WASHINGTON – The 3rd District got more Republican voters in last year’s congressional redistricting. This week, it got more Republican candidates.
Anne Arundel Circuit Court Clerk Robert Duckworth officially announced his bid Tuesday for the GOP nomination to unseat nine-term Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore. He will face off in a March primary against state Delegate Dave Boschert, R-Anne Arundel, who has also filed for Cardin’s seat.
While the 3rd District became more competitive since the redistricting that left Cardin with more Republican voters, the GOP still has a formidable challenge: Cardin has more than $380,000 on hand for his campaign, according to his latest filing with the Federal Election Commission.
“There’s a long time between now and November (2004),” Cardin said Tuesday. “It will be a good campaign, and I look forward to it.”
Cardin also comes into the race with huge name recognition from his years in office, and analysts note that he has already survived one election in the newly drawn district when Republicans failed to capitalize on Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s coattails.
The time to beat Cardin would have been last year, said Thomas Schaller, political science professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. But Cardin won that race against unknown Republican challenger Scott Conwell with 66 percent of the vote. Since then, Cardin has had a chance to develop a reputation with his new constituents, Schaller said.
The district becomes competitive only if Duckworth gets very strong support from the new constituents in Anne Arundel County, Schaller said. Cardin won 54 percent of the Anne Arundel portion of the district in 2002.
Duckworth acknowledged the challenge of getting name recognition outside Anne Arundel County: The 3rd District also includes portions of Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties.
But Duckworth said that Anne Arundel County voters need someone to represent them. The county is currently divided between four congressmen, none of whom live in Anne Arundel. Cardin, whose district snakes through four jurisdictions, lives in Baltimore City.
Besides living in the county, Duckworth, 63, of Crofton, has won office there. He also ran for Congress, unsuccessfully, in 1990 against Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen in what was then the 4th District.
“We think he’s the strongest candidate,” said Eric Sutton, executive director of the Maryland GOP.
Boschert said he is not concerned that the party recruited Duckworth, saying his legislative experience makes him more qualified than Duckworth to challenge Cardin in the general election.
Duckworth, for his part, said he is not too worried about his primary opponent and is already looking to the general election.
Conwell said either GOP candidate will have the advantage of being better-known than he was when he challenged Cardin. They will also have more time between the primary and the general election, since primaries are held earlier in presidential election years.
“I think it is the best district Republicans have a chance of winning,” Conwell said.
Political analyst Blair Lee noted that “Anne Arundel is full of Democrats who are Republicans” — that is, old-line Democrats who have consistently voted for Republican representatives.
But Cardin also is a “well-liked, thoughtful, bright guy” on his way up in the leadership, Lee said. Cardin is on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and is the fifth-ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.
Democrats dismissed both candidates.
“Ben Cardin is going to win, no matter who’s going to come out of the Republican primary,” said Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.
Schaller predicted that Cardin will win comfortably, even though Duckworth is a strong candidate who could make Cardin’s win smaller than it has been in the past.
“Everything’s always been too easy for him,” Lee said. “He never really has had a hard race.”