Late entries widen field

GOP challengers emerge in key local, state races

Maryland Votes 2006

July 04, 2006|By MICHAEL DRESSER AND JOSH MITCHELL | MICHAEL DRESSER AND JOSH MITCHELL,SUN REPORTERS

Late entrants on ballots widen election field Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller will face a challenge from a conservative, anti-gambling former Air Force officer with the same surname - personally recruited by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to run against the powerful Democrat who had been a key ally in the governor's effort to legalize slots in Maryland.

Ron Miller's filing yesterday as a Republican in Senate District 27 - spanning Calvert and Prince George's counties - came as procrastinators and late-deciding candidates for state office streamed to Annapolis to beat the deadline to get on the Sept. 12 primary ballot. Among the late filers: former City Council President Lawrence Bell, who emerged from the political wilderness to jump into a hotly contested Senate race in Baltimore's 40th District.

Bell, who said he's done a lot of traveling since his loss to Martin O'Malley in the 1999 mayoral race, said he has a great deal of respect for state Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, the retiring Democrat he's seeking to replace. "I really want to build on the work that he's done," Bell said.

Also yesterday, Clarence William Bell Jr., a state police commander who is no relation to Lawrence Bell, switched races and decided to run for Baltimore County executive rather than county sheriff. GOP leaders had been looking for a credible candidate to challenge well-funded incumbent James T. Smith Jr., a Democrat, in a county that is considered key to Ehrlich's re-election chances.

While several new entrants also joined the races for governor and U.S. Senate, none were well-known, and the contours of those contests remained unchanged.

Still, yesterday's flurry of activity brought more focus and intrigue to this year's elections, already considered the most heated in recent memory.

Ron Miller, who had earlier filed to run for the 5th Congressional District seat held by Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, said yesterday that he received a call from Ehrlich Thursday urging him to challenge Senator Miller.

"I think this is a more winnable race," Ron Miller said.

The nine-year Air Force veteran will be going up against one of Maryland's most resilient politicians, who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1970. Mike Miller has held the Senate presidency for 20 years - longer by far than anyone else in state history.

"Some people may say jumping from a race against Hoyer to a race against Miller is like jumping from the frying pan to the fire," Ron Miller said.

The challenger described himself as a social and economic conservative who said he would favor a strict ban on abortion with no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

He also said he is opposed to gambling. Mike Miller helped pass the governor's slot machine bill for three consecutive years, but it was killed in the House of Delegates each time.

The incumbent said this would not be the first time he ended up running against someone with the same surname.

"This name's-the-same game is an old Baltimore City trick," he said. "Every four years they run someone named Miller against me."

In 2002, the 63-year-old senator faced a primary challenge from Juanita Miller and came away with 62 percent of the vote.

In the 40th, Lawrence Bell joins a Democratic field that includes Dels. Catherine E. Pugh and Salima S. Marriott, City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, prisoners' rights activist Tara Andrews and former City Council candidate Timothy Mercer.

Bell, who seemingly disappeared from local politics after his mayoral loss, said he has continuously maintained a residence in Baltimore even as he has "traveled around" and served as chairman of a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting witnesses. He said he's heard from a lot of people urging him to get involved again.

"We need to have strong voices in Annapolis," he said. "I've always had a passion for the city."

The race for Baltimore County executive took shape yesterday when Clarence William Bell Jr., filed to run as a Republican.

County GOP leaders spent months searching for a viable candidate to run against Smith. Bell, the commander of the state police barracks in Howard County, had filed earlier this year to run for county sheriff. He could not be reached for comment last night.

"He brings the fact that he's got proven leadership skills," said Chris Cavey, head of the Baltimore County GOP. "He is just like [Lt. Gov. Michael S.] Steele - an African-American having lifelong been a Republican. He's been wanting to get involved in the political world."

Another Senate race in which the Republicans filled a potentially embarrassing vacancy was in District 32, a conservative-leaning Anne Arundel County area now represented by centrist Democrat James E. DeGrange Sr. It is viewed as the type of district Republicans must win if they hope to make gains in the Democrat-dominated Assembly.

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