Dozens of Maryland politicians will find out today whether they will get a free pass to elective office or must face spirited opponents in the fall election.
Tonight at 9 o'clock is the deadline for candidates for state and county office to file for the Sept. 12 primary and Nov. 7 general election. If not-too-distant Maryland history is any indication, some formidable challengers could emerge in the final hours. But if the pattern of 2002 holds, most of the late filers will be embarking on a quixotic venture.
As of Friday, more than 500 candidates had filed for state office - just about what election officials had expected, according to Jared DeMarinis, director of the State Board of Elections' Candidacy and Campaign Finance Division. He said he anticipates another 100 to 150 would-be officeholders to come through the doors of the board's Annapolis office today.
"We always assume over 150 on the last day," he said.
The statewide races for governor and lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, attorney general and comptroller appear to have taken shape - with no competitive candidates believed to be lurking in the shadows.
But the contest for General Assembly seats still has a variety of pending wild cards. As of Friday evening, 15 of the 47 seats in the state Senate had only one candidate.
In particular, the Maryland Republican Party appeared to be lagging in candidate recruitment. No Republicans have filed in three congressional districts. Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings so far have no opposition in the 2nd and 7th districts, while Rep. Albert R. Wynn faces only two Democratic primary challengers in the 4th.
The GOP also closed out last week with no candidates filed in 19 state Senate races, including the Prince George's County-Calvert County district of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and the competitive Anne Arundel County district represented by Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr.
The Democrats had not found a champion in six districts, including Republican Sen. Nancy Jacobs' 34th District in Harford County, which they lost by a whisker only eight years ago. The pattern is similar in House races, with Democratic candidates scarce in parts of Western Maryland and all of Carroll County. Few Republicans have filed for such predominantly Democratic areas of the state as Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party, said the GOP will close the gap considerably by tonight's deadline. She expressed confidence that the party has recruited strong candidates to reach its goal of gaining five Senate and 14 House of Delegates seats. Miller said the party will field strong candidates all over the state - "even in Baltimore City."
In fact, two Baltimore Republicans did file for Senate seats Friday: Leonard J. Wolff to run against Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden in East Baltimore's 45th District, and Keith Losoya to battle Sen. George W. Della Jr. in the 46th, which takes in South and Southeast Baltimore. Losoya is a past president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association.
The GOP also gained a potentially strong challenger Friday in Anne Arundel's 30th District, where Del. Herbert H. McMillan filed to run against incumbent Democratic Sen. John C. Astle.
The final hours before the deadline can be a time of political suspense. In 1998, the question of whether William Donald Schaefer would jump into the race to succeed the late Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein was answered only when the former governor emerged from a car and trudged up the steps of the now-demolished Annapolis armory building - an hour and a half before the deadline.
Michael D. Barnes, the former congressman named by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to succeed Goldstein, promptly withdrew from the Democratic race. Schaefer cruised to victory.
Whether a candidate files early or at the last moment can be a matter of strategy or just personal preference. Some have been official candidates for more than a year, while others are waiting for the last day.
Tara Andrews, a declared candidate for the Senate from Baltimore's open 40th District, said she will file today because it coincides with her last day of work as executive director of the nonprofit organization Justice Maryland. Though she has been planning to run since last year, she said she kept her campaign low-key and unofficial in response to concerns of the organization's contributors.
Now, she says, she plans to "go whole hog" in the contested Democratic primary, in which she will face two incumbent delegates, Salima S. Marriott and Catherine E. Pugh, City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway and Timothy Mercer.
Sometimes candidates hold off on filing until the last few days, hoping to catch an opponent napping.