Knocking on voters' doors in Timonium last week, James Brochin spotted a man taking out his trash and called to him across the street. But he could barely get out the words, "Hi, I'm your state senator," before Marvin Haw III made clear why the first-term lawmaker needs to be campaigning already.
"You a Democrat or a Republican?" Haw asked.
"Democrat," Brochin replied.
"We have a problem," Haw said.
And if the state GOP has its way, it'll be a big one. Maryland Republicans, hoping for more clout in Annapolis and an easier second term for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., plan to target as many as 14 delegates and five senators in conservative districts for defeat in next year's election.
Republicans won't name names, but the top of the list is, almost without doubt, House Speaker Michael E. Busch. Other likely Democratic targets include Dels. Steven J. DeBoy Sr., James E. Malone Jr. and Eric M. Bromwell of Baltimore County, Galen R. Clagett of Frederick and John L. Bohanan Jr. of Southern Maryland.
In the Senate, Republicans have set their sights on Brochin, whose district voted nearly 2-to-1 for Ehrlich in 2002; Katherine A. Klausmeier, from the conservative Perry Hall area; Anne Arundel County's James E. DeGrange Sr., John C. Astle and Philip C. Jimeno, and Roy P. Dyson of Southern Maryland.
As they try to create a permanent two-party system in Maryland, Republicans want not only to re-elect Ehrlich and send Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele to the U.S. Senate. They also aim to close their 14-33 deficit in the state Senate and their 43-98 minority in the House.
The state GOP is raising money, recruiting candidates and preparing for an all-out effort by volunteers statewide to support its ticket. But party officials say they will focus their resources on several districts that are represented by Democrats in the General Assembly but where Ehrlich won by large margins in 2002.
The 14 and five goal wouldn't give Republicans a majority in either chamber, but it would give them greater power. They would have enough votes to sustain Ehrlich's vetoes and to maintain filibusters in the Senate. "We're not going to take over the House and Senate. We know that," said Maryland Republican Party Chairman John Kane. "We don't need to. We just need to add balance."
`That extra mile'
Ehrlich was a picture of confidence at a GOP bash at the Maryland Association of Counties meeting in Ocean City last week. Standing on the stage in a crowded bayside bar, he told party activists that he'll provide the record and an unprecedented pool of campaign cash to get the message out for candidates up and down the ballot.
"We need that extra inch, that extra mile from everyone in this room," he said. "If we get that extra mile, we will elect a permanent, competitive Republican Party in the state of Maryland."
In an interview later, Ehrlich said Republicans would do very well to pick up 10 to 15 seats in the House. Five to 10 would be a good showing, but fewer than five would likely mean trouble for the party's future, he said.
Republicans have made gains since Ehrlich was elected to the House of Delegates in 1986. Then, there were 16 House Republicans, and now there are 43. But he says the growth has done relatively little to shift the philosophical balance in the legislature because the new Republicans mostly took seats from conservative Democrats.
"Because of the changes in the popularity of the Republican Party in the suburbs, we've changed conservative-leaning Democrats to conservative-leaning Republicans," Ehrlich said.
Suburban districts around Baltimore were crucial to Ehrlich's victory in 2002 and are seen by Republicans as prime spots for future growth. In particular, Anne Arundel County has become increasingly Republican and has also surpassed Baltimore as the fourth largest source of votes in the state.
The governor said his biggest goal for the elections -- besides winning a second term -- is getting enough seats to prevent Democrats from mustering a three-fifths majority to override his vetoes. In January, Ehrlich came within one vote of stopping the House from overturning his veto of the medical malpractice insurance bill. Major pushes are already under way to muster overrides of other vetoes, including a bill that would effectively require Wal-Mart to pay more for employee health insurance.
The one Democrat Republicans would most love to defeat is Busch, who represents an Anne Arundel district. Republicans say the speaker, pilloried by conservatives for leading the resistance to Ehrlich's slot machine gambling proposals, is a powerful draw for GOP fundraising.
As of January, when the most recent campaign finance reports were filed, the GOP House slate had $108,000 in cash and the Senate slate had $120,000. The Democratic Senate slate had just $2,000, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who helps raise money for Senate candidates statewide, had more than $500,000.
The politics of slots