The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

David Blair bets on himself again in Montgomery county executive race

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, right, addresses questions with the press after touring the new mass vaccination site at Montgomery College Germantown Campus in Germantown, Md. on April 7, 2021. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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Potomac businessman David Blair is leading the crop of candidates to unseat Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich in fundraising, with a war chest built on $2.95 million in self-financing, campaign filing reports released this week show.

With just over a month before the primary election — which in liberal Montgomery often determines the eventual winner — the competitive race for county executive has turned on issues such as rising violent crime, affordable housing and economic development, filled with efforts from challengers to unseat Elrich, who’s spent much of his first term navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

Elrich has raised more than $589,000 overall and is participating in Montgomery’s public financing program, which allows him to receive matching funds for donations under $250 from county residents. His campaign has requested an additional $143,000 in public financing, which would bring Elrich to about $733,000. He brought in more than $75,000 in donations this cycle, which ran from Jan. 13 to June 7, trailed only by Peter James, who reported raising less than $1,000.

Teresa Woorman, Elrich’s campaign manager, said fundraising numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“We did it once, and we can do it again,” Woorman said, of Elrich’s defeat of Blair in 2018 by a razor-thin margin.

Blair, formerly the chief executive of a Rockville-based pharmaceutical company, poured $5.4 million into that campaign and lost by 77 votes. This time he has loaned himself $2.95 million and received more than $398,000, bringing his total this cycle to $3.35 million.

This time, Elrich has widespread name recognition, said Blair, who has been the biggest spender this cycle, seeking to connect with voters on the ground and hosting events to deliver a message focused on revitalizing Montgomery’s economy.

“The big comparison is the county executive is an incumbent and with that comes a pretty big platform, so it’s different than four years ago,” Blair said.

Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) has raised just over $637,000 in the race, also through public financing, which maxes out at $750,000, and has received donations from more than 1,900 donors. Riemer’s campaign expects about $358,000 more in public financing, bringing his projected reported total to about $995,000. Riemer said Tuesday that his campaign hasn’t spent much up until this point, but plans for spending to take off in this final stretch.

Riemer garnered the most votes of any at-large council candidate in the crowded 2018 primary and has the support of “smart growth” advocates who believe in the need for more housing options near transit.

“We know we’re running against an incumbent and a wealthy self-funder, and we’re thrilled to have the people on our side,” Riemer said. “What public financing makes possible is building a campaign at the grass-roots level.”

Steve Silverman, a Democrat who was formerly on the Montgomery County Council, said money in a race with an incumbent isn’t as important as reaching voters with a message that differentiates the challengers from Elrich.

“I don’t think anybody’s surprised that Blair is self-funding,” Silverman said. “I don’t think anybody is surprised that Elrich and Riemer will probably max out on public financing.”

He said the filings are a good indicator that everyone has the funds to get their message out — now it’s a matter of whether that message is enough to convince voters to vote out an incumbent.

“You don’t have to have more money than the next guy, you just have to have enough money to get your message out,” Silverman said. “I think the challenge for Blair and Riemer is, you have to give people a reason to oust an incumbent.”