WASHINGTON – Maryland’s congressional delegation was shifted to the back bench in Tuesday’s elections, which saw the state sending more Democrats to Washington while the nation was handing control of the House and Senate to the GOP.
The shift cost the state a powerful Senate committee chairmanship, among other things. But political experts say the state still may not have lost much national influence.
“The combination of powerful committee assignments and the fact that the governor-elect has a relationship with the president means Maryland will probably do fine,” said Jonathan Allen, a political reporter for Congressional Quarterly.
As the first Republican governor in Maryland in 36 years, Gov.-elect Robert Ehrlich has the ear of both the Bush administration and his former House colleagues, and will be able to use it to win money for the state, political analysts said.
“The election was a groundswell, and we hope to tap into that not only in Annapolis but in Washington,” said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell, who added Ehrlich’s top priorities for federal funding would be transportation, education and health.
Ehrlich will be helped by his friendships with the president and with legislators like House Education and Workforce Committee Chair John Boehner, R- Ohio, and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
“If (Ehrlich) came calling to the capital, I’m sure he would get a good reception,” said Derek Willis, a reporter for Congressional Quarterly.
Ehrlich’s successor might not be as lucky.
Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, won Ehrlich’s old 2nd District, which had been in Republican hands for two decades. And Democrat Chris Van Hollen unseated eight-term Republican Rep. Connie Morella in the 8th District.
Maryland’s House delegation, which had been split evenly, now has six Democrats and four Republicans.
The freshmen Democrats might find slim pickings once they get to the House, though.
“Neither Chris Van Hollen nor Dutch Ruppersberger will be bringing much pork back to Maryland,” said Montgomery Journal columnist Blair Lee. “We are going to be back benchers . . . pretty much excluded from the halls of power.”
Laura Van Tosh, a Democratic activist in Montgomery County, worries that the candidates will not be able to deliver on campaign promises.
“They had bold ideas that were palatable to the public, but I don’t know how realistic they were going to be,” she said. “It’s difficult to know if there’s going to be a benefit when the sea (in the House) is so much deeper and bigger.”
But bigger changes are taking place in the Senate, where Republicans have wrested the majority from the Democrats, and taken committee chairmanships with them, said Allen.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., who co-sponsored this year’s corporate responsibility act, will no longer chair the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., will have to give up her chairmanship of the appropriations subcommittee for veterans affairs and housing.
But both Mikulski and Sarbanes will be ranking minority members of their committees, Allen said. And Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, retains a seat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Another potential windfall for Maryland is the race for House minority leader. If current Democratic whip Nancy Pelosi moves up to the job, Hoyer has a good shot at whip, which would make him the No. 2 Democrat in the House.
“If there’s a lot of horse trading, (Hoyer) would definitely be able to make a case for steering money to Maryland,” Willis said.
But Allen said it’s almost impossible at this point to put a money value on the shift in power.
“I’m not so sure how much things are going to change,” Allen said. “To some extent, that remains to be seen.”