A Look at Maryland

Posted January 31, 2003 at 6:39pm

Was Republican Bob Ehrlich’s election as governor of Maryland last fall a fluke? Or was it a sign of a tectonic shift in the Free State’s political terrain after decades of Democratic domination? That is the question the state’s political parties must begin to answer as they prepare for the 2004 elections and beyond. [IMGCAP(1)]

Naturally, Republicans see Ehrlich’s victory in the most positive of terms and now talk openly of defeating Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), who was long considered invulnerable, next year.

“People want a two-party system,” said John Kane, chairman of the Maryland GOP.

David Paulson, communications director of the Maryland Democratic Party, is quick to disagree.

“I think Chairman Kane is saying what he has to say for the sake of public relations,” he said. “You can look across the landscape of Maryland, and they won one big race. Congratulations.”

Certainly the numbers — and history — continue to favor the Democrats.

Ehrlich, a four-term Congressman, was the first Republican to be elected governor since Spiro Agnew in 1966. The last Republican to win a statewide election in Maryland was the elder George Bush in 1988. The last Maryland Republican to win statewide was then-Sen. Charles Mathias in 1980.

Democrats have held two lesser statewide offices — attorney general and comptroller — for generations. They control two-thirds of the seats in the state Legislature. They hold six of the state’s “Big Seven” local executive posts. And, thanks in part to a redistricting plan engineered last year by former Gov. Parris Glendening (D) and the Legislature, Democrats captured two of the four House seats held by Republicans and now hold

a 6-2 advantage in the state delegation.

Still, Ehrlich’s defeat of then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) in November revealed some Democratic weak spots, not only in the rural areas where Republicans have traditionally been strong, but in the growing Baltimore suburbs.

Kane boldly predicts that the GOP in 2004 will be able to re-take Ehrlich’s old — though redrawn — Baltimore-area seat now held by freshman Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D). And he believes that his party has a chance to knock off Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who in November ended former Rep. Connie Morella’s (R) eight-term career representing Washington’s northern suburbs.

So far, however, no top-tier Republican candidates have emerged to challenge Mikulski, Ruppersberger or Van Hollen.

Kane said he has been talking to two prominent Democrats — former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry and another he would not identify — about switching parties to take on Mikulski. And some Republicans believe new Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R), who is boxer Mike Tyson’s ex-brother-in-law, would make an appealing contender for Senate or other statewide offices.

But if Curry and Steele — who are both black — are interested in taking on Mikulski, neither is saying.

“I just got into this job,” Steele told Roll Call last week.

Redistricting gave the Democrats tremendous advantages in Ruppersberger’s and Van Hollen’s districts — especially Van Hollen’s, which now has a 66 percent Democratic performance rate.

If there are any opportunities for Congressional wannabes in the near future, the two House seats likely to come open soonest happen to be the two at either end of the state — and the only two now held by Republicans.

In Western Maryland’s 6th district, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) is 76, and his seat is safe for as long as he wants it. But should Bartlett decide to retire, there will be a long line of candidates seeking to replace him, especially on the GOP side.

The Republican race could turn into a battle between the Congressman’s real son — state Del. Joe Bartlett, age 33 — and his spiritual son and former aide, state Sen. Alex Mooney, age 31.

Mooney, one of the most conservative politicians in Maryland, is a prodigious fundraiser known for colorful, apocalyptic direct-mail solicitations. He collected a record $859,000 for his tough re-election battle last year and would likely be the frontrunner in any GOP primary, on the basis of his fundraising prowess alone.

But other Republicans could also be in the mix, including Frederick County States Attorney Scott Rolle, who is itching to run for higher office, state Sens. Larry Haines and David Brinkley, former state Sen. Tim Ferguson, and Del. Carmen Amedori.

Any Democratic nominee would have to be considered the underdog in this heavily Republican district, but several Democrats could run for an open seat anyway. The list includes Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty, former state House Majority Leader Bruce Poole and former state Del. Sue Hecht.

Meanwhile, the 1st district House seat, now held by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R), could also become vacant before too long. While he never made a term-limit pledge, Gilchrest, 56, said he couldn’t imagine serving in Congress for more than 10 years when he was first elected in 1990; he’s been there for 13.

Gilchrest’s retirement could bring out many would-be Congressmen in this GOP-leaning district that includes the Eastern Shore and some Baltimore exurbs. Two Republican state Senators are the likeliest candidates: state Senate Minority Leader Lowell Stoltzfus, a cabbage farmer, and freshman Sen. E.J. Pipkin.

Pipkin, a wealthy financier who spent $567,000 of his own money last year to defeat an entrenched Senate committee chairman, shares Gilchrest’s moderate politics and strong environmental record — an asset on the Eastern Shore in a general election, but a possible hindrance in a Republican primary.

Another possible attractive candidate is Gilchrest Chief of Staff Tony Caligiuri, who, like his boss, drives to Capitol Hill from the Shore every day. Caligiuri, a moderate, broadened his horizons last year by serving as the highly regarded campaign manager for Morella’s ill-fated re-election bid.

The strongest potential Democratic candidate is probably Jim Mathias, the politically ambitious mayor of Ocean City, the popular resort town. While Mathias would be able to draw a decent amount of campaign cash from developers and the tourism industry, the Republican nominee would still have to be considered the favorite.

Beyond Congressional races, many Democrats are already focusing on the battle to win back the governor’s mansion in 2006. The two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination at this early stage already appear to be jockeying for advantage.

Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan comes from the Washington suburbs, which are gaining clout in state politics. But he is a New Democrat, and despite the fact that he is in his third term and is popular in the Washington region, he is not well-known in the rest of the state.

The other leading Democrat, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, is more progressive and has a star quality — he fronts his own rock band and is even mentioned occasionally as a vice presidential candidate for 2004. But O’Malley, who is white, may face a bloody, racially tinged battle for re-election in his majority-black city in 2003.

Insiders are already buzzing over the news that two operatives who have worked for both Duncan and O’Malley — national Democratic pollster Fred Yang and Colleen Martin-Lauer, Maryland’s leading Democratic fundraiser — have decided to drop Duncan as a client.

Whoever winds up the Democratic nominee will have to confront the knowledge that the last time an incumbent governor was denied a second term in Maryland was in 1950.

An equally interesting question is what will happen with the comptroller and attorney general positions in 2006. In most states, these second-tier statewide offices are used as stepping stones for ambitious pols. But in Maryland, they have become sinecures for old political warhorses, both of whom may be ready to step down.

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a former governor and mayor of Baltimore, will be 85 in 2006. Attorney General Joe Curran, O’Malley’s father-in-law, who is part of a Baltimore political dynasty, will be 75.

Maryland Democrats are under increasing pressure to groom and promote black candidates for high office, and these two statewide jobs could be an opportunity to do that.

Potential black candidates for these offices or lieutenant governor include Curry, former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, former Department of Public Safety Secretary Stuart Simms, Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah Leggett and Prince George’s County States Attorney Glenn Ivey.

Of the state’s two black Congressmen, Rep. Albert Wynn (D) is considered a possible candidate for Senate whenever Mikulski or Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) retire, and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) is frequently touted as a possible candidate for mayor of Baltimore.

Maryland Democrats also dream of enticing national NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, a former Baltimore Congressman, back into politics.

Naturally, Republicans see Ehrlich’s victory in the most positive of terms and now talk openly of defeating Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), who was long considered invulnerable, next year.

“People want a two-party system,” said John Kane, chairman of the Maryland GOP.

David Paulson, communications director of the Maryland Democratic Party, is quick to disagree.

“I think Chairman Kane is saying what he has to say for the sake of public relations,” he said. “You can look across the landscape of Maryland, and they won one big race. Congratulations.”

Certainly the numbers — and history — continue to favor the Democrats.

Ehrlich, a four-term Congressman, was the first Republican to be elected governor since Spiro Agnew in 1966. The last Republican to win a statewide election in Maryland was the elder George Bush in 1988. The last Maryland Republican to win statewide was then-Sen. Charles Mathias in 1980.

Democrats have held two lesser statewide offices — attorney general and comptroller — for generations. They control two-thirds of the seats in the state Legislature. They hold six of the state’s “Big Seven” local executive posts. And, thanks in part to a redistricting plan engineered last year by former Gov. Parris Glendening (D) and the Legislature, Democrats captured two of the four House seats held by Republicans and now hold

a 6-2 advantage in the state delegation.

Still, Ehrlich’s defeat of then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) in November revealed some Democratic weak spots, not only in the rural areas where Republicans have traditionally been strong, but in the growing Baltimore suburbs.

Kane boldly predicts that the GOP in 2004 will be able to re-take Ehrlich’s old — though redrawn — Baltimore-area seat now held by freshman Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D). And he believes that his party has a chance to knock off Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who in November ended former Rep. Connie Morella’s (R) eight-term career representing Washington’s northern suburbs.

So far, however, no top-tier Republican candidates have emerged to challenge Mikulski, Ruppersberger or Van Hollen.

Kane said he has been talking to two prominent Democrats — former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry and another he would not identify — about switching parties to take on Mikulski. And some Republicans believe new Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R), who is boxer Mike Tyson’s ex-brother-in-law, would make an appealing contender for Senate or other statewide offices.

But if Curry and Steele — who are both black — are interested in taking on Mikulski, neither is saying.

“I just got into this job,” Steele told Roll Call last week.

Redistricting gave the Democrats tremendous advantages in Ruppersberger’s and Van Hollen’s districts — especially Van Hollen’s, which now has a 66 percent Democratic performance rate.

If there are any opportunities for Congressional wannabes in the near future, the two House seats likely to come open soonest happen to be the two at either end of the state — and the only two now held by Republicans.

In Western Maryland’s 6th district, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) is 76, and his seat is safe for as long as he wants it. But should Bartlett decide to retire, there will be a long line of candidates seeking to replace him, especially on the GOP side.

The Republican race could turn into a battle between the Congressman’s real son — state Del. Joe Bartlett, age 33 — and his spiritual son and former aide, state Sen. Alex Mooney, age 31.

Mooney, one of the most conservative politicians in Maryland, is a prodigious fundraiser known for colorful, apocalyptic direct-mail solicitations. He collected a record $859,000 for his tough re-election battle last year and would likely be the frontrunner in any GOP primary, on the basis of his fundraising prowess alone.

But other Republicans could also be in the mix, including Frederick County States Attorney Scott Rolle, who is itching to run for higher office, state Sens. Larry Haines and David Brinkley, former state Sen. Tim Ferguson, and Del. Carmen Amedori.

Any Democratic nominee would have to be considered the underdog in this heavily Republican district, but several Democrats could run for an open seat anyway. The list includes Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty, former state House Majority Leader Bruce Poole and former state Del. Sue Hecht.

Meanwhile, the 1st district House seat, now held by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R), could also become vacant before too long. While he never made a term-limit pledge, Gilchrest, 56, said he couldn’t imagine serving in Congress for more than 10 years when he was first elected in 1990; he’s been there for 13.

Gilchrest’s retirement could bring out many would-be Congressmen in this GOP-leaning district that includes the Eastern Shore and some Baltimore exurbs. Two Republican state Senators are the likeliest candidates: state Senate Minority Leader Lowell Stoltzfus, a cabbage farmer, and freshman Sen. E.J. Pipkin.

Pipkin, a wealthy financier who spent $567,000 of his own money last year to defeat an entrenched Senate committee chairman, shares Gilchrest’s moderate politics and strong environmental record — an asset on the Eastern Shore in a general election, but a possible hindrance in a Republican primary.

Another possible attractive candidate is Gilchrest Chief of Staff Tony Caligiuri, who, like his boss, drives to Capitol Hill from the Shore every day. Caligiuri, a moderate, broadened his horizons last year by serving as the highly regarded campaign manager for Morella’s ill-fated re-election bid.

The strongest potential Democratic candidate is probably Jim Mathias, the politically ambitious mayor of Ocean City, the popular resort town. While Mathias would be able to draw a decent amount of campaign cash from developers and the tourism industry, the Republican nominee would still have to be considered the favorite.

Beyond Congressional races, many Democrats are already focusing on the battle to win back the governor’s mansion in 2006. The two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination at this early stage already appear to be jockeying for advantage.

Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan comes from the Washington suburbs, which are gaining clout in state politics. But he is a New Democrat, and despite the fact that he is in his third term and is popular in the Washington region, he is not well-known in the rest of the state.

The other leading Democrat, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, is more progressive and has a star quality — he fronts his own rock band and is even mentioned occasionally as a vice presidential candidate for 2004. But O’Malley, who is white, may face a bloody, racially tinged battle for re-election in his majority-black city in 2003.

Insiders are already buzzing over the news that two operatives who have worked for both Duncan and O’Malley — national Democratic pollster Fred Yang and Colleen Martin-Lauer, Maryland’s leading Democratic fundraiser — have decided to drop Duncan as a client.

Whoever winds up the Democratic nominee will have to confront the knowledge that the last time an incumbent governor was denied a second term in Maryland was in 1950.

An equally interesting question is what will happen with the comptroller and attorney general positions in 2006. In most states, these second-tier statewide offices are used as stepping stones for ambitious pols. But in Maryland, they have become sinecures for old political warhorses, both of whom may be ready to step down.

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a former governor and mayor of Baltimore, will be 85 in 2006. Attorney General Joe Curran, O’Malley’s father-in-law, who is part of a Baltimore political dynasty, will be 75.

Maryland Democrats are under increasing pressure to groom and promote black candidates for high office, and these two statewide jobs could be an opportunity to do that.

Potential black candidates for these offices or lieutenant governor include Curry, former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, former Department of Public Safety Secretary Stuart Simms, Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah Leggett and Prince George’s County States Attorney Glenn Ivey.

Of the state’s two black Congressmen, Rep. Albert Wynn (D) is considered a possible candidate for Senate whenever Mikulski or Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) retire, and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) is frequently touted as a possible candidate for mayor of Baltimore.

Maryland Democrats also dream of enticing national NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, a former Baltimore Congressman, back into politics.