Political games in Md. this year: falling dominoes and musical chairs

November 13, 2005|By C. FRASER SMITH

Call it the year of the political domino. They're falling all over the state.

When Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele announced he was running for the U.S. Senate, he left a slot to be filled by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Let the mentioning begin.

If Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. decides to retire, there'll be an opening there. At least three eager candidates are waiting to hear.

FOR THE RECORD - I misspelled Kevin O'Keeffe's last name in last week's column. I regret the error.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes started it. He announced his retirement months ago, opening the primary field for an impatient scrum of Democratic Party stars who have been pawing the ground at the bottom of the ladder for years.

Rare opportunities ripple through the ranks.

Former Congressman Kweisi Mfume quickly jumped into the Senate race in a bid to replace Mr. Sarbanes, hoping to head off opposition from others who feel they'd look good in a U.S. Senate office.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, in a somewhat more measured way, announced his Senate candidacy. He was followed into the race by various lighting-in-a-bottle candidates, most of them little known beyond their geographical base, if there. More candidates might step up; the filing deadline is not until July.

Mr. Cardin's decision left an opening in the 3rd District, a monstrosity of the redistricting process comprising a three-part dumbbell with bars and bells reaching from Pikesville to south of Annapolis. Baltimore's share of the district is linked to the Pikesville part by what appears to be a single city street. But I digress.

The congressional seat being vacated by Mr. Cardin has attracted at least 10 potential contenders.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens might run. She was also mentioned as a Senate candidate.

State Sen. Paula C. Hollinger of Baltimore County is in the race, leaving her Senate seat open. Del. Bobby A. Zirkin has declared for that seat.

State Sen. James Brochin of Baltimore County has been mentioned. But he seems unlikely to take the big step. Sometimes the mentioning is enough. (There, I've done it again.)

Former Baltimore City Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson, the son of a congressman, says he's in the race.

Kevin O'Keefe, formerly a lobbyist for Baltimore and for Ms. Owens, says he's running. Del. Jon S. Cardin of Baltimore County might run. Hmmm, a Cardin. The name could have some resonance in a race in which a Cardin has won and in which a cast of would-be successors will be looking for a recognizable identity.

For some months, Del. Shane E. Pendergrass of Howard County thought about entering this race. Or she might have run for the state Senate. But she decided to run for re-election to the House of Delegates.

Del. Neil F. Quinter of Howard said he was getting in the 3rd District congressional race, too. (Are you still with me?) His seat in the legislature was therefore open.

But then John P. Sarbanes, son of the retiring senator, said he's running. Hmmm, the Sarbanes name could have some resonance.

Could it ever. It resonated into the heart of Delegate Quinter's ambition. He decided to run again for his seat in the House of Delegates.

But at this point, the game had changed. Dominoes turned into musical chairs.

Howard County Councilman Guy Guzzone - who decided not to run for county executive - said he would run for the House of Delegates in Mr. Quinter's district. The music stopped. Mr. Quinter's dalliance with the congressional race might have hurt him.

He's still the incumbent, of course, but he won't be on a ticket with Ms. Pendergrass and Del. Frank S. Turner. Mr. Guzzone, a long-time friend and political ally of Ms. Pendergrass, is the team's third member. Nothing against Mr. Quinter, apparently. He just seemed to be moving in another direction.

All is not lost. Incumbents always have some advantages. But tickets matter. Pooled financial resources allow a candidate's message to reach more voters. Each of the candidates shares the other's popularity. And in a year when there is so much going to and fro, tickets offer the poor voter some guidance.

With so many dominoes falling, you have to be careful not to let one of the heavy ones land on your toes.

C. Fraser Smith is news director for WYPR-FM. His column appears Sundays. His e-mail address is fsmith@wypr.org.

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