future elections.”
Harris is a marketing and political consultant who has worked for Republican candidates under the brands Campaigns by Indy and Indy’s Services, according to state and federal campaign finance reports. Her past clients include the Maryland Republican State Central Committee, which paid Indy’s Services for political consulting from 2015 through 2017, according to federal reports.
Harris is married to U.S. Rep. Andy Harris and the two occasionally guest host shows on WCBM, a conservative radio station in Baltimore. Before the Harrises were married, the congressman hired Indy’s Services for media consulting.
The other party officers are Nicole Bennett as first vice chairperson; Heath Barnes as second vice chairperson; Dwight Patel as third vice chairperson; and Mark Uncapher as secretary.
A disputed election
The Maryland Republican Party did not release information on the vote totals. Two people who were unsuccessful in seeking the chairmanship — Tim Fazenbaker and Gordana Schifanelli — described a tense election process.
Schifanelli, who was a losing candidate for lieutenant governor along with gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, said she was encouraged to run and joined a “unity” slate of officer candidates.
The Maryland Republican Party determined that the Schifanelli group of candidates missed the deadline to file their candidacy. Schifanelli disputes that decision, alleging the party violated its own rules.
At the party convention, Schifanelli’s supporters hoped to nominate her from the floor, which was not allowed. Videos from the meeting that have circulated online show people standing up from their tables yelling “Point of order!” and outgoing party Chairman Dirk Haire attempting to quell the crowd.
Fazenbaker, a member of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, said the meeting was a “debacle.” Fazenbaker said Schifanelli’s supporters pushed for three different votes during the meeting that they thought would help their case, but all three were unsuccessful. Although Schifanelli didn’t speak, Fazenbaker said she was an instigator.
Schifanelli said there were “violations of due process galore” during the meeting. “The party of law and order? I don’t think so,” she said.
Schifanelli and some of her supporters left and the meeting continued. Fazenbaker and Harris both gave speeches to pitch their ideas before the vote was taken.
The votes are counted with a complicated weighting formula, so Fazenbaker said he’s not sure of the final count, but he believes the breakdown was roughly 60% for Harris and 40% for him.
Fazenbaker said he and Harris took a photo together before their speeches. “I was purposely trying to show civility and unity,” he said.
Harris and the party leaders have their work cut out for them, Fazenbaker said. The party is low on funds and there’s discord within the ranks, he added.
Too much focus has been put on personalities — Gov. Larry Hogan vs. former President Donald J. Trump — and not enough on issues important to Maryland Republicans, Fazenbaker said. While he plans to stay involved in the party, Fazenbaker said he’s “kind of glad” he didn’t end up becoming chairperson.
“The party is in complete disarray at this moment,” he said.
As for Schifanelli, despite disagreeing with the turn of events, she said she’s not disappointed. She said the role of party chair is a thankless one and it’s “absolutely fine” that she didn’t get it.
Schifanelli plans to return to work — which she gave up during the campaign — and spend more time with her family.
“I will go back to work and I will watch how they self-implode. And maybe later, when they are dead, maybe I get involved,” she said. “Maybe not.”
After a bad election, ‘no place to go but up’
On the whole, Republican candidates fared quite poorly in the 2022 general election.
Going into a general election, Maryland Republicans start with a disadvantage, because about 54% of the state’s voters are Democrats, compared to 24% who are Republicans. Another 20% are unaffiliated with any party, covering a range of political preferences.
Hogan was able to overcome that disadvantage by crafting a message that appealed to independents and soft Democrats. He got enough crossover support to win election in 2014 and reelection in 2018.
This year’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, Cox, doubled down on a Trump-inspired message that left little for Democrats to like. He lost to Democrat Wes Moore 32%-65% — the widest gulf in an election for governor since William Donald Schaefer won his first term by an 82%-18% margin in 1986.
Hogan won in 2018 by 12 points, followed four years later by Cox losing to Democrat Wes Moore by 32 points. That’s a 44-point swing in the wrong direction, noted Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
“It was a horrible, worst-case scenario for them,” said Eberly, who teachers a course in Maryland politics.
The other statewide candidates fared just as badly. For attorney general, Republican Michael Anthony Peroutka lost to Democrat Anthony Brown, 35% to 65%. And the Republican nominee for comptroller, Barry Glassman, lost to Democrat Brooke Lierman, 38% to 62%.
Three major suburban counties had elections for county executive where Republicans thought they would be competitive. But Republican candidates lost in all three: Jessica Haire in Anne Arundel, Allan Kittleman in Howard and Mike Hough in Frederick.
Republicans continue to have just one member of Congress, Harris, out of eight in Maryland. Both U.S. senators are Democrats.
“It’s hard to find a bright spot,” Eberly said. “They can hang their hat on a local race here or there that they won, but when you look at their statewide numbers, it paints a party that is in danger of becoming a permanent minority regional party.”
In other words, Republicans could continue to win local offices in low-population conservative counties, but they need to make changes in order to win back voters in populous suburban counties.
Suburban voters, particularly college-educated ones, are turned off by the turn the Republican Party has taken toward promoting election conspiracy theories, discrediting vaccines and alleging racist teachings in public schools, Eberly said. The party has lost its winning message of promoting lower taxes, fewer regulations and more business-friendly practices, he said.
“The nice thing about hitting bottom is there’s no place to go but up,” Eberly said. “There is reason for them to be somewhat optimistic if they change their strategy.”
This story has been updated to correct an editing error about the percentage of Marylanders not registered to a political party.