GOP aims for state Senate

Republicans hope county's changing demographics will help break Democrats' majority

July 12, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Democrats have long had a grip on state Senate seats in Anne Arundel County, but Republicans are mounting their most aggressive effort yet to pick up a majority of the county's five Senate seats this fall.

Republican leaders believe that changing demographics, along with quality candidates and a little luck, have put the GOP in position to wrest control of at least three of the county's five Senate seats and help kill the Democrats' super-majorities in the General Assembly.

Democrats control four of the five Senate seats in the county -districts 21, 30, 31 and 32. The county has one Republican state senator, Janet Greenip in District 33.

Republicans point to voting trends that show the GOP gaining strength in the county, making the argument that Anne Arundel voters do not agree with many of the decisions made by the General Assembly and want a change in leadership that better reflects their views.

"This county has been trending more conservative for a long time, and there has also been a big growth in independent voters," said Republican Del. Herbert H. McMillan, who is challenging three-term Sen. John C. Astle, a Democrat. "I think people recognize that there is no balance. ... With no credible threat of a veto [by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.], there will be no balance."

Democrats acknowledge they have a fight on their hands to retain Senate seats, especially in districts 30 and 31, along the eastern and northern parts of the county.

They also said that while there are more Anne Arundel residents voting Republican than ever before, many of them are independent-minded and are swayed by constituent service.

"Personal connections with candidates make a bigger difference," Astle said.

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Democrat who caused a stir when he announced he would not seek a sixth term in District 31, said the work of Senate Democrats representing the county, including Astle and James E. DeGrange Sr., reflect voters' values.

Jimeno predicted that "the Democrats will not lose ground on the Senate side" because Republicans "are targeting Democrats rather than setting public policy."

Meanwhile, state delegate openings in several districts attracted waves of Republicans and Democrats to file. County Council member Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a Democrat who cannot seek a third term, and county school board members Konrad Wayson and Paul G. Rudolph, both Democrats, were among the late entrants.

One of the most watched races in the state will be in District 30, where Republicans are targeting House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat who has stymied many of Ehrlich's initiatives. Seven Republicans are running in the primary for delegate.

While both parties hope to make gains in the delegate column, representatives acknowledge that there's even more at stake with the Senate races.

Republicans note that Jimeno's District 31, an enclave in northern Anne Arundel County, voted for Ehrlich by a 2-1 margin in 2002. Five Republicans have jumped into that race - but to the relief of many party faithful, not Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr.

Dwyer, who represents House District 31, had announced that he would run for Jimeno's Senate seat, but he is seeking re-election. Democratic Del. Joan Cadden declined to make a Senate bid and will also seek to retain her House seat.

Dwyer said he heeded recommendations from party leaders to step away from a Senate contest and allow veteran Del. John R. Leopold to run.

Even after Leopold's recent decision to run for county executive, Dwyer said he felt most comfortable staying in the House. He has taken outspoken conservative stances on immigration and opposes gay marriage, and Republicans had worried that Dwyer, as a senator, would hurt the party's image with moderates.

"I have been very successful in the House in the past four years," Dwyer said.

Astle, a 24-year veteran of the General Assembly, will likely face his biggest test as he tries to win another term in District 30, which includes Annapolis and the Broadneck Peninsula. Astle won by 11 percentage points in 2002 against a relatively unknown candidate.

Now he will face McMillan, who has wide name recognition as a one-term state delegate and a former Annapolis alderman.

Greenip, the first-term Republican senator representing District 33, got a break when former county school board member Michael J. McNelly did not file to challenge her in the September primary.

Some Republicans had called on McNelly to run; after announcing he planned to run, though, he did not file.

He could not be reached yesterday.

Scott Hymes, a Democrat, will challenge Greenip in the general election.

In Senate District 32, the northwestern portion of the county, Jon Vandenheuvel, 37, has stepped forward to challenge two-term Democratic incumbent DeGrange.

Vandenheuvel, a Severn resident who runs a company founded by former Republican Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, waited until the July 3 filing deadline to declare his intention.

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