District 18 Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher and challenger Max Socol Credit: File photo

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:10 p.m. July 20 to includes updates on other competitive General Assembly races.

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher of Kensington has apparently beaten back a left-wing challenge from community organizer Max Socol of Silver Spring in what became Montgomery County’s highest-profile – and perhaps nastiest — state legislative primary this year.

With early voting results and all but one precinct from District 18 tallied, Waldstreicher led Socol by 62.7 % to 37.3%, with 6,332 votes to Socol’s 3,765 in the Democratic primary. While a significant volume of mail-in ballots throughout the county will not be tallied until Thursday, Waldstreicher holds a lead unlikely to be overcome. The Washington Post called Waldstreicher as winning the race on its website early Thursday.

Waldstreicher will face Republican Missy Carr in November, but appears to have a second term in the Senate locked up in a district whose registration is overwhelmingly Democratic. Waldstreicher served three terms in the House of Delegate from District 18 before moving to the Senate in 2018.

After announcing his challenge to Waldstreicher last fall, Socol raised more than $200,000 in the ensuing months – a hefty amount for a non-incumbent. But Waldstreicher, after years of fundraising, had accumulated a campaign treasury of $430,000 by the beginning of 2022. He spent nearly $300,000 of that over the next six months to preserve his seat, even as he sought to largely ignore Socol – declining on several occasions to respond to invitations to appear jointly with his challenger.

Socol, who had the backing of the Democratic Socialists of America and Progressive Maryland, also picked up the endorsements of the political arm of CASA, an immigrant advocacy group, as well as Pro-Choice Maryland. But Waldstreicher held on to the backing of a number of high-profile labor unions in the county and state, as well as a couple of leading environmental groups.

Socol’s entry into the race was prompted in large part by complaints from progressive groups that Waldstreicher, as vice chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, had helped to water down the Maryland Police Accountability Act during the 2021 session of the General Assembly. Socol, while hitting Waldstreicher on that issue, also vowed that, if elected, he would push for a host of progressive policies — ranging from rent stabilization to universal health care.

Waldstreicher, while generally seeking to avoid responding directly to Socol’s criticisms, said he was proud of the 2021 police reform package, which restricts “no-knock” warrants and rolled back the state’s law enforcement bill of rights. Waldstreicher also sought to burnish his progressive credentials by pointing to his work on legislation to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions and to ban so-called “ghost guns” during the 2022 legislative session.

Controversy erupted during the closing weeks of the campaign when the Senate Democratic Caucus Committee – which consists of the 32 Democrats in the Maryland Senate – mailed out a couple of flyers to District 18 Democratic voters attacking Socol.

One took aim at a 2019 Twitter post sent out by Socol in which he declared, “A vote for Joe Biden is a vote to kill working people.” Also featured on the flyer were two other tweets in which Socol employed profanity.

In response, the Montgomery County Women’s Democratic Club wrote to Senate President Bill Ferguson asking him and other caucus members to renounce the use of such tactics by Democrats against other Democrats. For his part, Socol acknowledged his campaign had mailed flyers to voters attacking Waldstreicher’s record — but defended these as highlighting what he termed stark differences between himself and the incumbent on policy issues.

In other competitive General Assembly races Tuesday:

District 15: The three incumbent delegates seeking renomination – Linda Foley, David Fraser-Hidalgo, and Lily Qi – appeared to be on their way to renomination against a challenge from former Del. Saqib Ali. With early voting and votes from 32 of 35 precincts on Primary Day tallied, the latest results showed Qi had 31.4% of the total votes cast (5,670) to 28.1% (5,079) for Foley and 26.7% (4,829) for Fraser-Hidalgo. Ali trailed with 13.7% (2,482).

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Ali’s campaign faced disclosures that his wife – who was seeking a divorce – had requested and been granted a protective order after alleging that he had abused her and the couple’s two teenage children. That led to a decision by Moms Demand Action, an organization advocating for an end to gun violence, to rescind the “gun sense candidate” label it had earlier bestowed on Ali.

District 17: With early voting and votes from 25 of 26 precincts on Primary Day counted, Del. Julie Palakovich Carr was the leading vote getter in the Democratic primary, with 30.9% of the total votes cast (4,713), followed by Del. Kumar Barve – the senior member of the Montgomery County legislative delegation – with 29.1% (4,449) and Joe Vogel, a former campaign aide to District 17 Sen. Cheryl Kagan, with 27.8% (4,248). Former foreign service officer Joe DeMaria trailed with 12.2% (1,857 votes).

DeMaria and Vogel were eyeing the nomination for the seat being vacated by retiring Del. Jim Gilchrist. But even before Gilchrist decided to retire, Kagan – who has had a tenuous relationship with Barve and Gilchrist – was working to recruit Vogel to run in the primary.

District 39: Veteran Sen. Nancy King, majority leader of the Maryland Senate, easily overcame a challenge from her left by political newcomer Adam Cunningham, winning 80% of the vote. But an effort by King and the two other incumbent District 39 legislators – Dels. Lesley Lopez and Kirill Reznik – to oust the remaining member of the delegation, Del. Gabriel Acevero, appeared to have fallen short.

While Lopez led the Democratic delegate primary with 29.1% (3,771 votes), Acevero – with whom the other incumbents have had a strained relationship over the past four years – was not far behind at 28.5% (3,686). Reznik was next with 24.1% (3,121). King, Lopez and Reznik had teamed with Clint Sobratti—a former board member of UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, the union representing a majority of Montgomery County government employees—in their effort to deny renomination to Acevero. But Sobratti trailed with 18.3% (2,370).

Louis Peck, a contributing editor for Bethesda Magazine, can be reached at: lou.peck@bethesdamagazine.com.