By Kelley Benham and Candia Dames
Democrats would gain an edge under a new congressional district map unveiled Thursday by Gov. Parris Glendening, potentially picking up two seats if historic voting patterns continue.
“This would be more reflective of Maryland’s Democratic voting patterns,” said Glendening spokesman Mike Morrill. “Each race has its own dynamics, though.”
The state’s eight House seats are currently divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
A five-member commission approved the plan 4-1 Wednesday and sent it to Glendening, who has asked the state’s congressmen for comment by early next week. He could send a final proposal to the General Assembly for approval as early as the end of next week.
The proposed map redraws 1st District boundaries to include Republican Reps. Robert Ehrlich of Timonium and Wayne Gilchrest of Kennedyville. That leaves Ehrlich’s 2nd District seat open and shifts the district Democratic, making it easier for term-limited Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger to take the open seat.
Ehrlich could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. An aide said Gilchrest would not comment until he has had a chance to study the plan.
The new map also splits the Montgomery County base of Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, between three districts. Her 8th District would be pushed toward the bottom of the county, while upcounty Montgomery would be divided between the 4th and 6th districts.
An aide said Morella was disappointed that the county was split in three.
“She wanted to keep Montgomery County as whole and intact as possible so its power and influence was not diluted,” Jonathan Dean said. “It’s pretty clear the intent was to increase the number of Democrats in her district.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper Taylor both said Thursday that the redistricting would make it harder for Morella to hold her seat.
But Morella is confident her record of support for issues that Montgomery and Prince George’s County residents care about will ensure her success in the new 8th district, Dean said. The current district leans Democratic, but Morella has held the seat since 1987, winning her last election with 52 percent of the vote.
Dean also noted that the current plan would force Morella’s challengers into a long and expensive primary campaign. Miller wanted to split the district so that Delegate Mark Shriver and Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., both Montgomery Democrats, could run in separate districts. The plan released Thursday keeps Shriver and Van Hollen in the same district.
Other Democrats were expressing concerns about the plan Thursday. Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, said he has “grave concerns” about changes to his 3rd District, currently a horseshoe-shaped district that would be stretched to the point of breaking in northwest Baltimore. Cardin’s district would also sag southward, gaining voters in northern Anne Arundel County and western Howard County.
Cardin estimated the plan would change more than 60 percent of his district. “It appears that this is the highest percentage change for any incumbent member of Congress in the nation,” he said in a prepared statement.
“I will be working aggressively for modification that will help preserve consistent representation for neighborhoods and constituencies within the 3rd Congressional District,” Cardin said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, saw his conservative Western Maryland district become even more conservative under the plan. The new 6th District adds the northern halves of Baltimore and Harford counties, as well as scraps of northern Montgomery and Howard counties, while losing a good chunk of generally liberal Howard County.
“Under the proposed map, it will be a welcome back for some residents of northern Montgomery County who were part of the 6th District in the 1980s,” Bartlett said.
The 4th District, represented by Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, will stretch into northern Montgomery County, weakening but retaining an African-American majority. The 7th District, held by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, retains its Baltimore base, but swings its western arm down from Baltimore County and into Howard. The 5th District of Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, changed little.
Cummings, Hoyer and Wynn were unavailable for comment Thursday.
Maryland’s population in the 2000 Census was 5,296,486, making the ideal congressional district population is 662,061.
Taylor has said that significant changes are unlikely once the plan is submitted to the General Assembly.