Many Democrats consider a run for House seat

Contorted 3rd District appears to favor no particular candidate

April 27, 2005|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The serpentine contours of Maryland's 3rd Congressional District gave Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin enough friendly voters to hold the job. But the scrum of big-name Democrats eyeing a run for the seat now that he's trying for the Senate shows that while the district gives the edge to his party, it doesn't help any Democrat in particular.

The district runs from northwestern Baltimore City and county through the northeastern part of the city, southwest to Catonsville, across the Patapsco into eastern Howard County and southeast through Anne Arundel County to Annapolis. It is home to a bevy of ambitious Democratic politicians, none of whom can claim to live in the heart of the district because the district doesn't have one.

"The old 3rd District, if you go back to the first time I ran, was an ethnic district. Coming from an ethnic community gave you some help," Cardin said yesterday, referring to the Jewish community. "Today, there is no ethnic community that has a large share of the 3rd District, so it's wide open from the point of view of a Democratic primary.

"Basically," he added, "you can come from any one of the four jurisdictions and win this seat as a Democrat."

GOP interest in the race has been relatively muted so far, party leaders say, although the seat represents perhaps the Republicans' best chance to increase their congressional delegation from the state. In 2002, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. got a majority in the precincts that make up the district.

At least half a dozen elected Democrats expressed interest in Cardin's seat in the aftermath of his announcement yesterday. Their candidacies would mean more open seats and more opportunities for others in the party.

The field already has been winnowed somewhat, with Del. Maggie L. McIntosh of Baltimore saying yesterday that she plans to seek re-election to the legislature instead of running for Congress. She said she believes she has much to contribute in her present position as chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee.

But Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat who is also a powerful committee chairwoman in Annapolis, reaffirmed her interest in the seat yesterday with a news release praising Cardin and promising serious consideration of an attempt to replace him.

She said in an interview that many of the issues she has worked on in Annapolis, such as health care for the elderly, long-term-care insurance, Medicaid reforms, education and the environment, are federal matters. But Hollinger said it would be difficult to give up her chairmanship of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

"When you're at the top of your game in one place, it's hard to change horses," she said. "So while I am looking very seriously at it and am probably more prone to do it than not do it, it still is an uneasy decision."

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens is well-positioned for the seat because about 44 percent of the district is in her county. Her campaign chairman, David Sheehan, said Owens is considering all options for 2006 but is more interested in a statewide race.

Several other legislators are considering runs. Sen. James Brochin, a Towson Democrat, said he would be interested in running if Hollinger doesn't. Dels. Jon S. Cardin (the congressman's nephew) and Bobby A. Zirkin have also expressed interest, though they come from the same district as Hollinger and could run for her Senate seat if she ran for Congress. Del. Neil F. Quinter of Howard County also said he is considering the race.

One non-elected official looking at the Democratic primary is Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson. He said yesterday that he is strongly interested in pursuing issues important to him, such as public health, juvenile violence and fiscal responsibility, on the federal level.

Other prominent Democrats have taken a pass on the race. Oz Bengur, who ran against Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger in the 2002 Democratic Primary and now lives in Cardin's district, said he's focused on his job as treasurer of the state Democratic Party. House Speaker Michael E. Busch has also said he's not interested.

Republicans have said little about the race. Anne Arundel County Clerk of the Circuit Court Robert P. Duckworth ran as the party nominee against Cardin in 2004 and got 34 percent of the vote - the best showing of any congressional challenger in the state that year. He didn't return a phone message yesterday, but Republicans said he would be a logical candidate.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican who lives just outside the 3rd District lines, said he won't run for the seat. But he expects the National Republican Congressional Committee to take note of the race in part because Ehrlich's previous success means voters are willing to support a Republican. "With an open seat, it's a real opportunity for the right candidate," Harris said.

Carol L. Hirschburg, a GOP consultant from Owings Mills, said the seat was drawn to be less safe for Democrats than others in the state. Cardin offended then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening by considering a primary challenge in 1998, and four years later, Glendening took much of Cardin's Jewish base and shifted it to other districts, Hirschburg said.

"In trying to hurt Cardin, he actually probably helped the Republicans," she said.

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