WASHINGTON – Maryland Republicans are hoping to gain seats in the legislature come November, but the large number of routed Democratic incumbents in primary contests may hold little advantage for them, analysts say.
All 15 Democratic incumbents defeated in the Sept. 12 primary lost in “safe Democratic areas,” said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, D-Montgomery, a statement echoed by Republican leaders in the General Assembly.
Most of those Democrats also lost to more liberal candidates, a pattern reflecting a leftward shift in the Democratic Party that might alienate voters in more moderate areas of the state, political analyst Blair Lee said.
Democrats in more conservative southern and central Maryland districts may face some electoral trouble because “the party affiliation in Annapolis forces them to vote more liberal than their district,” said Lee, president of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring. “They have to vote their party instead of voting their district and they get crucified back home.”
The Republican Party’s nationwide shift to the right is out of line with the opinions of most Marylanders, countered Center for American Politics and Citizenship Director Paul S. Herrnson, who also teaches government and politics at the University of Maryland.
Despite that shift, Herrnson said the GOP could pick up districts in some areas of the state, but he declined to predict whether Republicans would gain or lose representation next year.
“In recent years, the Republicans have become much more competitive,” he said. “They’ve demonstrated that when they put forward an attractive candidate and Democrats put forward an unattractive one, that they can win.”
Democrats have long been the majority party in both houses of the state legislature. In the House of Delegates, the ratio is 97 to 43, and in the Senate, it’s 33 to 14.
All told, Democrats lost 18 incumbents in the House and nine in the Senate, whether to retirement, a race for higher office or defeat in the primaries.
Republican legislative leaders don’t see a takeover come November’s elections, but their goal is to gain enough seats to stop Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s vetoes from being overridden.
That would require winning 14 more seats in the House and five in the Senate, Republicans said.
Voters might lean Republican this election for the very reason the party wants them to — so Ehrlich’s vetoes can be sustained, said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset.
Since Ehrlich took in office in 2003, the General Assembly has overridden 41 of his vetoes, the Department of Legislative Services reported. In high-profile cases, three of the bills passed over Ehrlich’s objection were struck down in court this year.
House Republicans have identified 20 districts as “winnable,” said Chief Deputy Minority Whip William J. Frank, primarily in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. But districts in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore are also in play. Although represented by Democrats, these districts strongly supported Ehrlich in the 2002 elections, said Frank, who represents Baltimore County.
That optimism is being fueled by campaign cash — the kind you only get with a Republican governor in office, top Republicans said.
Ehrlich and his administration “have all been terrific in helping us raise money,” Frank said. “For the first time in a generation, our legislative candidates are given the chance to compete effectively in many of the targeted districts throughout the state, and that’s pretty exciting.”
Also contributing to GOP confidence is the strength of the party’s candidates for governor, U.S. senator, attorney general and comptroller, said House Minority Leader George C. Edwards, R-Garrett.
“Sometimes you have coattails that bring other people in, sometimes you don’t,” Edwards said. “This is probably the strongest statewide ticket I’ve seen on the Republican side for a long time.”
Democrats are aware of the Republicans’ “targeted districts,” Majority Whip James E. DeGrange of Anne Arundel County said. The Democratic ticket is strong and organized enough so that Democrats, not Republicans, will gain a handful of seats in November, he said.
Lee said he doubted Republicans would meet their goal next year because of the difficulty of unseating an incumbent.
“Yes, you’re going to see some realigning,” he said. “Is it enough to give Republicans control or a fighting chance in Annapolis? That remains to be seen. And it’s certainly going to take more than a four-year cycle.” –