In a close race, Paul H. Rappaport, a familiar candidate and former law enforcement officer, took the Republican nomination yesterday to challenge Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in November.
Sarbanes, 67, easily defeated token opposition to run in the general election for a fifth six-year term, which would be a state record.
All eight House members -- four Democrats, four Republicans -- are up for re-election and were easily renominated. Five faced no primary opposition.
"It's a pro-incumbent economy," said 2nd District Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican. "To my mind, that is the dominant factor. When you've got a good economy, name recognition, money in the bank, and you're generally in agreement within your district -- it's tough to beat an incumbent."
With 100 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Rappaport, who has twice run unsuccessfully for statewide office, captured 23 percent of the vote in the Republican primary.
Rappaport, 65, is a lawyer and former Howard County police chief who lost races as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 1994 and for attorney general in 1998. But yesterday, his name recognition and support from many prominent Republicans appeared to have helped him best a field of eight candidates.
"We're now going to start zero-ing in on our stealth senator," Rappaport said late last night. "Hopefully we'll have a two-party system in Maryland after all."
Among his rivals were Ross Z. Pierpont, 82, a retired surgeon from Baltimore County and a perennial GOP candidate; and Rob Sobhani, 40, a Montgomery County consultant who helps U.S. firms win contracts in former Soviet republics. Pierpont and Sobhani each took 17 percent of the vote. Former state Del. Robin Ficker of Montgomery County, noted for his courtside heckling at old Washington Bullets games, took 15 percent.
Sarbanes, who defeated two Montgomery County retirees in the Democratic primary, reveled at an Inner Harbor victory party with Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore County.
"I am very appreciative of this strong vote of confidence which Maryland Democrats have given me in choosing me to be in the U.S. Senate again," Sarbanes said last night. "I look forward to the fall."
Rappaport will be unlikely to match Sarbanes' deep pockets: The senator, the senior Democrat on the banking committee, has reported raising more than $1 million and is likely to raise another $2 million before the general election.
The absence of more prominent Republicans, such as Ehrlich, from the Senate primary race demonstrates Sarbanes' perceived strength, despite persistent carping by the GOP that he has become lethargic in office.
The lack of stature of the Republican challengers is also telling. As the GOP nominee two years ago, Pierpont called for a Swedish-style socialized health care system and was drubbed by Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
Despite some inroads in voter registration by Republicans, Maryland remains one of the country's most reliably Democratic states.
"I know Sarbanes and all the other Democrats pretty much have it locked up in Maryland," said Joe Craig, a despondent Republican interviewed after voting last night in Federal Hill. "People just seem to go down the line and vote for the Democrats."
The apparent predictability of this year's races is likely to be reversed in two years, after the state's congressional districts are redrawn. Gov. Parris N. Glendening and other Democratic leaders have privately talked of altering the districts to favor Democrats. They contend the state's four-four split in the House does not fairly represent the state's liberal partisan tilt toward Democrats.
That dynamic might stir current lawmakers to leave their posts. Ehrlich is gearing up for a possible gubernatorial run in 2002, and some in Montgomery County political circles are speculating that this race may prove to be the valedictory effort of 8th District GOP Rep. Constance A. Morella, 69.
In the 1st District, Del. Bennett Bozman, a conservative Democrat, won his party's nomination to run against Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican.
In the 2nd District, retired Air Force officer Kenneth T. Bosley defeated Del. Jacob J. Mohorovic Jr. for the Democratic nomination to challenge Ehrlich. Bosley was also the Democratic nominee against Ehrlich in 1998.
Republican voters gave state Del. Thomas E. Hutchins of La Plata the nod to run against 5th District Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat who has been in Congress since 1981.
In the conservative 6th District, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland easily turned back the candidacy of Timothy R. Mayberry, the state GOP's former treasurer, who surprised his party with a primary race against an incumbent.