Cardin in strong lead

Schaefer in jeopardy

Maryland Votes 2006 -- The Primary Election

September 13, 2006|By Matthew Hay Brown and Jennifer Skalka | Matthew Hay Brown and Jennifer Skalka,SUN REPORTERS

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin held a substantial lead over friend and former colleague Kweisi Mfume in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate early this morning, leaving Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele waiting to learn who his opponent would be in one of the most closely watched general election races in the nation.

As expected, Steele easily won the Republican nomination for the seat now occupied by Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes. Sarbanes announced last year that he would not seek a sixth term, giving Maryland its first open Senate seat in 20 years.

Shortly after midnight, Mfume briefly addressed supporters at the Hippodrome Theatre, acknowledging the deficit he faced. "We're trying to find that guy with 19,000 votes in his pocket," he quipped, before disappearing again.

Minutes later, Cardin's wife, Myrna, said he wasn't ready to declare victory.

"Plan B is to tell you how grateful we are for everything you do," she told supporters at the Wyndham Baltimore - Inner Harbor, and asked them to wait a little longer.

The Senate race was one of several marquee contests in the state's most hotly contested primary seasons in decades. The retirements of Sarbanes and longtime Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. have created opportunities for a new generation of politicians to move into higher office.

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer was fighting for his political life last night. Early results showed the former governor trailing Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and Montgomery County Del. Peter Franchot for the Democratic nomination.

The outcome of that contest - and perhaps others - could hinge on the tabulation of nearly 27,000 Democratic absentee ballots and thousands of provisional ballots.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler defeated former Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms in the Democratic primary for attorney general. He will face Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, who ran unopposed for the Republican nomination.

And among 3rd Congressional District Democrats, attorney John P. Sarbanes, the senator's son, held a narrow lead over former Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson for the seat being vacated by Cardin.

The day was marred by glitches in Baltimore, where election judges arrived late to several polling places, and Montgomery County, where a delay in the delivery of cards needed to operate new touch-screen voting machines forced officials to extend polling hours and distribute provisional ballots to thousands of voters.

Steele, who faced no serious opposition for the Republican nomination, met cheering supporters shortly after 10 p.m. A rising star within the national Republican Party, he took the opportunity to stress his independence from either party during his victory speech last night.

"People are tired of being forced into a red or blue box," he told cheering supporters at the Greenbelt Marriott. "Your problems are not red or blue. Your problems are real."

Democratic House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland was confident that Cardin would get the party nod to face Steele.

"We are going to nominate a man of extraordinary character," Hoyer told Cardin supporters.

In a year when Democrats are looking to regain control of Congress, Republicans have seen the Maryland race as one of their few opportunities nationwide to recapture a Senate seat. Both parties are expected to target the contest with money and visits from national leaders.

A Wall Street Journal/Zogby Poll released Monday showed Cardin beating Steele in a hypothetical matchup, 49.4 percent to 40.2 percent. But Steele had nearly double the cash on hand through the most recent reporting period, in late August.

Montgomery County businessman and philanthropist Joshua B. Rales was running a distant third in the Democratic primary. He spent millions of dollars from a fortune made in real estate on television advertising that saturated the Baltimore and Washington markets, but his candidacy never caught fire.

Other Democrats struggled for attention - and complained that the media were not taking their candidacies seriously.

American University history professor Allan J. Lichtman was arrested while protesting his exclusion from a debate at Maryland Public Television studios in Baltimore. Former Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen packaged himself as a moderate alternative in a liberal field.

But the race always came down to Cardin and Mfume. Several voters yesterday described agonizing between the two.

Ann Volpel, a health policy analyst from Mount Vernon, said that after much deliberation, she chose Cardin.

"I've been thinking a lot about who would go up against Steele better," she said after casting her vote at Baltimore's Chase House precinct. "I admire Mfume, and I think it would be great to elect a black senator from Maryland. But it came down to electability."

Andrew Stewart, a classical pianist from Mount Vernon, said he had lobbied Cardin as a volunteer for MoveOn.org.

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