By Bob Benenson, CQ-Roll Call Senior Elections Analyst
April 17, 2010, 1 a.m.
Maryland Republican Brian Murphy, a young-looking 32 years old, was an executive for Constellation Energy Group before starting a firm that invests in small start-ups. He thinks his business experience and his fiscally conservative agenda make him qualified to be governor of Maryland at a time when the state's budget is under stress.
All Murphy needs to do to win the state's top job is defeat former Gov. Bob Ehrlich in the Sept. 14 Republican primary, and then turn around in the general election seven weeks later and oust Democratic incumbent Martin O'Malley, who unseated Ehrlich in 2006.
What's a smart guy like Murphy -- a first-time candidate for any office -- doing in a race like this?
The same could be asked about attorney Patrick Miles, a Democrat running for the open 3rd District House seat in Michigan. Miles, a 42-year-old political newcomer, is a local kid who returned to the Grand Rapids area after graduating from Harvard Law School. He is a civic activist and a college trustee.
All Miles needs to do to get to Congress - as a Democrat running in what nationally looks like a strong Republican year - is win a seat in a traditional Republican stronghold, where retiring Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers dominated his nine House contests, and where Gerald R. Ford built the political career that sent him to the White House.
Both Murphy and Miles, though of opposite parties, see 2010 as an opportune time for rookies to take a stab at beating the odds.
For Miles, who positions himself as a centrist Democrat, the opportunity is a combination of Ehlers' decision to step aside and what he perceives as a desire by the public for new ideas. "I've been asked to run for this seat before several times. It was never the right time, and of course was never an open seat," Miles said in a phone interview. "Now it's an open seat and it's a good time in my career. And, frankly, I'm also not real happy with the way things are not working in Washington. They're not solving problems."
Miles, who supported and raised money for the 2008 presidential campaign waged by Democrat Barack Obama, said, "Everyone assumes this is a rock-solid Republican seat and it's not."
(Obama virtually tied Republican nominee John McCain in Michigan's 3rd, though the district in 2004 went for Republican incumbent George W. Bush by a 19-point margin).
"There's a lot of ticket-splitting, a lot of independents, a lot of moderates, and people are looking at the candidate and not the party label," said Miles. "That's why we think this is a winnable seat and I'll have that appeal to those types of voters who are looking for an independent-thinking person."
Murphy, a conservative Republican, faces an even higher hurdle, as Maryland is colored a deep Democratic blue on political maps. Obama carried the state with 62 percent of the vote. The Democrats hold both U.S. Senate seats, seven of the eight House seats, and lopsided majorities in both state legislative chambers. Ehrlich's 2002 win for governor was the first and only for Maryland Republicans since 1966.
During an interview at a coffee shop near his home in a Maryland suburb of Washington, Murphy said he is striking while his message of leaner government and free-market growth is hot.