The simple answer, of course, is that Marc Elrich ran as a Democrat in a heavily Democratic Party-majority county. The informal two-party system makes it tough for fringe candidates to run as third-party tickets or as independents, so the Democratic Party is infested with communists, Marxists, and socialists–just like the Republican Party is infested with fascists, isolationists, and the religious-orthodox. Usually, most of these fringe players live out their political lives in the local scene, scratching for seats in small jurisdictions and leveraging their brand of partisan politics at the county council level. Sometimes, however, thinly voted primaries in one-party jurisdictions can yield some wacky results.
Elrich, despite only garnering 6% of the vote, earned the Democratic Party nomination for county executive for Montgomery County, Maryland. Given that Elrich’s Republican Party opponent in November is the thoroughly despised Robin Ficker (who is apposed to high taxes and big government), it seems like a cinch that even a candidate that is so far left politically that the Washington Post is looking on in dismay should be able to win the general election.
Is Elrich a Bernie Sanders Democrat? Not really. Even Sanders didn’t seek donations from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to fund socialist programs in the US, something that Elrich did much to the embarrassment of the county Democratic Party. Elrich does hail from Takoma Park, a city that is sort of the San Francisco of Montgomery County, but it is hardly the bulwark of practical liberalism that one finds in Sanders’ Burlington, Vermont domain.
In Maryland a county executive seat or city mayorship is often seen as a stepping stone to the Governor’s mansion, particularly in the Democratic Party. The last three Demcratic governors–former US presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, Parris Glendening, and William Donald Schaefer–all followed this path to power. So Elrich’s advancement in the electoral process could be viewed as alarming, particularly given President Donald Trump’s unenviable ability to enrage and mobilize the left like no other. So while it is true that Montgomery County’s executive has never gained the governor’s mansion, it seems like the time is ripe for a try.
Elrich isn’t in office yet, so he is vulnerable to a Democratic running as an independent against him. The powerful local teacher’s union will probably be able to prevent this from damaging Elrich’s chances, but long-time Democratic at-large councilwoman Nancy Floreen is going to give a go. And who knows–maybe Ficker will be able to seize the day by running on a more populist message.
November 29th 2018 update: Elrich handily won the election in spite of the fact that independent Nancy Floreen received the Washington Post’s endorsement. Hold onto your hats–it is going to be quite a ride.