Dozen Ambitious Pols Waiting on Van Hollen

Posted February 26, 2007 at 5:58pm

Two thousand and six was a watershed election year in Maryland, a once-in-a-generation event.

Not only did Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) retire after a record-shattering five terms, but two other statewide officeholders with a combined century of public service departed — one voluntarily, the other by losing a Democratic primary. On top of that, the state’s first Republican governor in more than three decades was ousted in his bid for a second term. All the changes at the top of the ticket obviously meant plenty of movement farther down the ballot. [IMGCAP(1)]

It also was a very good year generally for Free State Democrats, who now hold all statewide offices, in addition to a 33-14 edge in the state Senate and a 104-37 advantage in the House of Delegates. Democrats also control five of the executive seats in the state’s seven biggest jurisdictions.

Still, sweeping as the election was, it could have been even more dramatic.

When Sarbanes first disclosed his retirement plans in March 2005, five of the state’s six Democratic Congressmen announced that they were seriously considering entering the race to replace him. In the end, only one of them ran — then-Rep. Benjamin Cardin, who wound up winning. But imagine how much turnover there would have been, at all levels of government, if other House Members also had joined the Senate race.

Instead, imagining is what many would-be Maryland Congressmen will be stuck doing for the foreseeable future. The state’s eight House Members don’t seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere — even 80-year-old Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) — and there are few other openings for ambitious pols to aim for.

One tantalizing prize on the horizon is the seat now held by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D). Conventional wisdom says that Mikulski will seek a fifth term in 2010, when she will be 74. But if she doesn’t, there could be another crowded Democratic primary to replace her.

Just as they seriously pondered a bid for Sarbanes’ seat, Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, Chris Van Hollen and Albert Wynn likely would take a close look at Mikulski’s seat if it’s open. Van Hollen, who came closest of that quartet to running in 2006, could be at the front of the line in 2010.

Add to that list Sarbanes’ son, freshman Rep. John Sarbanes (D), who was elected in November to replace Cardin in

the House. Sarbanes’ Baltimore-area 3rd district seat has produced the state’s past three Senators: the elder Sarbanes; Mikulski, who replaced him in the House; and Cardin, who replaced Mikulski in the House.

Other possible Democratic Senate contenders include three new statewide elected officials: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, state Attorney General Douglas Gansler and state Comptroller Peter Franchot; Terry Lierman, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, who is personally wealthy; and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey.

Republicans, if there’s a Senate vacancy, likely would turn first to a couple of old hands, both of whom lost key races in 2006: former Gov. Bob Ehrlich and former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who lost to Cardin in the Senate race. Both are staying active politically: Ehrlich announced last week that he is opening a political communications and government affairs shop in Baltimore, and Steele recently became chairman of GOPAC, a national Republican political action committee.

But both have expressed skepticism about the GOP’s ability to make major inroads in Maryland — and about whether they want to return to the electoral arena themselves. If neither of them ran, Republicans might turn to Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, whose relentless door-to-door campaigning has served him well in local races.

Whenever Bartlett decides to retire, several Republicans are certain to gun for his seat. The Congressman would no doubt like to hand the job over to his son, state Del. Joseph Bartlett (R), but state Sen. Alex Mooney (R), a headline-grabbing conservative leader with a vigorous fundraising apparatus, could have the upper hand. State Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley (R) — no relation to the late broadcaster of the same name — also would take a look at an open-seat race, as would former Frederick County State’s Attorney Scott Rolle (R), who unsuccessfully challenged the elder Bartlett in the 2004 Congressional primary and lost a bid for attorney general last year.

Although the Western Maryland district gave President Bush a 30-point victory over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 White House election, Democrats might try to contest the seat if it is open. Possible candidates include Andrew Duck, an Iraq War veteran and the 2006 nominee, state Del. Sue Hecht, and former state House Majority Leader Bruce Poole.

On the opposite end of Maryland, the state’s other Republican-held House seat, occupied since 1991 by moderate GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, is an object of desire of both Democrats and conservative Republicans. State Sen. Andrew Harris is pondering challenging the 60-year-old Congressman from the right in the March 2008 GOP primary, and almost certainly would run for the seat if it becomes open.

Other possible candidates in an open-seat scenario include state Sens. Richard Colburn (R) and E.J. Pipkin (R), Dels. Jeannie Haddaway (R) and James Mathias (D), and Queen Anne County Commissioner Gene Ransom III (D).

Other Maryland Members’ districts are well-stocked with ambitious wannabes — particularly Van Hollen’s. As Van Hollen flirted with a Senate run in 2005, almost a dozen Democrats began mobilizing to one degree or another to run for the Washington, D.C.-area seat. The list of potential candidates includes: Lierman, the state Democratic chairman; Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews; state House Majority Leader Kumar Barve; Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner; state Sen. Brian Frosh; state Sen. Rob Garagiola; state Del. Heather Mizeur; People for the American Way President Ralph Neas; state Labor Secretary Tom Perez; state Sen. Jamie Raskin; former state Del. Mark Shriver; and Democratic National Committee Vice Chairwoman Susan Turnbull.

Wynn had a scare last year in the adjoining 4th district, barely winning in the Democratic primary over lawyer and community activist Donna Edwards. Edwards is likely to try again in 2008, and other Democrats also are sniffing around the seat, including Ivey, Prince George’s County Councilman David Harrington, and state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a local minister with a sizable congregation.

The leading potential contenders should there be a vacancy in the state’s other majority-black Congressional district, Cummings’ Baltimore-based 7th district, include state Sen. Lisa Gladden (D); state Del. Talmadge Branch (D); and Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell (D), should he fall short in his bid for mayor this year.

Figuring out who would run if there were openings in Ruppersberger’s 2nd district or John Sarbanes’ 3rd district is almost impossible: Both of those districts are based in Baltimore County, but that county is now divided into a mind-numbing five of the state’s eight Congressional districts.

That situation could be rectified in the next round of redistricting. Or, politicians who live in the county easily could hopscotch from one district to another depending on where the political openings are.

For example, when Cardin decided to run for the Senate, one of the potential candidates to replace him in the 3rd district was his nephew, state Del. Jon Cardin (D). The younger Cardin actually lives in Gilchrest’s 1st district, but by his own account, his home is less than 100 yards from both the 2nd and 3rd districts. He wound up not running for the Congressional seat in 2006 but would have had a reasonable claim on it, despite not living there.

And what of the 5th district seat now held by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D)? Being Majority Leader probably is the culmination of Hoyer’s long career, and though he is 67 he isn’t likely to be going anywhere soon.

But the district as currently drawn presents challenges for anyone who would try to succeed him. Half of it is in suburban Prince George’s County and takes in some liberal — and heavily minority — territory. The other half is in more rural and conservative Southern Maryland. So it is entirely likely that a Democratic primary fight to succeed Hoyer would include candidates from the district’s two distinct areas.

The leading contender from Southern Maryland probably is state Del. John Bohanan, who runs Hoyer’s Southern district office and is the brother-in-law of state Sen. Roy Dyson, a former Congressman. Potential Prince George’s candidates include state Sens. James Rosapepe and Douglas Peters, state Del. Justin Ross, and former County Executive Wayne Curry.