By Amy Dominello and Dan Odenwald
ANNAPOLIS – Democrats appear to have held onto their seats in the Maryland Senate and increased their majority in the House of Delegates – despite bipartisan predictions that Republicans would gain General Assembly seats in Tuesday’s elections.
Democrats picked up five to seven seats in the 141-member House, where Democrats now outnumber Republicans 100 to 41.
Democrats also appear to have held onto their 32-to-15 majority in the 47-member Senate.
But in both chambers, there were races in which very slim margins separated the candidates, leaving the possibility that absentee ballots expected to be counted Thursday could change the outcome.
House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, R- Howard and Montgomery counties, said the Democratic gains in Maryland mirrored those nationwide. “This is part of the national sweep,” he said.
“In 1994, we had a sweep, and we won some very difficult districts. That sweep was in the other direction this year,” Kittleman said.
Marcela Howell, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Democratic Party, attributed the party’s gains in the State House to grassroots efforts to get out the Democratic vote.
“The Democratic and independent voters in Maryland saw the state was doing well under Democratic leadership and wanted to keep it that way,” she said.
Kittleman added that strong minority turnout was key for the Democrats. “[First Lady] Hillary [Clinton], Jesse Jackson and the president did a good job turning out the minority vote,” he said. President Clinton came to Baltimore Sunday to help stir up Democratic enthusiasm for Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening and other members of the ticket.
Efforts by the Democrats to paint Maryland Republican candidates as extremists also may have hurt the GOP, key party leaders said. “Ads that portrayed [gubernatorial nominee Ellen R.] Sauerbrey as extreme right wing may have left an impression on voters,” said Jim Burton, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.
Unofficial state Senate returns from Tuesday night showed:
* Two state senators – one Democrat, one Republican – lost their seats. Sen. Edward Middlebrooks, R-Anne Arundel, and Sen. Donald C. Fry, D-Harford, were replaced by Democrat James E. DeGrange Sr., and Republican J. Robert Hooper, respectively.
* The race for the state Senate seat in Harford County’s District 34 is too close to call, and neither candidate has conceded a loss. Del. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford, leads Del. Mary Louise Preis, D-Harford, by 62 votes, and more than 1,300 absentee ballots remain to be counted.
If Jacobs wins, the Republicans will hold onto the seat now held by Sen. David R. Craig, R- Harford. Craig ran unsuccessfully for county executive. If Preis wins, the Democrats would pick up one seat in the Senate.
* Two Republicans ousted in the primary – Senate Minority Leader F. Vernon Boozer, R- Baltimore County, and Minority Whip John W. Derr, R-Frederick and Washington counties – will be replaced by Republicans. Republican Alexander X. Mooney, of Frederick, won Derr’s seat; Republican Andrew P. Harris, a physician from Cockeysville, won Boozer’s seat.
In the House, several incumbents lost their seats, including former House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole, a Democrat from Washington County. Poole, a lawyer from Hagerstown, lost his seat in District 2B to Republican Chris Shank, a 26-year- old political newcomer from Hagerstown. Four years ago, Poole barely hung on to the seat, besting the Republican challenger by only 76 votes.
In Montgomery County’s District 39, all three Republican seats will now be held by Democrats. Two Republican delegates – Del. Barrie S. Ciliberti of Montgomery Village and Mathew Mossburg of Laytonsville – lost their seats to Democrats. A third open seat was also picked up by a Democrat.
One of the Democrats, Paul Carlson, a management consultant for a youth leadership organization, attributed his win to voter turnout. “We were really successful in getting Democratic voters to the polls,” said Carlson, of Montgomery Village. “It may have been geared toward the governor’s race, but it affected all of us.” -30-