This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 24, 2022, to include a statement from David Blair. It was updated at 5:55 p.m. to include comments from Blair and Elrich.
More than a month after primary Election Day and after a recount of more than 140,000 ballots, incumbent Marc Elrich has once again won the Democratic primary for county executive — this time by 32 votes.
Elrich, 72, of Takoma Park beat Potomac’s David Blair, 53, in a rematch of the 2018 Democratic primary. In 2018, Elrich topped Blair by 77 votes, and then beat Republican Robin Ficker — a perennial local candidate — and Nancy Floreen, a longtime Democrat who ran as an independent candidate, in the November general election.
The Montgomery County Board of Elections certified the results of the recount Wednesday afternoon.
Blair announced Wednesday that he had called Elrich to concede.
“While we didn’t win, no doubt we pushed the conversation forward in key areas such as early childhood education, career readiness, environmental progress, affordable housing, economic development, public safety and much, much more,” Blair said in a prepared statement. “I wish a heartfelt thank you to our campaign team, our volunteers, and our many, many supporters. Their energy, dedication and vision for a better Montgomery County has been truly inspiring.”
Blair said in an interview that he was disappointed with the result, and that the final tally shows there is support for more moderate leadership in the county.
“But unfortunately, it’s not supporters who count, it’s voters who vote, and that’s how our democracy works,” Blair said. “And Marc Elrich has 32 more votes than we do.”
“Particularly, when you only lose by 32 votes, one more meet-and-greet, one more door knocking round, one more church visit … [that] could have made the difference,” he said when asked about how he would have campaigned differently. “And so yeah, I’ve chewed on that quite a bit.”
Elrich said in an interview that Wednesday’s certfication of the recount marked the end of a “long wait” for results.
“I don’t think that anyone can argue that this thing wasn’t looked at under a microscope and carefully done,” he said of the electoral process.
Elrich will face Reardon Sullivan, former chair of the county’s Republican Central Committee, this November. Devin Battley had previously considered running for the Democratic primary, but later filed his intent to run as a Green Party candidate for the seat.
On Monday, Battley said he wouldn’t be on the general election ballot in November as he didn’t get the nomination from Green Party leadership in the county and state.
With Democrats outnumbering Republicans by about 4 to 1 in voter registration in the county, Elrich would be the favorite to win the general election.
This year, in the Democratic primary, Elrich ultimately triumphed by 32 votes after a recount. Elrich received 55,504 votes to Blair’s 55,472.
Elrich said he wished he had done a better job of marketing the county’s successes, and believes that Blair’s advertising campaign in the final weeks before Election Day attacking his positions was probably what made the difference in the final results, and the lack of a larger margin of victory.
“For whatever reason, [with] the lack of the press in this county … I’m not quite sure what you do to try to do a more robust job of getting information out, and we had a good story to tell,” Elrich said. “And if you look at the polls going into four weeks before Election Day, I would have won by a whole lot more.”
Elrich won the July 19 primary by 35 votes after it took county election workers weeks to count more than 75,000 mail-in ballots and more than 7,000 provisional ballots.
Initially it appeared that Elrich had won by 42 votes. Then, a day before the election results were to be certified by the county Board of Elections, election workers found 102 additional provisional ballots and Elrich’s lead decreased to 35 votes after the canvassing of those ballots.
During the recount, election workers manually recounted more than 140,000 ballots in a gymnasium at the Germantown Community Center, a process that took four days. Election workers then spent a fifth and sixth day completing an audit of more than 75,000 mail-in ballots, a process they had also done for all other ballots.
The recount included more than 150 ballots that were referred to the elections board for review.
Neither Elrich or Blair appeared for the recount in Germantown, but a mini-army of campaign staffers and volunteers for each candidate observed the process, challenging decisions about ballots by the elections board with which they disagreed.
Kevin Karpinski, the board’s attorney, said the elections board’s decisions about challenged ballots stand, but the challenges serve as documentation in case either campaign chose to legally contest the decisions in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
After the recount, Elrich’s lead decreased to 32 votes. Board of Elections staff tabulated and audited the recount as different types of ballots were counted and reviewed: early voting, Election Day, provisional and mail-in.
The Democratic county executive race included two other candidates, County Council Member Hans Riemer and Peter James, a tech CEO, who finished in third and fourth place, respectively. Riemer conceded a day after Election Day, and finished with just under 20% of the vote. James received under 2% of the vote.
Elrich’s campaign highlighted his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, along with work on addressing climate change and investments in public education as some major successes of his first term.
Blair, a former executive in the health care industry, said that the county needed to do better in terms of economic development, housing and other similar issues. He pointed to a lack of business growth and loss of potential tax revenue multiple times on the campaign trail.
Elrich used the county’s public campaign financing system, while Blair self-funded his campaign, as he did in 2018. Blair spent more than $5 million of his own money in his initial race for county executive. In 2022, campaign finance reports showed that he had spent nearly as much in personal funds leading into the final weeks before Election Day.
Elrich said Wednesday that he believed this difference in fundraising sources helped his campaign. But Blair disagreed with critics who said spending millions of dollars on a campaign was a disqualifer for a candidate.
“I think it’s unfair. I don’t think that someone should be judged whether they can run or not run, based on how much money they have in their checking account,” Blair said. “I don’t know if that should ever be a requirement or a detriment … . I think people should be judged based on their experience and their vision, and their communication skills and leadership ability.”
Leading up to the recount, Elrich had been touring the county, attending various events and saying he remained confident that the election results would hold. In 2018, a partial recount resulted in Elrich’s lead shrinking by two votes, resulting in a win by just 77 votes.
He’s said he’s proud of his record during his first term in the county’s top political office — and that he hasn’t been concerned that more than half of the voters in the race chose a different candidate.
When asked about running in 2026, given the last two election cycles, Blair said he was focused on winding down the campaign and how to help community leaders.
“Forget about four years from now, I haven’t thought about next month,” Blair said.
Elrich said he wasn’t thinking about 2026 either, but focusing rather on the November general election and the next four years if he is elected.
“I’m thinking about getting stuff done, and seeing where I am in four years, and seeing where the county is in four years … my future is my job,” Elrich said.