WASHINGTON – Even Democrats concede that Republican challenger Bob Duckworth has a chance to win Anne Arundel County in his race to unseat 3rd District Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore.
Duckworth is in his third term as Anne Arundel County Circuit Clerk, a job in which he estimates he has processed 3,000 adoptions and performed 4,000 civil weddings. Every one of those couples gets a card with Duckworth’s 10 tips to a “long married life.”
But the bad news for Duckworth is that Anne Arundel County voters only make up a little more than one-third of the 3rd District.
“It’s my prognostication that Cardin will win very comfortably, but it may be relatively close in Anne Arundel County . . . with the hometown boy running for Congress,” said Bill Burlison, a former chairman of the Anne Arundel Democratic Central Committee.
Cardin is expected to easily win Baltimore and Baltimore County — half the district — on his way to a 10th term in Congress. Republicans say Howard County could be competitive, even though the GOP is still heavily outnumbered there. But it only makes up 12 percent of the district.
“I have all the confidence that I can win the vote,” Cardin said. “I don’t really look at my opponent. I think the challenger is really myself — explaining my record to my constituents.”
But Duckworth is undaunted at the prospect of taking on Cardin, a former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates with politics in his blood: Cardin’s father and uncle both served in the state legislature.
“There’s nothing wrong with new blood,” Duckworth said.
Duckworth himself is not new to congressional campaigns. He was the Republican nominee in an unsuccessful 1990 bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen and he lost the 1992 Republican primary to Rep. Wayne Gilchrest.
But he won almost 80 percent of the vote in this year’s primary, after Maryland Delegate David Boschert, R-Anne Arundel, dropped out. Duckworth has not looked back since.
He said he has knocked on thousands of doors in more than 100 precincts throughout the district. The Crofton resident said many of the people he meets tell him they have never actually met Cardin, and that they are willing to consider the candidate, rather than the party.
Duckworth is campaigning on a platform of strong defense and homeland security, but he also favors tax cuts and said he would curb spending on social programs to balance the budget.
“I would slow down the growth of entitlement programs,” he said. “We can’t just let them run away like runaway horses.”
He wants to put a “put a bridle on the outrageous spending that’s going on.”
“The deficit, education, Social Security, Medicare — it’s almost like an orchestra,” Duckworth said. “You have all those pieces working together to have a symphony, not a cacophony . . . I would work to change the rules of the game so that that doesn’t happen.”
And he scorns Congress for allowing special interests to gain so much influence. “I would work at not being a pork-barrel junkie,” Duckworth said.
While Duckworth knocks on doors, Cardin has been airing television ads. His campaign staff said he plans to go door-knocking around the district on the last weekend before the election.
Cardin said he is treating this race like every other one he has run, stressing his record of pension reform, expanded health care coverage for seniors and veterans, support for children and Chesapeake Bay restoration.
“I’m particularly proud of the fact that I’ve been able to work across party lines to get things accomplished,” Cardin said.
His platform includes a pledge to rein in the budget while investing more in public education, veterans’ health care and homeland security and developing a prescription drug plan for Medicare.
“I think the greatest challenge will be to develop a budget that balances our books, and move forward on high-priority issues,” Cardin said.
He brings a long resume to the task: Cardin was elected to his first office in eighth grade at Garrison Junior High in Baltimore and he entered the Maryland House of Delegates while he was still a University of Maryland law student, serving the first of what would be five terms.
Elected to Congress in 1986, he routinely won more than 70 percent of the general election vote in his re-election bids until his last race, when he beat Republican Scott Conwell in the newly drawn 3rd District by a margin of 66-34 percent.
Conwell thinks Duckworth has a better chance to beat Cardin than he did, and not just in Anne Arundel.
“Howard County is getting more conservative than it was,” Conwell said. “The Baltimore City districts include areas which are starting to get more conservative — Federal Hill, Patterson Park and Fell’s Point.
“In Baltimore County, Cardin has had a lock on the Jewish vote, but I believe that a lot of those went for Gov. (Robert) Ehrlich in 2002. And I believe they do respect someone who’s strong on defense, and might vote Republican,” Conwell said.
The 2002 redistricting resulted in a 3rd District that “looks like a bug splattered on a windshield,” Duckworth said.
“There’s one place where you could be in three different districts within one block,” he said. “That’s not fair to the voters, and it doesn’t encourage voters.”
But he has had more time to campaign through the district than Conwell did in 2002, Conwell said, since the primary was held earlier this year, in March, because of the presidential primary.
The general election is a different story, however. Duckworth would have to clinch the Republican vote, which accounts for 30 percent of the district, and win enough unaffiliated and Democratic voters to put him over the top.
It is a tall order. Besides the Democratic lead in registered voters, Cardin reported to the Federal Election Commission on Oct. 15 that he had raised $766,709 in this election cycle, while Duckworth reported raising $139,625.
Green Party nominee Patsy Allen, a single working mother and engineer, has not raised the minimum $5,000 that would require her to file with the FEC.
“I don’t really aspire to raise a whole lot,” Allen said. She is relying on the Green Party for support — mainly to print literature — for her campaign, which calls for a living wage, nationalized health care and bringing the troops home from Iraq.
Given the competition, Mason-Dixon Political Media Research has not bothered to do any polls in the district “because Cardin’s going to win by a landslide,” spokesman Larry Harris said.
Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor, predicts a “lopsided” win for Cardin.
“Cardin is one of the members of Congress with the most seniority from Maryland, and he has very solid support and his name is recognized by all people in the district,” Crenson said.
Duckworth knows the odds, but says he is not shying away.
“Forcing an 18-year incumbent out is like doing the backstroke up a waterfall,” he said. “But I like the backstroke.”
-30- CNS 10-22-04